My complete and utter scrubbiness, my absolute expendability, was made crystal clear to me toward the end of my second season on the show.
One of the good things that came from my staying out of my dressing closet, er…uhm…I mean my dressing room, was that I got to know several of the production assistants who hung out in the transportation office. There was Ralph, of course. Kenny, who was in charge of transportation, Brian, Daryl and a few others. These guys were all near my age, all single, all horny for the women that came through the show, all very funny, and all of them genuine and down to earth. I began wandering into that office, in part out of boredom, but also because there was always so much laughter. These guys had a lot of fun while they worked and laughing with them was much better than sitting in a closet pondering the contradiction between my public life and the reality of my experience.
The guys in the office didn’t seem to care about any of that stuff. They seemed to genuinely like me. I didn’t get the sense that they simply deferred to me, as one of the principal actors. Rather, I wanted to believe that they thought I was a funny, cool, down to earth guy just like them. Or did they feel little need for pretense with me because they recognized that I was just a guy sitting at the end of the bench–a scrub. I would like to think that they didn’t care.
There was, of course, no missing it–my scrub status–once you knew what to look for. The signs were all around, none more clear than what happened during one of the last shows of my second season. The writers who had created my character had left and were replaced by new writers who brought in a new character in Cousin Pam. The new writing staff didn’t seem to have much interest in Martin as a character and this week they made it clear just how little interest they had in me.
This particular week, there was a scene involving Bill, Lisa, and myself that just wasn’t working. To put int bluntly, it was lame. In disagreements with the writers, Bill always said that the test of a joke was if it got the laugh. In other words, he (Bill) was not the arbiter of whether a bit was funny, the audience was, and they would let you know by laughing. If the laugh didn’t come, the bit wasn’t funny; it was as simple as that. The scene in question hadn’t gotten a laugh during the read-through, was still unfunny after the first rewrite, and remained unfunny during rehearsal with yet another rewrite. Frustrated, Bill tossed the pages and suggested that we all just improvise the scene. My stomach tightened right away. I was not generally afraid of improvising, but I was intimidated by trying to improvise with a comic genius. Nevertheless, we all dove into the scene. Lisa hung back; I think she was even more intimidated than I was. The scene we came up with was actually pretty funny. Bill was happy with it and actually complimented me. Talk about a good feeling! I was flying. My boss – the great Bill Cosby – had complimented me on my comic ability.
Bill sent for the writers. The writing team marched onto the stage and watched as we ran through the scene as we had improvised it. The writers laughed (the scene was funny) and nodded their heads as if to say, “Okay! Yeah. We got it.” They all turned around and marched back upstairs to the writing office.
When the new pages came back, guess who had been written out of the scene? That’s right, yours truly. All the funny stuff I had improvised had either been given to Lisa or cut out of the scene. I sighed and walked back to the transportation office to hang out with the guys.
When it came time, once again, to walk through the scene, Bill passed me on the way to the set.
“Come on. Let’s do this,” Bill said.
“You didn’t read the new pages, did you?” I asked. “I’m not in the scene.”
He stopped and looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean?”
I chuckled a little bit. “I was written out of the scene.”
Bill just shook his head. I thought for a moment that Bill was going to have me put back in the scene; he didn’t. I stood off to the side and watched Lisa butcher the jokes I had come up with. There it was, written in neon across the stage: NO SCRUBS ALLOWED. I was a scrub and that would be one of my last episodes on the show.
I imagine that there were fans who guessed at this truth. Certainly, there have been over the years some so impolite as to let me know. But during the time, no one treated me as if they were aware of my low status. I was recognized almost everywhere I went, and not simply recognized, I was treated as something special. NBC touted me as one of their primetime “hunks”; The New York Daily News listed me as one of New York City’s most eligible bachelors. Women clamored to meet me, even on occasion chasing me down the street. I received preferential treatment and recognition in cities all across the country. I got VIP tickets and backstage passes, and was honored with plaques and keys to the city. And yet, when I went to work, I didn’t even warrant a proper dressing room. On the set I was just a guy that stage hands could diss with impunity, but away from Astoria Studios, I was Joseph C. Phillips, one of the stars of The Cosby Show. This dichotomy was jolting; it was often difficult to reconcile the divergent ways I was being treated. I was dizzy quite a bit.
Next…The final episode