A Comedian’s Climb

by longformphilly

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Jennifer Weiner | The Philadelphia Inquirer | October 1996

Terry Gillespie almost died the other day.

His agent called him at 2 p.m. and told him to be in New York City for a 5 o’clock audition for an Eggo Waffle commercial. “I’ll be there,” the 46-year-old comedian said.

He took off, driving on a drizzly afternoon, 65 miles an hour on threadbare tires, when his car started hydroplaning across the New Jersey Turnpike. He crossed four lanes of traffic, slammed backward into a guard rail, flipped around, skidded back across the highway and came to a halt, perfectly centered in the breakdown lane with only a bent wheel well to show for it.

Gillespie got out of the car. He studied the damage. He realized he could still steer, so he got back in and kept driving. Went to New York and didn’t say a word about what had happened. “I didn’t want to play the sympathy card,” he said. Auditioned. Didn’t get the part. Again.

So far, his 15 years of struggle haven’t netted him much – a carpetless basement apartment in Northeast Philadelphia furnished in Thrift Shop Modern. A case full of books, a heart full of hope, an unquenchable optimism that he’s been blessed with something special, and that his hard work will be rewarded.

Writer bio: Jennifer Weiner, a Princeton University graduate, worked as a general assignment reporter and columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She is the author of several books, which spent more than a combined five years on the New York Times bestsellers list. She wrote several of her books while living in Philadelphia.

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