Many months ago I had the pleasure of listening to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast interview with Letterman’s witty and wise long time head writer, Bill Scheft. I’ve known Bill for many years from our stand-up time together in NY, and as I listened to him passionately speak about the comedy glory days in Gotham, it took me back to a significant time in my life, reminding me of how we first met.
In 1984 the NY Knicks and the Boston Celtics were in an all too familiar battle on the road to another NBA championship. During the Eastern Conference finals, I got a guest pass to join my boyfriend at the time to watch an afternoon game at Bill’s.
Now you have to understand, this was not just some run of the mill invitation. For a comedian who lived in NY and loved sports, being chosen to attend Boston Celtic viewings at Bill’s were as valued as a meeting with the Pope at the Vatican.
When I entered his apartment, it was holy, but in a whole different way. There were four male comics crammed on the couch, carrying on, sucking down beer and chips. Before the tip off, a bit of basketball conversation was being bandied about, which was never directed towards me, as I was certain everyone assumed that I just came along for the ride with my boyfriend, with no interest in the game or it’s outcome.
Little did they know that I had been a fan of the NY Knicks way before Phil Jackson was a power forward and Walt Frazier wore fur coats.
Now, I didn’t know much about Bill. I knew that he was a great comic, smoked cigars, and was in love with fellow comic, Adrienne Tolsch. But as soon as a white and green jerseyed player got a basket, I quickly found out, Bill was also in love with the Boston Celtics.
With the Celtics ahead in the series 2-1, this was a pivotal game. Bill was intense, sitting on the edge of the chair, biting down so desperately on his cigar – you would have thought he had bet the bank and then some. I never let on that I was rooting for the enemy, and with every basket made, shot blocked, or stolen ball the Knicks executed, I cheered silently to myself… until they took the lead.
All I remember was letting out an emphatic, “YES!” Then turning to see Bill, incredulous, mouth agape, as if I had just killed Red Auerbach, and his entire family. The other comics looked over at me in horror. How dare I, come into a man’s home and outwardly cheer for the opposing team. Apparently, respecting the Boston Celtics inside Bill’s domain was as sacred as the parquet floor the team played on.
The Knicks eventually won the game, and I lost the privilege of coming back to watch game five. In Roman times it would have been off with my head, but in 1984, my punishment was purely being permanently banished from watching any more Knicks/Celtics basketball in company of Bill.
Thirty years later, the rivalry between our beloved teams has since simmered, as both organizations go through the arduous task of rebuilding. Phil Jackson and Danny Ainge have returned to the court, going from the bench to top brass. And hopefully, the day the two of them make their teams contenders once again, I can sit and watch them play, while having a beer, and possibly a cigar, with my old comedy pal, Bill Scheft.