I’m Streaming a Black & White Christmas

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

This holiday season, for anyone who needs a break from the fruitcake, or any of their other relatives, you can hide in the den and enjoy a movie.

To many nowadays, movies filmed in glorious black and white are somewhat of a culture shock. But before you succumb to the barrage of modern holiday films filled with saccharine sentiment, estranged families, reconciliations, and dysfunctional Santas, or one of the two-dozen (but who’s counting) TV-movie versions of “A Christmas Carol,” test drive some classics.

Here are two of my favorite films that take place during Christmas but can easily be enjoyed at any time of the year. They have my prerequisites for great comedy movies: lively-paced, diversely eccentric characters, and wonderfully-written dialogue; dialogue that I can listen to over and over again, like my favorite tracks on comedy CDs.

The Man Who Came To Dinner is the 1942 film version of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s brilliantly witty 1939 play. The story begins shortly before Christmas. Sheridan Whiteside, an acerbic critic and radio commentator, accepts an invitation to dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley while he is passing through a small town in Ohio during a lecture tour.   After slipping on ice on their doorstep and claiming to have dislocated his hip, he becomes a disagreeable and demanding houseguest. Since he is temporarily confined to a wheelchair, he takes over the first-floor, coercing his hosts by threatening to sue them.

 With the exception of his assistant, Maggie, Whiteside manipulates everyone around him. He does, however, meddle in Maggie’s love life when she becomes smitten with a local newspaperman and wants to leave her job and get married. That’s when the chicanery kicks into high gear and chaos, as they say, ensues.

Kaufman and Hart modeled the character of Whiteside after their friend, the renowned drama critic and radio personality Alexander Woollcott. Whiteside is an outrageous character, a comic caricature of Woollcott’s traits, especially his scathing wit, and boorish behavior as a houseguest.

One day Woollcott showed up, unannounced, at Hart’s Pennsylvania estate and proceeded to take over the house. He slept in the master bedroom, terrorized Hart’s staff, and generally acted like Sheridan Whiteside. When he left, he wrote Hart a note: “This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent.” When Hart was relating the story to Kaufman later, he told him that he felt lucky that Woollcott had not broken his leg and become stuck there. At which point they had a mutual “Aha !!” moment and ran to their typewriters.

 The printed edition of the play starts with the inscription “To Alexander Woollcott, for reasons that are nobody’s business.”

 Like a roman à clef novel, there are several other characters modeled after well-known personalities, most notably that of Banjo, played by Jimmy Durante.   Banjo was modeled after Harpo Marx.

Woollcott’s ecstatic review of the Marx Brothers’ Broadway debut, the 1924 musical comedy revue “I’ll Say She Is,” helped re-launch their career after vaudeville and he became a life-long friend of the siblings. He also encouraged them to use their now iconic nicknames publicly.

There is a reference in the original play to Groucho and Chico. When Whiteside talks to Banjo on the phone, he asks him, “How are Wacko and Sloppo?”

The 1934 film The Thin Man is a comic masterpiece based on the mystery novel by Dashiell Hammett, which the aforementioned Alexander Woollcott praised it as “the best detective story yet written in America.”

 While Nick Charles, a retired private detective, and his wife Nora, a wealthy heiress, are spending the Christmas holidays in New York City, primarily to avoid spending them with Nora’s family on the West Coast, they become embroiled in a missing person’s case. But the mystery of “who dunnit” is not relevant to the movie’s appeal.

 What makes the film so entertaining and enduring is one of the most perfect screen matches in Hollywood history: William Powell and Myrna Loy.

William Powell was the screen’s most polished light comedian. Roger Ebert said that “Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance.”

Myrna Loy was a uniquely talented screen comedienne who could do more with a raised eyebrow and knowing look in her eye than many actresses could do with a hundred-page script.

They first appeared together in the 1934 crime film “Manhattan Melodrama,” which holds a special place in actual crime history because John Dillinger was gunned down at the Biograph Theatre in Chicago after seeing the film. He was purportedly a big fan of Loy and he was tempted out of hiding to see her on the screen.

The relationship of Nora and Nick Charles is one that redefined the screen depiction of marriage. They blended sophisticated charm, subtle wit and affection.   Nick and Nora were the first couple who showed how much fun marriage can actually be. They radiated not only a romantic and sexual attraction, but also made it clear that they were the very best of friends:

 Nora: Take care of yourself

Nick:   Why, sure I will.

Nora:   Don’t say it like that! Say it as if you meant it!

Nick:   Well, I do believe the little woman cares.

Nora:   I don’t care! It’s just that I’m used to you, that’s all.

The interplay between the two comes off as so natural that many movie fans thought they actually were married.   Powell once said that “Even my best friends never fail to tell me that the smartest thing I ever did was to marry Myrna Loy on the screen.

During their careers, they made 14 films together, including 5 sequels to “The Thin Man,” and the on-screen chemistry between the pair, who often improvised on the set, was key to the success of that series.

The “freshness” and naturalness of the performances is even more amazing considering it was directed by Woody Van Dyke, known as “one-shot Woody.” He always worked at a frantic pace, and part of the reason that “The Thin Man” moves so quickly is the fact that the production was so hurried.

Powell’s first appearance in the film is in a bar where he is showing the bartenders how to make the perfect martini. Van Dyke told him to take the cocktail shaker, go to the bar and just walk through the scene while the crew checked lights and sound. Powell did it, throwing in some improv of his own. Suddenly Van Dyke yelled, “That’s it! Print it!” The director had shot the scene without Powell knowing it so that he’d be as relaxed and natural as possible.

The film’s Oscar-nominated script was written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich , themselves married for over 50 years. They also wrote the screenplay for the Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Some of the clever dialogue was borderline censorable at the time, as the Motion Picture Production Code was just starting to be seriously enforced in 1934. To wit, reading the newspaper accounts of his being shot while apprehending a hoodlum:

Nick:   I’m a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.

Nora:   I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids.

Nick:   It’s not true. He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.

