John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

I Have Three Chinchillas in Heat!

by John Cantu & Dan Gremmer ©

I got the following email recently from a sometime comedy writing partner Dan Gremmer in response to last issue's essay "Comedy from a Wait Staff Person's Point of View."

Subject: I have three chinchillas in heat!


Enjoyed your ezine article about Steve Martin at The Boarding House, circa 1975. I was there every night! I agree with the staffer who said he was the funniest human being he'd seen before or since. We forget what a Big Bang his comedy was at the time.

At one point, when he had the audience falling out of their chairs with laughter, Steve went back into the sound booth, the small room in the back hidden from view. We could still hear him as he talked with the sound guys:


The crowd went nuts, especially when he emerged from the door doing his smarmy "It's wonderful to be here" bit.

At the end of the show, he lead the audience down the street to a Laundromat where the show continued until the police came. After a Steve Martin show, you were high for the rest of the night. On endorphins, of course.

Energy. Inventiveness. Whimsy. Wild Showmanship. He created a crackling new direction in comedy, an inspired absurdity that was just what the culture needed during the "Me" decade.

More 70s stories! Keep up the good work.


P.S.: You may remember my subject line above. It was the power punch line for the Filipino ventriloquist we tried to write material for around 1975.

I asked Dan for permission to post his email and he replied:

Sure, use my email if you like. I don't have a web page, but you can use my email address dgremmer(at)

I always love to talk comedy with aficionados. As for credits: My business card says I'm "a Free-lance, Award Winning TV & Radio writer/producer/voice talent." That should be enough, but between you and me, I've won over 200 Addys, 7 Silver Microphones, and two Cleos.

And, it was all built on the ability to write one-liners! A (:30) TV spot or a (:60) Radio commercial are basically extended one-liners with sell copy in the middle. In fact, most entertainment/commercial writing is an extended one-liner. Agree?

Cantu, "Agree." That is the underpinning of my writing, lecturing and speaking on comedy principles.

The following is excerpted from Cantu Humor January 2000.

My professional career started (and virtually stopped) in the summer of 1968. I had run across a copy of Writer's Markets a directory published by Writer's Digest. I was surprised to discover that magazine cartoonists bought ideas. I had always loved cartoons and I knew I had the ability to make people laugh. I immediately had visions that within six months I would be lying on a beach in Bermuda for the rest of my life leisurely writing cartoon ideas.

I put an 8 ½ X 11 blank sheet of paper in my portable, manual typewriter and - in just three hours - voila - I had - - - a blank sheet of paper. I made a painful discovery that day. Being funny off the cuff, spontaneous, just winging it was not the same as being funny on purpose. While I continued to sporadically try to write cartoon ideas for the next few weeks, after three months I had produced maybe 30 ideas. An average, roughly, of one idea every three days. I sank into despair and depression.

This was the most humbling experience of my career. I put my typewriter away, my humor writing dreams away, and went about my life. But I still made friends laugh and I still read cartoons. Then, in 1970 something wonderful happened. I was reading a cartoon in a daily syndicated panel Grin and Bear by George Lichty. Robber holding up a bank, has a gun in hand and nylon pulled over face. The teller is saying, "Excuse, do you know you have a run in your stocking?"

I had a "Eureka" moment! I thought to myself I know what Lichty did. He took an everyday line, "You've got a run in your stocking" and put in a different/unusual setting. I have since discovered it is a technique known as the cliché line technique. But at the time I simply thought "I CAN do that."

I made a list of as many cliché lines as I could think of and tried to find a new place or situation where it could be used. Within thirty days I had written 90 cartoon ideas - triple my previous output and in one third the time. I realized that while I had not suddenly gotten any funnier, in mere seconds I had discovered a process, a formula, a method, a recipe, a system - whatever label you want to put on it - to create humor ON PURPOSE!

If you are a comedian or comedy writer today you don't have any real appreciation for all the learning resources you now have access to.

Back then there were no comedy clubs to see comedians live, no Comedy Central if you live in a spot in America that doesn't have a comedy club (if that is the case, I'll bet you live in town so small it only has seven Starbucks), no books by Carter, Perett, Ajaye, Helitzer, no internet. Back then we had to learn how to write comedy by studying dirt - - - and we were HAPPY for that!

Cantu notes:

Because of my above hardship story trying to write comedy, Dan also holds a special place in my personal comedy history. I was introduced by a mutual friend to Dan in 1973 or 1974. The first thing Dan said was, "I understand you write jokes. So do I."

After years of writing in small cramped flea bag one-room residential hotels on my portable manual typewriter, doing a series of menial jobs available to a 20 something high school drop out, Vietnam vet, and only dealing with cartoonists - solely through the mail, I was thunderstruck to meet another comedy writer face-to-face.

For me hearing "I understand you write jokes. So do I" was like being in darkest African and hearing the words "Dr. Livingston, I presume."

My world has never been the same. Dan turned out to be a good writer. Of course he was a great writer even back then. Much better than me.

He and I and another guy Chris Jones, teamed together to create a joke writing company. We published a monthly joke service called Comedy Today a knock off of Orben's Current Comedy.

We got together and would read our jokes. We all had to agree on a joke before it became a keeper and went into the "OK to publish pile."

My analytical mind soon noticed Dan was getting 1 in 3 OK'd, Chris was getting one in 5 OK'd, and I was getting 1 in 8 OK'd.

(Wow - Just flashed on this now: I have written before about submitting to Herb Caen and discovering that while Strange de Jim was getting 1 in 3 published, I was only getting 1 in 8 published. The same ratio 1-3 versus my 1-8 --- just weird coincidence or comment from the universe on my over all talent?)

Gremmer wrote one of my all time favorite jokes which I shameless stole from him and put in my speech - however never using without giving him attribution, it is about the dingy, dark clubs we had to play in the beginning:

"First time on stage. Small club, very dingy - very DARK. Only three people there . Two drunks down front asleep, and in the corner (PAUSE 1-2-3) a guy developing film."

NEXT: Laughter in a Comedy Club Does Not Make You a Comedian.