Ah, another night at Zippy’s Lounge and Chuckle Barn. I was up on stage telling jokes to the people who’d come out to hear them. I had just dislodged the mic from the stand and was fiddling around with the cord. People finished up their chuckles from the last joke and I cleared my throat for another. “Fellas,” I began, “you ever notice how sometimes you’re on the john and your rear end gets stuck and the missus has to fetch a paddle to pry you loose?”
That got the night’s biggest laugh.
“Let’s get a little straw poll going,” I continued. “Raise one hand if you prefer taking a huge dump, two hands if you prefer jacking off!”
Guffaws bubbled up as folks decided how many hands to raise. “I can’t choose!” someone wailed. “They’re both so relatable!”
After the show, I was at the bar with the usual crew crowded round poking my belly. I emphasize that relatable part of me by wearing a schlubbish powder blue button down tucked into khaki pants, when I perform.
I was just polishing off my sixth beer when who should come my way but a person I had never seen before and about whom I knew nothing. Gee, I thought.
“Evening stranger,” she said all fancy. “I am the new waitress on the job and find myself taken with your charms despite the gap in traditional beauty between us. What say you help me shelve a few things in the back room?”
“Yowie wowie,” I assented, and pranced coquettishly after her. She led me through a door but instead of a back room I found us out in the dark with the dumpsters.
“Here?” I wondered, pants around my ankles.
She laughed at me. “Don’t you get it dummy? I’m not just some groupie… I’m a very important media executive! My name is Beef Plugs. I’ve been admiring you all day!”
“Huh?” I looked in the dumpster, rats fighting over ketchup packets…
“The company I work for is MARVEL.”
“One wonders what business an entertainment concern of such renown could have with so humble a one as I.”
“Don’t you know what our thing is? We take amusing fatsos and turn them into ultrahunks. I want to make you a star!”
I looked at the moon. “Thanks but no thanks. Ever since my local cineplex quit selling Werther’s I haven’t been much for the silver screen.”
“But the film concerns a ragtag crew of oddball vigilantes who by their powers combined may do battle with a foe none dares contest on his own.”
“Gee, you really think audiences would go for something like that?”
“Wait till you hear the title. The Admirable Weirdos Challenge a Truly Heinous Freak. You will play a character called Sludge Man.”
“I do like the sound of it… but my stand-up career is really taking off. I’m working on some highly relatable new material about how sometimes when you’re jacking off you accidentally picture a pig but keep going.”
“You’ll work out with the best trainers! Become an Adonis yet!”
“Can I sleep on it?”
“In more ways than one,” she snarled. It was then I noticed the sledgehammer.
. . .
I woke up in the middle seat of the backseat of a fancy car. To my left was Beef Plugs and to my right, a man I had never seen before. “Morning snoozer,” he said. “My name is Yam Lick. You’ve met my colleague. And up there on the other side of the glass partition is our driver, Weak Man. Floor it, Weak Man!”
The driver named Weak Man stomped the pedal with both feet and the car shot forth in a bloom of orange gasses. We took a highway that ran through the desert, and civilization gave way to dusty hills where coyotes fought amid mesas of maturing trash.
“So, where are you from, Weak Man? Been driving long?” He couldn’t hear me.
When the car stopped, we were nowhere I knew of. Beef Plugs and Yam Lick tied up my arms and torso with high-grade rope (I mean it was top-notch stuff) and yanked me out of the car and across the sand and scrub and into a shack.
“Are you sure you’re allowed to manhandle me like this?”
For an answer I got chucked down a staircase into a dank little room where at once the door slammed and locked behind me. Two men were slumped on foul concrete. I knew who they were because I had seen them in films and tv shows and programming exclusive to various streaming platforms, but I had not expected to see them locked in here.
“Chris Pratt and Kumail Nanjiani?” The superhunks smiled coldly. The interesting thing was that they were not jacked but were as they had been years ago, Chris charmingly chubby and Kumail a scrawny dope. They were filthy too.
“Let me guess,” Fat Pratt said, “they said they’d make you a star?”