So give yourself the gift of laughter and meet some remarkable characters of the silver screen. As Nora says to Nick after meeting a motley group of his old cronies from his P.I. days, including thugs, cops, punch-drunk fighters, “loose” women, and ex-cons:   “Oh, Nicky, you know such lovely people.”

 

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Danny Thomas

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

I’ve done a lot of stand-up, and my favorite shows have always been fundraising events. I enjoy doing something with my comedy to help others, and the audiences are always so enthusiastic. People always make more of an effort to get off the couch, put on pants, and go out for a worthy cause.

The comedy community has a long history of donating their time and talents to those who need it most.

Comedian and television host Ellen DeGeneres supports numerous organizations, such as the Ellen for the Cure campaign, which has raised millions of dollars for Susan G. Komen For The Cure. After Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown of New Orleans, Ellen raised over 10 million dollars to help residents get back on their feet.

Comedian and actor Denis Leary created the Leary Firefighters Foundation after six firefighters in his hometown of Worcester, MA were killed in a warehouse fire. The organization provides funding for fire departments so they can acquire necessary equipment, technology, and training

After the attacks of 9/11, the foundation established The Fund for New York’s Bravest to raise money for the families of the 343 firefighters who perished in the line of duty.

Beginning in 1941 and continuing for half a century, comedian Bob Hope headlined USO tours, bringing the gift of laughter to U.S. military men and women around the world.

Of the 144 episodes of his radio program aired during World War II, only nine originated from NBC’s studios. The others all took place at military bases.

In 1943, Hope, with a group of entertainers known as the Hope Gypsies, toured England, Italy and North Africa with the USO. “The European theater,” Hope said, “was a little like vaudeville with foxholes.”

Hope made an appearance in a training film “Welcome to Britain,” starring Burgess Meredith, which explained English customs to newly arriving American GIs. Meredith wrote that “the most wonderful thing about England right now is Bob Hope. There isn’t a hospital ward that he hasn’t dropped into and given a show; there isn’t a unit anywhere that isn’t either talking about his jokes or anticipating them. What a gift laughter is!”

A big thrill for Hope on that trip was meeting Winston Churchill at Ten Downing Street. Hope later admitted that, when left alone in the prime minister’s study, he stole some of his stationery.

The Gypsies shows never bombed, but occasionally they had bombs dropped near them. In Palermo, they had a narrow escape with their lives when 100 Nazi Luftwaffe planes dive-bombed the harbor, destroying the area around the troupe’s hotel a few blocks away.

John Steinbeck, working as a war correspondent, traveled in two cities with the Gypsies. He wrote, “Probably the most difficult, thing of all, is to be funny in a hospital. Bob Hope and company must come into this quiet, lonesome place and bring laughter up out of the black water. It hurts many of the men to laugh, hurts the knitting bones, strains at sutured incisions, and yet the laughter is a great medicine.”

A bizarre example of how much Hope was respected for his work with the USO was revealed in an interview with a kidnapper. In 1963, Frank Sinatra Jr. was abducted by Barry Keenan and held for ransom.  In a 1998 interview in The Washington Post, Keenan, said: “I originally thought of Tony Hope (Bob’s son), but Bob Hope had been very active with entertaining the troops and seemed like an all-around good guy. Kidnapping Tony didn’t seem like a very American thing to do.”

 Hope continued to entertain US troops for almost 50 years after World War II. He and his wife Dolores spent many of their Christmases with the troops.

In 1997, Bob Hope was designated an honorary veteran by Congress for his humanitarian services to the U.S. Armed Forces. He is the only individual in history to have earned this honor.

One of my favorite stories of faith, generosity, and humanitarianism is that of Danny Thomas and St. Jude Hospital.

In 1937, 25-year-old Danny Thomas was not having much success in in show business. Although he worked hard in nightclubs and on the radio, he wasn’t getting anywhere in his career. He wondered if his dreams were hopeless. In addition, he and his wife, Rose, were about to have their first baby (Marlo) and he didn’t have enough money to pay the hospital bill. So he went to church to pray for guidance.   He prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, asking “Please give me a sign to help me find my way in life; just a sign that I’m going in the right direction, and someday I’ll build a shrine in your name.” Then, with only $10 in his pocket, Danny put $7 in the collection basket, and said to St. Jude that he needed10 times that amount to pay for the hospital bill. The next day, he was offered a job playing a singing toothbrush in a radio commercial. The pay was $75.  He took this as a sign that he was indeed on the right path with his career.

Shortly after, a Hollywood agent, who had heard about this talented young comedian, came to Chicago to see him and ended up taking him back to Hollywood where Danny eventually became a very successful comedian, singer, and actor.   And he did not forget his promise to St. Jude.

In the early 1950s, he and Rose began traveling the United States to help raise funds to build a hospital for the research and treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases.

Danny had once read a newspaper article about a young African-American boy in Mississippi who was struck by a car, and because no nearby emergency room would take a black child, he died. He carried the clipping of that story in his wallet for many years.

When he asked his friend and lifelong spiritual advisor, Cardinal Stritch, for help with his endeavor, Danny showed the Cardinal the clipping he had been carrying in his wallet and said, “I want to put my hospital in the South.” The Cardinal, a native of Tennessee, advised him to locate the hospital in Memphis.

Believing that “no child should die in the dawn of life,” Danny Thomas, with help from Dr. Lemuel Diggs and Anthony Abraham, opened the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1962.

Since then, St. Jude has treated children from 70 countries. The hospital cares for about 7,800 patients per year, absorbing all expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. Families never receive a bill, and St. Jude also assists them with travel, food and lodging.

At this time of the year, when people think that celebrating Christmas involves a month-long orgy of shopping, beginning with Black Friday’s pre-dawn Grand Guignol spectacle of “A Mall and the Night Visitors,” give some thought about what this holiday was supposed to be about.

The gift that keeps on giving is the gift of giving.

Remember whose birthday you’re supposed to be celebrating, and what He might like to receive.  No, not a gift card to “Frankincense, Myrrh, and Beyond.”

