The Best of Times, The Worst of Times Transcript

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Charles Dickens' classic tale "Tale of Two Cities" starts off with the phrase, "It was the best of times and it was the worst of times." 1990 I moved from Chicago with my family to L.A. to seek my fame and fortune and a couple weeks of being there I got two important phone calls: one was from the talent coordinator for "The Tonight Show" offering me to have a spot as a comedian on "The Tonight Show" and the second call was that my daughter's doctor had called up to say that her cancer had resurfaced.  

A year prior, she was diagnosed with cancer and we fought it and it went into remission and now it was back. And for that next year my life was pretty surreal. So, like two different personalities: during the day in order to keep my daughter at home with me I would have to learn C.P.R. and how to work a heart monitor and administer medicine, all these technical terms and take her back and forth (excuse me) to get her platelets and blood and check-up on her and at night, I would go from club to club with the talent coordinator. And I would work on my set to try to perfect it and I would meet veterans like George Wallace and Seinfeld and Roseanne. And I thought that everything was great because we had beat the cancer before. We could beat it again and this is the first time that I was going to be in front of millions of people on "The Tonight Show." And the first time on "The Tonight Show" I was extremely nervous. All I could think about while I was backstage being introduced was, "Don't mess up. Just don't mess up, whatever you do, don't mess up." And the curtains open and there's six hundred people and the cameras and Johnny's over there and the band is over there. And I don't know what I said for the next six minutes, but I got six applause breaks. And the great part of that night was that I was going to my car and I met Johnny who was going to his car. And it was just a private moment between us in the parking lot of him saying, "You were very funny. You're extremely funny. Start working on your second 'Tonight Show.' Because I want you back."  

By the time I got the official call for my second "Tonight Show," my daughter was admitted to the hospital. If you don't know about cancer when it comes back, it comes back hard. It's like beating up a gang-banger for the first time and then he's coming back and he's coming back meaner and stronger, and he's coming with his friends. So, in order to compensate for that you have to raise the chemo and you have to raise the medicine and you have to raise the radiation. Which is difficult for an adult but she was only two. So, she's bald, which she doesn't mind because every kid in the ward is bald and she thinks this is a part of life. And she can't keep her food down. And... There's... You're not prepared for this. There's no books. There's no Home Ec class to teach you how to deal with this. And you can't go to a therapist because, in the black world, a therapist is taboo. That's reserved for rich white people. So, you're trying to figure it out, "What did I do?" Maybe something I did, maybe something my wife did. Maybe my doctor diagnosed it erroneously, something.  

But at night, I still have to be a comic. I have to work on "The Tonight Show" because that's what I'm gonna do. I'm a clown. I'm a clown whose medical bills are raising, who's one step from being evicted. Who is one step from getting his car repoed and I have to come out and make you laugh because no one wants to hear the clown in pain because that's not funny. My humor is becoming dark and it's biting and it's becoming hateful. And the talent coordinator is seeing that there's a problem because the NBC is all about nice and just everything is going to be OK and we're starting to buck horns because he wants everything light. And I want to be honest and tell life. And I'm hurting and I want everybody else to hurt 'cause somebody is to blame for this. So, I buck up. And I suppress my anger. And I form and develop a nice cute routine for the second "Tonight Show" and I get applause breaks.  

And I get asked to comeback for a third time. And I'm perfecting my third set. And the doctor asked me to come in and I know something's wrong because even the doctor is crying and doctors don't cry. And he said that "we've done all we can. There's nothing else for us to do."  

And I say, "How much time does she have?"  

And he said, "At the most, at the most, six weeks." And I should plan for that.  

And I'm thinking, "How do I plan for that?" I haven't planned to buy her her first bicycle. I haven't planned to walk her to school. I haven't planned to take pictures of her on her prom. I haven't planned to walked her down the aisle to get married. How am I going to plan to buy her a dress to be buried in? And I'm trying to keep it together because I'm the man and I'm the man of the house. And I don't want to cry but it's coming. And I'm trying to tell myself, "Tony..." I'm trying to beg the world "Just give me a chance. Just give me a chance." Just let me take a breath, just stop just for a minute. I want to call my parents and tell them, ''What do I do?" I don't know what to do. I'm a grown man and I don't know what to do.  

And a man, a voice in me comes up, like Denzel from "Training Day", "Man up, N! You think you the only one losing kids today? Twenty five kids walked in here with cancer, only five walking out. This ain't no sitcom. It don't wrap up all nice and tidy in thirty minutes. This is life! Welcome to the real world." And he was right. So, I bucked up because that's what I'm supposed to do. And on my third "Tonight Show," by that time my daughter had died. And I had six applause breaks that night. No one knew I was mourning. No one knew that I could care less about "The Tonight Show "or Johnny Carson.  

In 1990, I had three appearances with the legendary Johnny Carson and a total of fourteen applause breaks. And I would have given it all if I could just have one more day sharing a bag of French fries with my daughter.  

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

Thank you.