“Work with the best trainers?” Scrawny Nanjiani added. “Become an Adonis yet?”
“Then they knocked you out and stuffed you in a car?”
“Took a highway that ran through the desert? Civilization gave way to dusty hills where coyotes fought amid mesas of maturing trash?”
“Gee, yeah, that’s exactly what they fought amid… How long have you two been in here?”
“Who knows? Hope you like eating rats.”
But, as I would all too soon discover, I didn’t.
Some while later I figured, long as we were stuck down here, might as well work on my material. I turned to Scrawny Nanjiani. He was breaking bones off rats to guzzle marrow. “Ever notice,” I began, “how sometimes you have to go to the bathroom and relieve yourself?”
“Please,” he laughed, seizing his side. “Don’t make me laugh. . .”
So I tried Fat Pratt. He was sucking the spigot. “Say Chris, ever notice how sometimes you see a urinal?”
“Ugh—“ he wheezed, “stop, it hurts, it’s too relatable…” In due time he was out cold.
Given my luck with my captive audience (ha), you can imagine my relief when who should walk in but my old friends Beef Plugs and Yam Lick.
“Gee, am I glad to see you fellas, I mean with the rats and the dysentery. . .”
They dragged me through wet hallways and deposited me in a laboratory where an individual in a white labcoat was flinging rocks at chickens and recording the results in a notebook.
“Oh hi,” he said, removing his safety goggles. “Didn’t hear you come in. My name is Pornography. Please, have a seat.”
“Good to meet you Pornography.”
He shoved me supine on a big plush slab. A metal door opened and out walked a thing that looked like a person only rubbery and without features. “Hello,” this thing somehow said, “I am MARVEL’s prized invention.” Scarce one second had I had to introduce myself when what should transpire but a whole bunch of metal appendages came out of nowhere and stripped me naked and got to work flipping me round like a patty on the grill. Some big yellow lights flashed from the thing’s eyes.
“Beginning morphological process…” And slowly, but surely, it became my double. Its vague aspect bulged and shifted till it had my face, my height, my hair, my clothes, everything down to my interesting Marilyn Monroe-style character mole. It was like looking in the mirror, that is, until the thing’s muscles started ballooning, first shoulders, then biceps, quads, abs, ass, forearms… when I knew what I was seeing, I knew MARVEL had made good on its promise to jack me up after all.
“Hello!” said the thing in my voice.
“This replica,” said the scientist named Pornography, “will play Sludge Man in The Admirable Weirdos Challenge A Truly Heinous Freak. It will play the role of you on all the talk shows and magazine shoots and get the star treatment. And you will live out your days in the dungeon here, subject occasionally to the experimental whims of our hair and makeup unit.”
“Well,” I sighed, “the old man did warn me funny things happen in Hollywood.”
“There’s a good sport.” He led me out the door.
A few days later Fat Pratt had this neat idea. “What might you boys say to escaping?” he asked.
“Gee,” I said, “why didn’t I think of that?”
So we crawled out via the secret tunnel behind Scrawny Nanjiani’s Scarface poster (we’d been digging it to pass the time and were delighted to find it had a more practical use). It was cold and dank in there and my knees got full of spikes and dust and rust particles but the thought of escaping really spoke to me.
“Being trapped in there sucked,” I observed.
Then I heard echoey voices way back behind us.
“Crud! They’re getting away!”
“I knew we shouldn’t have offered that tunneling elective…”
“Ah!” cried Fat Pratt. “Better get a move on boys…”
So we crawled like mad and I got my knees all scratched up and tetanusy. Scrawny Nanjiani kept saying “We should try to crawl faster…” Eventually we made it out of there and our tunnel conveniently deposited us right outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
“If you’ll look to your right,” said a man on a double-decker bus, “you will see A-listers Chris Pratt and Kumail Nanjiani, as well as another man. On behalf of Sunshine Express Bus Tours, I apologize for their gaunt aspect and remind you there are no refunds.”
It was then my compatriots scurried off like marmots.