I think He would prefer peace on earth; compassion to those in need.  You know, the same thing He asked for last year.

I’m PC’d Off !!

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

There has been a lot of talk the past few years about comedians not wanting to perform on college campuses because they feel that their audiences are way too sensitive about political correctness.

In an interview last year, Jerry Seinfeld said: “A lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges, they’re so PC.”

Responding to criticisms about the lack of diversity on his show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” he said: “This really makes me angry.  People think it’s the census or something; it’s gotta represent the actual pie chart of America.  I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.  To me, it’s anti-comedy.  It’s more about PC nonsense, than are you making us laugh or not.”

In an interview in New York Magazine, Chris Rock said he stopped playing colleges because they are too conservative in their social views and “their willingness not to offend anybody.”

Universities and colleges across the country have been at this for years. Speakers with the“incorrect” point of view are shouted down or “uninvited” from engagements.

Importantly, the PC controversy is not about language; it’s about content.

Gilbert Gottfried noted: “Imagine if the most brilliant comedians in history were working today.  They’d never stop apologizing.  Charlie Chaplin would have to apologize to all the homeless people because of his Little Tramp character.  W.C. Fields would have to apologize to alcoholics. The Marx brothers would have to apologize to mutes.”

It’s the responsibility of comedians to make fun of things; to engage in sacred cow tipping. By being politically correct,you’re closing your mind to a different point of view.  I hate to think that someday laughter and harmless fun will be as prohibited as dancing was in that town in “Footloose.”

Two very funny and talented friends of mine performed for students at a prestigious liberal arts college last year and each of them told me how unresponsive the audience was to much of their material regarding topics such as religion,politics and sex, because it was considered to be politically incorrect.

How attitudes have changed! The comic anarchy of Marx Brothers’ films enjoyed a resurgence on college campuses thanks to film retrospectives in the late 1960s.  At a time of student unrest and campus protests, it’s easy to see why their irreverent humor, attacking authority figures, would connect with that age group.  Duck Soup satirized nationalism. In Horse Feathers, Groucho is the president of a university who displays a cavalier attitude toward education.

In a Salon interview last year, Patton Oswalt said it bothered him that “the liberal progressives have now become the scolds. We were the Grouchos!…and we’re turning into the Margaret Dumonts on a lot of levels.  That lets the misogynists and homophobes and racists seem like the rebels.”

And, as he put it, “Comedians have always been the best conduit to the forgotten, to the outsiders, to the inarticulate. We speak for the underdogs, for the most part.  That’s what most comedians do.”

I think political correctness has been sorely misused over the years.  People who want great literature such as Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird banned from schools and libraries because of racial slurs are missing the point of the stories.

Carlin was the master of “sociological” comedy; shining a spotlight on the hypocrisies in human behavior.  He warned about the greater threat to free speech: “Years ago, we all got to expect that censorship would come from the right wing, but to expect it from the left wing — from the politically correct people on the campuses — that caught me by surprise.”

Entertainers have been battling political correctness for many years.  The Motion Picture Production Code, (known as the Hays Code) started enforcing a set of rules governing American filmmaking in 1934 , stifling American cinema for over three decades.  Citing that that no picture should ever”lower the moral standards of those who see it” Among many prohibitions, it stated that seduction is never the proper subject for comedy.

It prohibited interracial romance, revenge plots, and the showing of a crime method clearly enough that it might be imitated.  Under those limitations,most everything that Shakespeare wrote would have been banned.

For some paradoxical reason, jokes tailored for certain groups often don’t get laughs from these assemblages even though they are more likely to “get” the jokes.

For example,religious jokes don’t go over well in certain church groups. People who could actually understand a punchline that involves Deuteronomy immediately express horror, shock, and ire at the mere mention in a comic set-up of God, Jesus, Catholics, the Pope, Original Sin, Gosh Darn, Jeezum Crow, or “what’s the deal with the communion wafers?”

My comedy routines are clean.  There is more bad language in the average confessional than in my act, but I have encountered opposition with some of my topics.

I performed at an institution of higher learning earlier this year and, although most of my set was very well-received, when I went into a routine that involved religion,it was like the air was suddenly sucked out of the room.

People want to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” but think nothing of shopping for a month or more in “celebration” of their respective holy day.  After all, nothing says “Happy Birthday,Jesus” like a gift from Victoria’s Secret.

With the Christmas shopping season already upon us, should the stores caution their Santas to say “Ha, Ha, Ha” instead of Ho, Ho, Ho?  Perhaps “Don we now our jolly apparel?”

In the 1977 movie Oh, God!, George Burns, portraying God, delivered an apt quote from the French satirist Voltaire:  “God is a comedian playing to an audience that’s afraid to laugh.”

 

The Jest Wing

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

In the 2006 film Man of the Year, Robin Williams plays the comedic host of a political talk show (ala Jon Stewart) who runs for President of the US as an independent candidate and gets just enough votes to win.

Why not?   Americans can always use the laughter that a good comedian can provide.   Besides, it would be difficult for a foreign dignitary to be argumentative during a UN General Assembly meeting if the POTUS was making him laugh so hard that milk was spurting out of his nose.

President Obama will soon be vacating the White House and we will be losing the first president that was the funniest person at any White House Correspondents Dinner. He has comic timing that Jack Benny would have admired. And he certainly has learned how to deal with hecklers: “Is this an audience or a Congressional session?”

In the 1940 presidential election, Franklin Roosevelt, in addition to Wendell Willkie, had a comedic challenger: comedienne Gracie Allen.

Gracie and her husband, George Burns, were one of the most successful comedy teams on radio. Gracie was an intelligent woman who excelled at playing dumb with fractured logic and word play. As a publicity stunt for the Burns and Allen Show, she announced on their radio program in March of 1940 that she was going to run for the presidency as the candidate of a new third party, the “Surprise Party.”

When Gracie entered the race she said that she’d been laughing at presidential candidates for years and so decided she should run herself.

