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I Was A Writer For The Grease Show

by Robert Coats

First, a little background: In the late 70s, I was just a punk living in the southeastern tip of Georgia, about 50 miles north of Jacksonville, Florida, where Grease was on WAPE (that's the '69 position' on your AM radio dial). The signal would carry up into Georgia, so I was able to listen and enjoy the show most days. All was fine until Grease got the offer to move to D.C., and ironically, my family moved to Jacksonville. It would be another 13 years, but our paths would cross again.

Now in the mid-90s, The Greaseman Show was based in Los Angeles, and syndicated to multiple stations in the USA. But, only one station (WZGC in Atlanta) carried it live in the mornings. I'd moved to Atlanta in the late 80s and settled into a nice gig writing technical material for a large company. Driving into work one day, I turned on the radio and was quite surprised to hear Grease shrieking again! I started listening every day, often brought to barely controlled outbursts of laughter. In contrast, maybe it was the slight boredom in my current job coupled with how much fun it was to hear Grease, and I realized that hey, maybe *I* could write some of these jokes. How terrific would that be to write some material that would get used on the show? One way to find out.

I started by making a list of every Grease bit/character, and jotting down some notes about how they would be used. 'Medical Man' was usually quite serious, but then have a totally bonkers finish, while Tuckas Faceous was mostly boilerplate (naming names, then a simple punchline). Next, I'd work at least 1-2 hours every evening writing bits as best I could. I tried to vary them, even though I might have 2-3 "Estelle" bits in my head at a time, but might only be able to create a 'Lawman' much less frequently. After some editing, and pitching the bits to my wife, I'd either fax (remember those?) or email ( the material directly. I recall it was about a solid two weeks of doing this every weeknight with hearing nothing back, and then one Monday morning, Grease launched into a Sgt. Fury bit I'd sent over. I was floating about three inches off my office chair, with a huge smile on my face. It would have been easy to stop then; I'd proven I could write stuff, but I knew it was only the start.

After a week or so, about 4-5 of my bits were used on the show. I got a phone call from Bill Scanlan, the producer, and he said my material was well-received, and he shot me an offer to continue: We'll pay for each bit of yours we use, just keep track, and send in a bill. I'll never forget how cool it was to get that first check from 'Greaseman Enterprises' signed by his wife Anita. I probably should have not cashed the first one, just to have as a keepsake. Soon, I was in a groove, and knocking out 20-25 bits per week. Of course, not all were getting used, and that was okay. I knew not everybody has the same sense of humor. But, it never failed to be pure joy to hear bits I'd written on the show. While I could not eat up four hours every day listening to the show live, I rigged up a VCR and connected a radio to it, pressing RECORD before leaving for work. That evening, I could scan/listen to the show in much less time, and get an idea of what bit/theme might fit the next day. If Grease did a 'Damien!' bit that day, I'd know to hold off on submitting another one for at least a week or so.

So how did I write a bit anyway? The template I used most often was to think of a common, well-known phrase that would be in stark contrast to the rest of the bit. That phrase would be the punch line for the bit. In short, the joke starts with a punchline, then you write it backwards. Here's an example: I'd overheard somebody say, 'Is that before or after taxes?' and thought how that would be said in an unexpected, opposite-from-the-story way. I figured an 'Estelle, ya Pig ya!' bit would fit nicely. The rest was usually quite easy, just fabricate a short story, maybe work in a gag or two, and then pop in the punchline:

  • Estelle & the video camera

    Everything went very smoothly for a long time. Greaseman and Bill would travel to Atlanta and broadcast the show live, sometimes from a remote location, usually a local sponsor. This provided a live audience, and you could tell Greaseman really thrived on this. I was able to sit down with Bill during one of these trips and we talked at length about the show and its future. I lived about 15 miles from the radio station, and I'd visit when Greaseman was in town. It was a blast to watch him and Bill work. Grease would take a call, recording every one, and quickly decide to use it or lose it. After some quick discussion with Bill, Grease would playback the recording of the caller, and then smoothly move into a bit. On other times, like 'Talk to the Baby' it is totally live improv by Grease.

    One visit to the studio was memorable. I got there very early, and was able to sit in with Grease, Bill, Marcia Shipley and other staffers as we brainstormed a while before the show. After the first hour, the studio audience was about 10 people crammed into the small space, all enjoying some goat cheese pizza, and Grease launched into one of my bits. After the punchline and laugher, Bill looked over at me, rolling his eyes and said, "Man, who writes this stuff?" It was a friendly jab and I took it as a compliment. A bit later, and I got to play The Greaseman Quiz, and it was, of course, a 'suitcase full of diamonds' and as expected, I flubbed it.

    I don't recall the exact time, but the syndication deal was not renewed, and the show was no longer broadcast in Atlanta. This effectively ended my gig with the show, and that was fine. I still had my day job and a growing family. For sure, it was an absolute blast to write for the show, and probably the most personally rewarding work I've ever done. I look back to nearly 30 years ago, and will always have fond memories of my time with the show. AMF.