“I’m going right to the L.A.P.D.,” I resolved. I headed to the nearest police station, where a burly fellow in aviators was dunking donuts behind the counter.
“What are you doing here?”
“Officer, I’d like to report a kidnapping.”
“Holy smokes, come into my office.”
But when he brought me there, Beef Plugs and Yam Lick were behind the desk smiling and looking real pleased with themselves. The officer shut the door and slunk off muttering something about reopening the O.J. case.
“Hey, you,” said Yam Lick.
“YAHH!” I replied, and beelined for the locked door whose knob I accosted uselessly.
“Settle down,” said Beef Plugs. “We want to make a deal. Only thing is, you’ll have to compromise your deepest ethics and principles.”
“Eh, where have those ever gotten me?” I answered, helping myself to a sip of her coffee.
“How’d you like us to deactivate your replica and let you — yes, you — play Sludge Man after all?”
“Where do I sign?”
“Hold your horses. You wanna get something, you gotta give something.”
“Doesn’t sound like any deal I’ve heard of.”
“Look, dummy, we don’t care that you got out, but if anyone sees Chris and Kumail mucking about it’ll blow our whole operation. You don’t want that do you?”
“I don’t know Beef Plugs and Yam Lick. I can’t say I’m overflowing with congeniality toward the MARVEL family of intellectual properties at present.”
“That’s perfectly understandable. Incidentally, did we ever mention a figure as to how the leading man in The Admirable Weirdos Challenge a Truly Heinous Freak might be compensated? But what am I saying! such matters could hardly pique the fancy of one so chaste; come on Beef Plugs, back to Central Casting we go…”
“Just a minute, just a minute! Let’s not rule anything out early here fellas…”
At which time Beef Plugs whispered in my ear the largest number I have ever had the pleasure to hear.
“Waka waka waka waka waka!”
“Now call up your fugitive pals and ask where they are going and say you want to join them.”
I called. Fat Pratt picked up. “Fat Pratt!” I began. “It’s been a while. How are things? Uh huh… uh huh… no kidding! And the wedding is this summer? Well that’s tops, give my best… uh huh… uh huh… you don’t say! Uh huh… uh huh… listen, Fat Pratt, where’d you and Scrawny Nanjiani end up anyway? Things didn’t go so hot at the police station and I figure I’d better join you. Where you heading? … uh huh … uh huh … Your Uncle Ned’s place at 69 Boondoggle Boulevard? Corner of Boondoggle and Main? Next to the Popeye’s? I’ll be there with bells on!”
I hung up. “Nice work, kid,” said Beef Plugs.
. . .
Couple days later we got to work shooting my first scene for The Admirable Weirdos Challenge a Truly Heinous Freak. I was so excited! I didn’t know my lines or what the movie was about but my handlers told me the director would tell me what to do.
The director was a man named Gil. He wore overalls, roller blades, swimming goggles, and a chef’s hat, and he spoke through a megaphone. “Hello Gil.” I decided to say to him.
“You are playing the character called Sludge Man.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“Your superpower is the ability to conjure a lot of thick blue sludge, which you use to fight crime. And here comes your sidekick, played by Robert De Niro; his character is Corn Hero; he has the power to ingest corn nasally.” And sure enough he was doing so.
Then a thin boy who looked about eleven came out in front of the camera. He wore a yarmulke.
“The film’s villain is Eli,” Gil explained, “a small boy of the Jewish faith.”
“Yechh yechh yechh…” Eli was saying, as he rubbed his hands lewdly.
“Please attack Eli.” So I did so.
“Ach, oy, with the sludge and the gunk and it’s getting in my eyes…” Meanwhile De Niro had a whole cob jammed up there.
We finished shooting the film later that day and had the premiere a week later. The box office gross was eighteen billion dollars and four cents. I became a big sensation, did all the late-night talk shows and made runner-up for People’s Sexiest Man Alive (Al Roker won again). They offered me my own standalone film but I turned it down. The title was Sludge Man Eats A Rat and I thought it would hit too close to home.