As part of the campaign, Allen wrote a short book, “How to Become President” in which she had speech templates such as: “How glorious it is to be here among my friends, for you are my friends, at least until the election, in this fair city of ______, the garden spot of the great ______ (APPLAUSE)

It seems that many modern politicians have taken a page from Gracie’s book. She offered useful advice such as: “If your opponent looks too honest call him a visionary. And if he smarter than you, you can work wonders with such things as ‘crafty’ and ‘clever.’

Gracie was the only candidate to encourage the American people to take pride in our national debt, boasting that “it’s the biggest in the world.”

Although it had been conceived as a radio gimmick, her campaign quickly took on a life of its own. The Union Pacific Railroad, which was assisting in the annual celebration of Golden Spikes Day in Omaha, Nebraska that May, offered to provide a campaign train for Gracie so she could make a whistle-stop tour, and Omaha volunteered to host her nominating convention.

Shortly after, she was invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to appear at the Women’s National Press Club in Washington D.C. as guest of honor, and she used the occasion to announce the Surprise Party convention.

Between Hollywood and Omaha the Allen campaign train made more than thirty stops, including Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Denver.

Thousands of enthusiastic fans showed up at the nominating convention at Creighton University on May 17 to unanimously nominate Gracie Allen for president of the United States. She told them she didn’t want a vice-presidential running mate because she didn’t want any vice on the ticket.

Gracie even received the endorsement of Harvard University, which was quite a coup considering that Roosevelt was an alumnus of the school.

In addition to receiving several thousand write-in votes on Election Day, Gracie Allen did win an election that year. The citizens of Menominee, Michigan elected her mayor, although she had to decline the post because she was a non-resident..

Before there was Colbert or Stewart, there was Pat Paulsen. Paulsen, the doleful-looking comedian who ran several tongue-in-cheek races for the Presidency, was a regular on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour starting in 1967. On the show , he delivered double-talk editorials on issues of the day which prompted the Smothers Brothers to suggest that he launch a satirical presidential campaign in 1968.   He subsequently became a household name by announcing his candidacy under the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party ticket.

The joke took on a life of its own, as he campaigned in one election after another, with commentary such as: “All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.”

Paulsen’s campaigns were rooted in comedy, although never lacking serious commentary. He used the theoretical campaigns to attack the double-talk of political candidates. Responding to questions on social issues he responded: “To get to the meat of the matter, I will come right to the point, and take note of the fact that the heart of the issue in the final analysis escapes me.”

Although he shared his thoughts with a dry, deadpan delivery, his observations were insightful.   During the 1972 campaign he said: ”The fault lies not with the individual but with the system, and that system is Richard Nixon.”

Commenting on Bob Dole’s proposal to cut taxes by 15 percent, he said: ”I think we should just tip the Government if it does a good job. Fifteen percent is the standard tip, isn’t it? If they don’t do a good job, give them less.”

In 1992 he beat out Ross Perot to come in second to George Bush in the North Dakota Republican Primary. In that year’s primaries he received a total of 10,984 votes.

In the 1996 New Hampshire primary Paulsen received 1,007 votes, finishing second to President Clinton’s 77,797 and beating out all 19 of the other Democratic fringe candidates.

Despite the fame it brought him, he later had second thoughts about his 1968 campaign because the election was so extremely close. Although he ran the campaign as a jest, he actually ended up with about one percent of the vote. He regretted it because the votes acquired by him might have otherwise gone to Hubert Humphrey.”

Paulsen received the International Platform Association’s Mark Twain Award for his outstanding contributions to topical humor. A fitting honor, as the author, whose humor took many a scathing stab at government, once noted that political morals “are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.”

 

The Comedy of Terrors

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

Ever since socially marginalized arena performers were given a “thumbs down” by emperors, accompanied by ear-piercing cries of “Slay him” from the audience, entertainers have been dealing with hostile crowds; none more than stand-up comedians.

 Jerry Seinfeld tells the story of when, in 1979, while he was onstage at Catch A Rising Star in NYC, a heckler threw a drink glass at him, just missing his head and shattering on the brick wall behind him. Expecting the guy to be escorted out of the club, Seinfeld was surprised when the emcee came up on stage and said “Jerry, come on, let’s go! You gotta get off.” The righteously indignant comic said “Me? I’m not going anywhere!”   The audience supported him, yelling “Throw that guy out. Not Jerry!”

The emcee was insistent and finally Seinfeld, realizing that his set had been ruined anyway, left the stage. The club’s bouncer hustled him outside, where he explained to Seinfeld that the person who threw the glass was a hit man for the mob. Nobody wanted to throw him out, so Seinfeld had to go.

A few months later, Joe Piscopo confronted the same guy from the stage, who ended up grabbing Piscopo and breaking his nose.

Jackie Mason was a comic who often seemed to invite loathing and violence.   In 1964, he was banned from the Ed Sullivan Show after he was accused of giving Sullivan “the finger” when the host, afraid that Mason’s set was running too long, gave him the one-minute signal from offstage.

Veteran comedian Jack Carter knew him very well; his wife, Roxanne, even handled Mason’s publicity for a while; but he didn’t have a high regard for him. “He’s schmucky. He’s nasty with women,” Carter said.

London “Times” writer Philip Collins tells the story about Jackie Mason making a joke in a Vegas club in 1966 about Frank Sinatra’s marriage to the much younger Mia Farrow:

“Mason received a threatening call and three shots through the balcony window of his Vegas hotel. Undeterred, Mason said on stage that he had no idea who fired the shots. All he had heard was someone in the background singing “Doobie, doobie do”. A few weeks later, Mason was attacked and left with a broken cheekbone.”

Carter had his doubts about the hotel shooting: “When he got shot in Vegas – he went out and shot the window out himself. Supposedly someone was shooting at him. He planted the whole thing.”

On another occasion, in Miami, Mason was pulled out of his car and beaten up in a parking lot.   “Everybody wanted to hit him, Carter said. “You gotta stand in line to hate him.”

Often, the vitriol directed at comedians was by other comics.

