All of this visual confusion only added to the chaos surrounding our production. The eight shows we shot in two days were populated with some of the best known names from the stand-up comedy club circuit as well as our "very special contestants." Although there was excitement from the crew about the Animal House reunion and the re-teaming of Fred Willard and Martin Mull, it was the Buttafuocos that created the biggest dust cloud.
Even though they had contractually asked to be on separate flights and stay in different hotels, the moment Mary Jo and Joey landed, they couldn't wait to be together. More accurately, Mary Jo couldn't wait to be with Joey.
She arrived at the showroom on the second floor where we were taping around eight in the evening of our first day. We were already on our twelfth hour of shooting and nerves were frayed. I had been anticipating her arrival but when I saw this blonde with a Gidget ponytail come up the escalator, I was shocked. She was tan and if you bagged her head, she had the body for Stuff magazine.
I called out her name. She came to me and gave me a warm but crooked smile. While we made some small talk about where she was living in Los Angeles and how she liked the change from the east coast, I kept looking for the entry point. It really wasn't hard to find. There is a little round scar on the left of her chin that hides the bullet still lodged in her face.
One of our production assistants called to say he couldn't find Joey at the airport.
"What do you mean? I just talked to him," she yelled in my ear as she eavesdropped on my cell phone conversation.
"Hang on," I said in my cell and turned to Mary Jo. "We know he landed and got off the plane. It's just our guy can't find him."
"Aw shit!" she said as she grabbed her own cell phone. I could tell it only rang once before voice mail picked up, "Goddammit Joey where the fuck are you! They got people looking for you," she screamed in flawless Lawng Island speak. She pressed the off-button on her phone with added purpose and turned back to me with a shrug.
"Keep looking," I advised out PA. About a half hour later, I heard Joey had jumped into a limousine on his own and made his way to the Rio. After several confusing conversations with the front desk of that hotel, we determined he registered under an alias.
I put another production assistant at the foot of the escalators to be on Joey-watch.
"You just can't keep track of him," Mary Jo said with nothing more than years of exasperation in her voice. I smiled at her trying not to give away too much meaning behind it.
We spoke some more of her two children, one twenty three and the other a twenty year old who goes to the UCSB, the California party school. We talked about the show they were about to do. We went on and on about how her life has changed since she moved to Los Angeles. Then Joey arrived.
He ascended up the escalator in a beautifully tailored overcoat flowing in an imaginary breeze. His hair was cropped short and steel gray; his skin tanned and ageless. He had rays of confidence colliding with all around him as he strode up to Mary Jo with arms outstretched and said, "How ya doing, baby?"
"We couldn't find you," she mock slapped him and hugged back.
"Hey Joey, it's great meeting you," I said as I shook his hand. The moment the words spilled from my mouth, I felt slightly embarrassed at verbally declaring my school boy crush. I was just hoping nobody noticed the birdies flying around my head and the hearts popping from my eyes.
They went in to see our show that was currently taping - a panel featuring Lance Burton and Ronn Lucas as contestants. As they left, I gave them an early call time for the next morning and playfully warned them to get some sleep.
"Yeah. Sure." Joey winked.
The next morning, there was plenty of moral outrage served with breakfast. The tsking over my booking the Buttafuocos as contestants almost drowned out the clanging of the slots. Mary Jo was the first to arrive and we got her into make-up. Pronto. Joey followed and after his make-up, we got them to the stage.
Mary Jo won the game by a landslide. Her charity for which she was playing was the MDA. She was, as it turned out, the only celebrity contestant who bothered to give any information about their charity of choice and pleaded that I make sure they get it.
"It's so important," she said with true compassion in her voice.
The audience and the crew were all, of course, happy by the game's results. Backstage Mickey and I took the opportunity to have our pictures taken with the happy couple with plans of our Christmas cards this year in our heads.
"Let's photoshop some reindeer antlers on Joey," I offered.
As they were about to leave, Kathy Griffin arrived for her taping. I was really glad because I knew how excited Kathy would be to meet them and I made the introductions as casual as possible.
"Oh God do you hate me?" Mary Jo asked clutching her chest.
"Oh no, he's the one," Kathy nodding her head in Joey's direction. He beamed.
As I was saying goodbye to them, Mary Jo was telling Joey to come to the hotel cafeteria with her where the food is plentiful and free.
"Naw, baby, lunch is on me," he said as he wrapped his arm around her and led her down the hallway.
I stood there wondering how this couple who became the darlings of the New York Post had weathered such a stormy ride. Love and familiarity make a very powerful glue.