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It Happened One Knife

It Happened One Knife by Jeffrey CohenPrologue

This wasn’t just another DVD: this was life or death. Or life and death. I was hoping for life; there had already been enough death.

I sat down in front of my own television with a great deal of trepidation. For other people, this wouldn’t be an unduly tense moment, but I think it’s been noted more than once, I’m not exactly other people. For a classic comedy fanatic like me, this was a very scary moment.

What if this movie wasn’t funny for me anymore? What if no movie was funny for me anymore? I’ve spent so much of my time, my energy, my life on the idea that comedy is therapeutic; suppose I was about to discover that it not only couldn’t heal my wounds, but had actually caused them?

A man sitting alone in his post-divorce, furniture-challenged home in the wee hours of the morning is never entirely rational.

In this case, though, I had logical reasons to be a little nuts. When you spend most of your life idolizing people, and get to meet them, it’s something of a disappointment when they end up dead.

It’s even more of a problem when you feel you had a hand in killing them.

I turned on the TV, reached for the remote control, and literally held my breath. The next few minutes would tell the tale: either I’d laugh, or…

I didn’t like to think about what came after "or…".

 

Chapter One

"If you can do comedy, you must do comedy."
—Bill Murray

"Without heroes, we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go."
—Bernard Malamud, The Natural

Thursday
Killin’ Time (A Special Attraction)

"Is he dead?" Vic Testalone asked me.

"They’re all dead," I said. "He didn’t leave any of them alive."

"How can that be?" he asked. "Does this kid know what he’s done?"

Vic, a sales rep from one of the film distribution companies I work with, was probably born smoking a cigar; he had one in his mouth now, but knew better than to light it in the lobby of my theatre. Comedy Tonight, like all New Jersey movie theatres, has a strict no-smoking policy, but I would have insisted on it even if the state didn’t. I hadn’t spent the last four months getting this place repaired just to have Vic impose the smell of a cheap stogie on my new carpet.

I shook my head. "Anthony just thinks it’s cool," I answered him. "He’s not considering the moral implications of his actions."

"I’m not concerned with moral implications," Vic answered, snarling. "He’s killing the sequel possibilities."

That threw me for a loop. I’d only agreed to let Anthony Pagliarulo, the theatre’s projectionist/ticket taker, show his first film—an ultra-violent pseudo-Western called Killin’ Time—as a one-time-only break from our comedies-and-nothing-but-comedies policy because he’d caught me at a vulnerable time. Suffice it to say that four months earlier, when I agreed to show the film, my theatre had looked like one of the cowboys in Anthony’s "Western" after the branding iron scene. I’d made good on my promise after the renovation because I couldn’t think of a graceful way to pull the plug. But now Vic was treating this glorified (if relatively high-budget) student film like it was something real.

"What the hell do you mean by ‘sequel possibilities’?" I asked him. "You think someone would to want to distribute that thing?"

"It’s got blood," Vic held up a finger. "It’s got cursing." Another finger. "Killing, sex, cruelty, characters nobody could possibly like." Finger, finger, finger, thumb on the other hand. "It can’t miss."

Vic and I had left the auditorium when the credits had started to roll (but long after heads had started to roll, which made it too late for me), and now, the rest of the "crowd" was spilling into the lobby. "This was a movie in which we saw a bullet enter a man’s head from inside," I told him quietly. No sense giving the rest of the invited audience a chance to voice their displeasure as well. "We saw intestines being pulled out. We saw a man’s tongue put through a meat grinder."

"Now you’re catching on," Vic said. "Oh, and before I forget, are we set for the next month?"

Vic’s a sales rep for Klassic Komedy Distributors (they think the "K"’s make it funny), which handles many of the vintage comedies I show each week in conjunction with a contemporary comedy. He doesn’t really need to come down to Comedy Tonight to get his order; we could complete our business in three minutes on the phone. But he says I’m "the only schmuck who knows movies so obscure Leonard Maltin’s never heard of them." Vic likes to visit.

"Yeah," I told him. "Ghost Breakers, Never Give A Sucker an Even Break, and Back to the Future."

"I still say Back to the Future is too new," Vic protested. "It’s less than twenty-five years old."

"By what, twenty minutes?" I asked. "I need a time travel comedy to go with the new Adam Sandler. What do you think I should run?"

"How about Where Do We Go From Here?"

"Fred MacMurray is funny? Anyway, that’s a musical," I told him. Vic waved a hand at me.

"You should show this thing from tonight," he said. "You’ll have an exclusive before the kid makes a deal somewhere."

I spied my ex-wife across the room. "I don’t want to talk to you anymore," I told Vic, and walked toward Sharon. Vic had the nerve to look surprised.