Actor and comedian Dick Gautier tells of an encounter with Irwin Corey whom he says is “incredibly brilliant and I knew him pretty well, but he is a terrible human being.”

Gautier was sitting in a NYC club with Enrico Banducci, owner of Frisco’s legendary “Hungry I” nightclub, helping him look for some new acts. “Irwin Corey walks in with his manager. His first words were, “What the [expletive] are these guys doing here!  I mean, that’s how we were greeted.” Corey ripped into Gautier, insulting him. “I grabbed him by the lapel, said Gautier, “and I picked him up off the floor. I said, ‘Keep this up and I will throw you out the window.’ There was an open window and I carried him over to it. From then on he’d say, “Hi Dick, how are you?”

 Gautier also had a run-in with Buddy Hackett. Gautier, who had appeared in bit parts on Buddy Hackett’s TV show “Stanley” in 1956, said he was “mean from the ground up.” In 1960, Gautier was starring in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” Hackett had just starred in a Broadway show called “Viva Madison Avenue” which had closed after only two performances. When he found out that Gautier, who had been an extra on his TV show, was now the lead in “Birdie” which was getting rave reviews, he was furious. One night, when he crossed paths with Gautier at a restaurant, “He took his keys and he threw them at me,’ said Gautier. “He said, ‘Hey, Dick, bring my car around, would ya!’ I said, “Certainly, Mr. Hackett.” I took the keys and went back to my theater; back to rehearsal. He looked around everywhere for his keys and couldn’t find them. Four hours later he comes storming in, “Where are my [expletive] keys!”

 Hackett not only had a volatile temperament, but he was also an avid gun collector; not a great combination. Hackett once shot out the windows of a car that was parked in his reserved spot at the Sahara Hotel when he was performing there.

 Hackett also seemed to have an ongoing problem locating his car keys. After leaving a Vegas bar one night with Shecky Greene, both drunk, Hackett started insulting him. During their argument, Hackett pulled out a gun. Greene knocked him down on the ground and, putting his foot on his throat said: “If you get up, Buddy – I’m going to kill you.”

He took the gun and Hackett’s car keys, threw them into the desert, and drove away. A few hours later, he gets a phone call from Hackett. ” I said, “Buddy? Where are you?” He said, “I’m in the desert. I’m looking for my car keys. I can get another gun. But I need my car keys.”

 In the early 1930s, Ted Healy, the vaudeville performer who created The Three Stooges, tried to shoot comedian Georgie Jessel backstage at a Chicago theater. He thought that Jessel, who allegedly was the original architect of the hangover cure called a Bloody Mary, had named his concoction after Healy’s girlfriend, wealthy heiress Mary Warburton. A drunken and enraged Healy fired a pistol at Jessel, narrowly missing him. Shortly after, the Stooges, tired of Healy’s violent behavior both on the stage and off, left him and formed their own act.

Too violent for the Stooges?!   I think a lot of their detractors owe the 3 Stooges a big apology.   Dragging a saw across Curley’s head is starting to look like a reasonable approach to a difference of opinion.

 

A Carlin Family Legacy

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

After writing a column about George Carlin entitled “The Road to Wonderful W.I.N.O.”  in the Bennington Banner on September 9th, I was contacted by a rep from a California PR firm who told me that he enjoyed the article; that a new George Carlin album, his first release of “new” material since his passing eight years ago, was being released; and asked me if I would like to have Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, as a guest on my radio show.  Well, as a life-long fan of the legendary comedian, there is only one possible answer to that question.   So on September 18, I had the pleasure of talking to Kelly Carlin about the long-awaited release of her dad’s new album; shelved since 2001, and her 2015 memoir A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George.

George Carlin’s 20th solo album, I Kinda like It When a Lotta People Die, was recorded over the course of two nights at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 9 & 10, 2001.   This material was intended to be the source for his 12th HBO special on November 17, 2001 with the same title as the album.  Because of the September 11 attacks, Carlin decided not to release the album.  He reworked some of the material and used it in the November special which he renamed Complaints and Grievances.

Nobody does dark comedy as well as George Carlin…and his last recorded album shows that he had never lost his skill and brilliance as an observer of humanity, warts and all.

Kelly shares her father’s love of words and certainly his sense of humor.  In her memoir, which will be out in paperback on October 18,  she is an observer of the Carlin household, warts and all.

 George’s new album shows us the legend.  Kelly’s memoir shows us the man.  She opens the window blinds into their home and we have a front row seat as she takes us on an incredible journey through her father’s career, amidst the changing social values of the 1970s counter culture, and her somewhat unconventional upbringing.

At the age of 9 she watched her parents hide cocaine inside a bass drum in a backstage dressing room at the Milwaukee Summerfest just seconds before police arrived to arrest her father for doing his “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” routine.  She rolled joints for her father when she was 10.  She remembers being woken at the age of 11 by her cocaine-fueled father shouting “The sun has exploded!  We have 8 minutes to live!”

His cocaine binges didn’t always include high drama.  Because of his drug use, he would often be up all night and Kelly enjoyed staying up and spending quiet time with him; listening to music together or working on one of his many organization projects.

“Sorting his stuff was such a joy for him,” she writes, “that it ended up becoming the source for one of his most famous routines:  ‘A Place For My Stuff.’   My dad believed all was right in the world when, and only when, there was a list, a pile, a folder, or a Ziploc bag to contain the chaos of his life.”

She loved to make her father laugh and she wrote that “No moment is more perfect than watching the man who makes the world laugh, laugh himself.”

The memoir is not just about her maturation, but that of her dad as well, as he dealt with both his and her mother Brenda’s addictions and illnesses.  It is an account of Kelly growing up in an unorthodox household, where she often had to take on the role of “adult”:  helping to calm her father down when he was on a bad LSD trip or hiding her mother’s car keys so she wouldn’t drive somewhere under the influence when she was battling severe alcoholism.

“I love giving to fans the 360-degree view of George Carlin, his entire humanity, and with that comes parts where he is vulnerable,” she says. “But I also lay open my vulnerability and brokenness, too.”

