“Steve! Wake up! The light’s green!” I yelled from the back of the van, startling him right out of his slumber. Watching Steve fall asleep behind the wheel at every traffic light on Queens Boulevard was priceless. Yelling as loud as I could to destroy his catnaps was pure ecstasy. I loved busting Steve’s balls.
While Steve fumbled angrily with the rear view mirror, trying to find my tiny face sitting two rows behind him in the van, we all laughed. Our Sergeant Malloy had tears rolling down his cheeks. Even the perps we had picked up and cuffed that morning on outstanding warrants were laughing.
Normally I would have been driving, but Sergeant Malloy had given me another assignment; to make sure I learned all my lines, because at noon I had a call-back for an acting gig.
The part I was getting a second shot at was for an up-and-coming young heavyweight boxer named Chris Fraken, who was torn between two fight managers. The show, called DellaVentura, was a crime drama on CBS starring Danny Aiello. Rather than letting me leave work early, my boss offered to drive me to Silvercup Studios later on that afternoon. Everyone on my team wanted me to be prepared so I would get the part.
The second read was in front of the CBS executives and show’s direct, and it went great. Then the show’s stunt coordinator, Danny Ailleo III — a wonderful family man who passed away several years ago from cancer, RIP –escorted me down a long corridor, and into an open area to watch me do some footwork, throw punch combinations, and shadow box. When he’d seen enough, I stopped, and he just stared at me for a few moments, before finally saying the magic words every actor wants to hear, “you got the part kid!”
I couldn’t believe it. As I recall, my exact words were “get the fuck outta here!” Then I bear hugged him, and may have cried on his shoulder a little bit.
Getting that part was an amazing feeling — sharing the news with my co-workers was the icing on the cake. As I exited Silvercup Studios and approached the police van, I decided to slump my shoulders in disappointment, and raised my eyes to find five concerned faces staring at me in anticipation. Then I gave them a huge smile and happily said, “I got the part!” My partners were as overjoyed as I was. One by one Jeff, Louie, Tommy, John, Sgt. Malloy and even sleepy Steve jumped out of the van, hugged me and gave me high fives. Then I treated them to a celebratory lunch. When the bill came, I think I might have cried a little.
For 15 of the 20 years that I was a NYC Police Officer, I moonlighted as an actor and stand-up comedian. Like countless other artists living in NYC, I juggled a ‘day job,’ family responsibilities — I have a wife and two children — and the pursuit of my dreams. It wasn’t easy. My days were spent surrounded by crime and violence, and my nights… trying to make people laugh. One minute I was putting together a Police lineup, and the next minute I was part of a stand-up comedy lineup. Some days it was all one big blur.
After a while, all the juggling becomes exhausting and frustrating. I was lucky enough to have a bunch of little breaks along the way, like the guest starring role on DellaVentura, but they always came a year or two apart; never enough to build up enough momentum to be able to quit that ‘day job.’
If New York is a circus, then the City’s artists are the jugglers, the tightrope walkers and the contortionists. We do it because we have to. It’s in our DNA, and we refuse to give up our dreams.
On June 30th 2012, I handed in my gun and shield and retired from the New York City Police Department to concentrate on being a full time comedian. Back in the day, whenever someone asked what I did for a living, I reluctantly said I was a Cop and enthusiastically added I was also a comedian. Nowadays when someone asks me what I do for a living, I simply say I am a retired NYC Police Officer…that’s it.
I never ‘made it’ as an actor or as a comedian while I was the job; and today, at 46 years old, I don’t know if I ever will. But what I do know is that I did my twenty years on the force and got out in one piece. I had a family, pursued my dream, and got really good at juggling. Now I spend my days writing, performing and being a dad. So you know what? Maybe I did make it.
To quote one of the greatest comedians of all time, Rodney Dangerfield, “I’m doing okay now, but last week I was in rough shape.” Juggle on, New York!