"I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics
By Mark Schiff & Ritch Shydner
Crown Publishing; $23.95
It’s inevitable that whenever comics get together, they tell each other stories about different clubs, towns, club owners and waitresses they’ve slept with while out on the road.
Two veteran comics, Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff, have put together a collection of these tales in the book I Killed. Over the course of three years, Shydner and Schiff talked with many stand-up comics about the good, the bad and the interesting people, places and things they encountered while trying to make audiences laugh.
“My partner, Ritch Shydner brought the idea to me,” Schiff recalled during a recent conversation. “He was a writer on the Blue Collar TV show. One day, he and [Jeff] Foxworthy were sitting in this room at the studio where they did the show, telling road stories. Someone was walking by and heard Ritch and Jeff laughing, and joined the conversation. Pretty soon, there were 60 people in the room, sharing their road stories.
“Someone in the room suggested to Ritch that he should do a book of these stories. The next day, Ritch called me and asked me to do the book, and I said sure. That was three years ago and here we are with the book published and in the stores!”
Among the comics included in I Killed: George Lopez, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, Brett Butler, Larry David, Tim Allen, Ron White and Schiff’s longtime friend Jerry Seinfeld, who also wrote the book’s foreword.
When it came to what kind of stories would be included in I Killed, Schiff pointed out that the only rule they had was “that nobody could tell a story that was not true, or could hurt another person. We’d hear a story about so-and-so, then call that person to see if the story was true, and if so, asked them if we could use it in the book.
“One person I called was ‘Professor’ Irwin Corey, who is now about 94 years old. I asked if a story about him spending time at Plato’s Retreat, a sex club in New York City in the ’70s, was true. He said, ‘Yes, it’s true! I just wish I could do it again!’”
While stand-up comics talk about their careers during interviews with journalists, Schiff believes that the fact that he and Ritch are comedians made it easier to get the material for their project.
“I don’t think anyone other than a comedian, like Ritch and myself, could have received the cooperation from the comedians that we did. That in itself makes it a unique book.”
The publisher, Crown Publishing, liked I Killed so much that the book was upgraded from a softback to hardback for the first printing. “That’s a real compliment for us,” Schiff admitted.
A 25-year veteran of the business, Schiff said that the comics who were the hardest to get in touch with about the book were usually the wealthiest.
“Ninety-five percent of the people we called shared stories with us. They couldn’t have been nicer. There was one big-name comic who said he was going to do it, but backed out at the last minute. That was heartbreaking.”
The only non-comic that was included in the book was Moe Howard’s daughter Joan. She related a story about going on the road with the Three Stooges, in 1933, and how she went fishing with her dad during that road tour.
Schiff added that there is talk about turning the book into a movie, à la The Aristocrats. And don’t rule out a literary sequel to I Killed.
“There are enough stories left over that a Volume Two is a distinct possibility. If so, maybe we could get others [comics] that we couldn’t get for the first book.”