In addition to her childhood, Kelly recounts  her own struggle with cocaine addiction, her troubled first marriage, dealing with the deaths of her parents, and the complex emotions she experienced within.

She has written that her most special childhood moments with her dad were what she calls the “teaching moments.”   Such as when he woke her up in the middle of the night so she could watch the Apollo 11 moon landing (an awestruck George kept repeating “This is really happening right now”), or taking her to the Kent State memorial and telling her about the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Tolstoy wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  I would hesitate to label the Carlins as an unhappy family.  Kelly’s memoir certainly reveals a troubled and often chaotic one; but  also shows us a devoted and loving family that referred to themselves as the “Three Musketeers.”  I guess you could say their family was also happy in its own way.

On October 9th, I will replay my conversation with Kelly Carlin on my radio show Conety Comedy.  The show also includes my conversation with Carlisle Carey.  She is a very funny and talented comedian who has performed at many venues all over the Northeast.

Cherchez La Femme

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

Victorian novelist George Meredith said that without the tempering wit of women there could be no real comedy at all.   As the husband of the funniest lady I have ever known, I heartily agree.

I always appreciated conversations with female friends ever since I was a teenager.  If the only insights, observations, thoughts, and philosophy I had ever encountered over the years originated only from other guys,  I’d probably be a sociopath by now.

But there has historically been a scarcity of female comics in the world of stand-up.   There have always been female comedians, from vaudeville to radio to TV, but “back in the day” they were a rarity in solo acts.  They performed with a male partner or had a unique stage persona as did Fanny Brice.

Jean Carroll, a popular comedienne of the 1940s and ’50s  is widely credited with having blazed the trail for female stand-up comics who came after her, such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers.  In Carroll’s day, the world of stand-up comedy was thought to be unfit for a woman.   Her humor was considered radical; she appeared alone onstage in an evening dress and diamonds (that alone was revolutionary) and unleashed a rapid-fire barrage of one-liners about her spouse, a staple of male comics.

Even with Carroll’s precedent-setting popularity, it has been a long and circuitous road for female stand-ups.   There’s a reason why your local comedy clubs will occasionally have “Ladies Night” comedy shows but don’t feel the need to have a “Men’s Night.”   It’s tough enough trying to get noticed in the sea of comedians that is out there nowadays.

In the ongoing debate over “He said something funny”/“she said something funny,” there have been some casualties.  Eddie Brill lost his job booking comedians for “Late Show with David Letterman” after the backlash following his comments in a NY Times interview in 2012 that some considered sexist.  He was  quoted as saying “There are a lot less female comics who are authentic.  I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.”   Comic Jessica Kirson responded: “What does that mean?”  Good question.   Brill said his remarks were taken out of context.   Even so,  in 2011, only one woman (Karen Rontowski) was booked on “Late Show.”

 In a 1979 Rolling Stone interview, Johnny Carson said he thought it was “very difficult” for a woman to be a comedian, acknowledging that his reasoning was based on long-standing role models that are associated with women.   He said: “ A woman is feminine, a woman is not abrasive.  She has to overcome that built-in identification as a retiring, meek woman.”  Although he mentioned that he thought Joan Rivers had great success with stand-up, he said “The ones that try, sometimes are a little aggressive for my taste.”

 A 1984 NY Times magazine story on women comics noted that in 1983, the Tonight Show featured only  5 female comedians.  One was Sandra Bernhard who was promoting her film appearance in “The King of Comedy” starring Jerry Lewis.   By the way,  In 1998, during a Q&A session at Aspen’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Jerry Lewis was asked which women comics he admired, He answered, “I don’t like any female comedians.”

Rivers had auditioned seven times for Carson’s show but was repeatedly turned down until Bill Cosby recommended her.  Even so, when she got the guest spot in 1965, it was as a comedy writer, not a comedian.  That, however, worked out for her because, although she didn’t get to perform stand-up, her conversation with Carson cracked him up and he asked her to return many times.   Rivers became his most frequent guest host, but when she phoned him in 1986 to tell him the exciting news that she had gotten her own talk show, he hung up on her and never spoke to her again.  For some reason, he treated it as a betrayal.

By the advent of the comedy boom of the 1980s, female stand-ups were no longer a rarity.  Shows like HBO’s “Women of the Night” profiled comics such as Ellen DeGeneres and Rita Rudner.

 Speaking of which, In 2000,  the MGM Grand in Las Vegas asked Rita Rudner to fill a six-week window they had.  Her show became the hottest ticket in town.  So much so that MGM built Rudner her own 450-seat theatre.   She is now officially the longest-running solo comedy show in the history of Las Vegas.

Ellen DeGeneres began performing stand-up In 1981.  In 1982 she entered a national talent contest held by the Showtime network, sending in a videotape of her stand-up act.  She  was voted the Funniest Person in America for her “conversation with God” monologue.

 After that, her  comedy career picked up momentum.   Audiences liked her amiable and cheerful style.  “I just watched other people and learned what I don’t like as an audience, and what I do like,” she says, “and anything that makes an audience uncomfortable, I know not to do next time.”

 But with her early success came criticism from other comics who resented DeGeneres’s Showtime honor.  During one appearance, a hostile club emcee incited the primarily male audience to turn their backs during her performance.  Disheartened by this rude behavior,  she left the stage in the middle of her routine, at which point the emcee ran to the mic and shouted “Let’s hear it one more time for the funniest Person in America.  “I wanted to go home and get out of the business,” she recalled.”  But she refused to let that incident set her back, and her determination paid off.

 in 1986, a Tonight Show booking agent caught her act at the Improv in Hollywood and she got her chance to be on the Tonight Show.  Well, actually, second time was a charm.  The first time she was scheduled to appear on Johnny Carson, she got bumped because  Robert Goulet went overlong; he kept forgetting the lyrics to the song “Memory.”

After she delivered a monologue on the Tonight Show, she became the only female comic to be invited to sit and talk with Johnny Carson after her first appearance.  Since then, she has become a television icon, and her talk show “Ellen,” has earned dozens of Daytime Emmy Awards.

And the emcee who tried to publicly ridicule DeGeneres after she received her Showtime Award?   I don’t know who he is.

The Road To “Wonderful W.I.N.O.”

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

They say a writer should write about “what they know.”  George Carlin knew radio broadcasting and, more importantly, how to parlay his experience and expertise into national stardom.

For George, the chip didn’t fall far from the Blarney Stone.  George’s father, Patrick, an advertising manager for the Sun newspaper, was a skillful after-dinner speaker who won a nationwide Dale Carnegie public speaking contest in 1935.

His parents split up when he was an infant, and with his mother working long hours, George would spend a lot of time alone at home after school, which he enjoyed because it gave him the opportunity to indulge in humor magazines such as Ballyhoo, a parody magazine packed with advertising spoofs that heralded the content of dozens of Carlin’s commercial take-offs to come.  The radio gave Carlin another world of comedy to absorb.  With an already sophisticated sense of humor, he could enjoy radio personalities who turned American conventions upside down with satirical comedic commentaries, such as Fred Allen and the acerbic Henry Morgan.

Morgan was an irreverent comedian who would even make fun of the products of the show’s sponsors.  He would also mock the weather forecast:  “Dark clouds, followed by silver linings.   George was clearly inspired.  Many years later, his own comic creation, weatherman Al Sleet, was saying:  “Tonight’s forecast: dark.  Continued dark throughout the night, with some widely scatter light towards morning.”

As a child at summer camp, George received an award in a talent show for delivering comic monologues that he remembered from his favorite radio performers.   It remained one of his most treasured possessions throughout his life, along with the mahogany gavel his father had been awarded for his winning speech.

Recognizing his burgeoning gift for language, his mother encouraged him to use the dictionary to look up a word if he was not sure of its meaning.

When Carlin was 10 years old, he saw Danny Kaye in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,”  the story of an unhappy man who escapes from the stress of his life into the vivid imagination of his daydreams.  Carlin was captivated by Kaye, who had a dazzling proclivity for delivering tongue-twisting comic dialogues.  Like Carlin would acquire, Kaye had a talent for vocal gymnastics.

When he was 13, his mother gave him a tape recorder and he started taping himself doing parodies of newscasts and sports reports of the Brooklyn Dodgers, including sound effects, such as a loud exhalation of breath to simulate a crowd roaring in the bleachers.

Carlin dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force when he was 17.  His plan was to use the G.I. Bill to cover the cost of broadcasting school.   He was assigned to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.  Not finding the military any more engrossing than school,  he was always in trouble,  He was court-martialed three times in addition to many other more minor offenses.

He met local DJ, Joe Monroe, who offered him a job at his station KJOE.  George got permission to work at the station; his commanding officer thought it would be good for community relations, as well as possibly keeping Carlin out of trouble.   Not quite.

As a DJ, he enjoyed some of the perks of the job, receiving free pizzas and booze from distributors who wanted him to give their records airtime.  One night, on the air, he began drinking a fifth of liquor he had received as a gift.   The drunker he got, the more he made fun of life at Barksdale AFB.  Several minutes later, at the end of a song, there was dead air.  MPs from the base had gone to the station and hauled Carlin to the guardhouse.

After the Air Force, Carlin enrolled in the Columbia School of Broadcasting…he quit after 2 weeks because he realized that the school couldn’t teach him anything more than he had learned on the job at KJOE.

He landed a job hosting at Boston’s  WEZE, but was fired after only 3 months because he took the station’s news van to NYC to buy some marijuana.  There had been a prison break at Walpole that they couldn’t cover.   Carlin’s argument to the station manager was that prison breaks happen all the time; they could just cover the next one.  They still fired him.

In 1958, Bob Arbogast, a DJ and comedy writer, wrote and performed a hit 45 single “Chaos Radio, (KOS)” which sold 10,000 copies in three days, and then was banned from radio play on the fourth day, when stations realized that it parodied “Top 40” radio.   It featured rapid-fire patter, song and commercial parodies, and an update of late baseball scores:  “5 to 1, 14 to 3.”   The similarities to Carlin’s later radio routines of W.I.N.O are obvious.   Carlin very likely was one of the DJs who played the record before it was banned from the airwaves.

His next gig was at KXOL in Fort Worth where he worked the 7 to midnight slot.  His audience was largely teenagers and Carlin had a rapport with them, taking song dedications and giving high school football scores on Friday nights with his show ”The Hi-Fi Club.”   His fictional “Wonderful W.I.N.O. broadcasts were clearly aimed at imaginary teen audiences  containing satirical “beach movie” promos, acne commercials, etc.   While at KXOL, he was featured in ads on benches at bus stops;  sometimes, ironically, covered by sleeping winos.

He started infusing more comedy into his broadcasts.  He developed a recurring character he called the “Hippy-Dippy Weatherman, with a mystified voice of a stoner, who did bizarre lampoons of weather reports.

After a few months at KXOL, he went to L.A.,  working  at R&B station KDAY.    He wrote comedy bits about current events which he did during his show.

Performing at an L.A. club, he was spotted by Lenny Bruce, who was so impressed, he contacted his agents at GAC and suggested they represent Carlin immediately.  They did.

Because of this, Carlin was able to take his finely honed characters and record his 1967 album “Take-Offs and Put-Ons” which became one of the biggest-selling comedy records of the 1960s.  It contained the fruition of his years of radio experience, including his signature “Wonderful W.I.N.O. routine, complete with the lightning-fast delivery of DJ Willie West, with his “stacks and stacks of wax and wax…”   It was nominated for a Grammy in 1968.

The rest, of course, is comedy history.  Carlin became one of the biggest voices in comedy; a legend.   Unlike  Walter Mitty,  Carlin had achieved his dreams and fantasies…along with Al Sleet, Willie West, Biff Burns…and all the other characters who helped get him there.

Comedy Job Promotion

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

For an aspiring comedian, there is no such thing as bad publicity.  If I was arrested for robbing a Brink’s truck, I would want the headlines to read “Stand-Up Comic Rick Conety Arrested for Robbery…told hilarious jokes while being Mirandized”…”I would be glad to arrest Mr. Conety anytime” Officer Riley said. ”He certainly broke up the monotony of the interrogation”…“Mr. Conety was heard to quip:  ‘Take my fingerprints, please!’ ”

Be prepared to work in one of your routines at any opportunity that might pop up, such as a “man on the street” interview:

Local TV station newscaster:  “What did you think of the volcano that erupted in Momotombo, Mexico the other day and destroyed 15 city blocks?”

You:  “Oh, man, it was horrifying!  Hey, speaking of horrifying, …have you flown coach lately?  I gotta tell ya…”

Business cards are important for a comedian.   Although 4,999 times out of 5,000,  your business card will end up in a garbage can, or used by the recipient to jot down a phone number in a bar at 3:00 in the morning…which will explain why you may receive a phone call from someone named Mabel yelling at you that you’re a lying, deceitful pig, and she wants the Vicodin that you stole out of her purse…

Other people may keep them as they are handy for scooping up a dead spider…or leaving at homicide scenes to throw police off the track.

Tacking them on bulletin boards at laundromats and convenience stores will probably not get you on the fast track… Stand-up comics are not usually an “impulse purchase.  Not a lot of people stop at a 7-11 for coffee, slim jims, and a comedian…less than you might realize…

Your business card is a succinct resume.  For a comedian, it should contain something that will make the person smile, laugh, or snort milk through their nose…It can be a humorous graphic or a short witty remark such as…”have jokes, will travel”…”will tell humorous limericks for food”…”Master of Mirth”…or even something that is actually funny.

The more cards you buy, the cheaper they are; with price incentives such as $10 for 100 cards or 1,000 cards for $40.  Sometimes they’ll even throw in a small car.  But when you receive your box of 1,000 business cards, be prepared to not change your e-mail address or phone number for at least the next 15 years.  Smoothly pulling your business card out of your pocket and handing it to a prospective booker or client while saying things like: “Let’s get together soon to discuss this”…looks much better than flipping the card over and writing updated information on the back;  making them wait while you blather on about “this is my new cell number and my new e-mail address…and this is my new mailing address…and this is my new stage name because I found out that Carrot Top was already taken”…

Once upon a time, a comic could audition live…in person…in front of another live person.  You knew immediately if club managers thought you were funny…they would be laughing.  Using this barometer, you also knew if the guy mopping the showroom floor thought you were funny…or if the waitress setting out the silverware on the tables thought you were funny.   As a matter of fact, the manager would often confer with the custodian who would confer with the waitress and then they would each rate you on a scale of one to ten, each holding up a card with their individual scores and if you got a combined score of at least 25 you were booked.  It was a simpler time.

Then technology reared its ugly 4-head VCR and a new generation of auditions began.  Club managers or bookers would no longer audition you in person, nor would the custodians or the waitresses.  You had to film yourself performing a comedy set and mail it to a club…or janitorial closet…or table #3…and wait for someone to contact you.  You might not hear back for 2 or 3 months…maybe 2 or 3 years…maybe never.  Just be patient.

Nowadays, many demos are taped with small digital camcorders and sent electronically via your computer which makes it easier for you to film demos at open mics.   It also means you can send it to a hundred booking agencies at the same time, greatly increasing the expeditiousness of your rejections.

When filming a demo at an open mic, the placement of the camera is important.  You don’t want it so close to the tables that you can hear someone saying “He stinks…let’s get out of here”…or setting the camera so far in the back of the room, you inadvertently get an on-camera drug deal.  Most importantly, do not place the camcorder so far back that someone steals it.  If possible, you want to avoid having to cut your set short to run off stage after a thief…though that would get a big laugh from the audience because they think it’s part of the show…or it would get a big laugh from the audience because they know it’s not part of the show…

Even if you manage to recover your camcorder, you now have a demo consisting of you telling three jokes, followed by a shaky-cam trip down 15th Street with the sound of you yelling expletives.  Not to worry.  It’s all good.  You are now a “Performance Artist.”

 

 

Dying On Stage

 

“Dying is easy; comedy is hard” is an apocryphal quote that has been attributed to a number of actors, from Edmund Kean to Edmund Gwenn.

Anyone who has ever had the experience of performing stand-up in front of an “unfriendly” audience knows what an excruciating experience it can be.  But sometimes, dying on stage can be literal, leading to an even quicker demise to a comedian’s career…often with an ironic twist…

To wit:  In 1673, the French playwright and actor Moliere, who suffered from tuberculosis, was overwhelmed with a coughing fit while performing the lead role in his play The Imaginary Invalid.   A true comic performer, Molière insisted on completing his performance before he was dragged offstage , dying  shortly afterward.  Ironically, the play was about a chronic hypochondriac.

Fast-forwarding to the 20th century,  Redd Foxx was rehearsing an episode on the set of his sitcom, The Royal Family, in 1991 when he collapsed of a heart attack.   Because he was best known for his role in Sanford and Son, whose character often feigned heart attacks (“This is the big one,  Elizabeth!  I’m coming to join you honey.”)  for a few moments the rest of the cast thought he was kidding when he fell to the floor.

Dick Shawn, the manic actor who played Hitler in Mel Brooks’ film The Producers,  had a fatal heart attack during a 1987 performance at USC in San Diego.  He was  performing a bit about surviving a nuclear attack.  Imagining that they were the only ones to survive, he told the audience that he would be their leader, announcing: …”and I will not lay down on the job.”  He then fell to the floor.  The audience laughed and waited…and waited…but Shawn never got up.  His live performances were unpredictably bizarre so the audience thought it was part of the act.  While Shawn lay motionless on the stage, they waited expectantly for several minutes to see what he would do next…until someone from backstage came out and started giving him CPR.

Perhaps the biggest celebratory send-off of a comedian to the Paradiso of Divine Comedy was that of Harry Einstein.

Einstein was a popular comic performer on radio and in movies during the 1930s and 40s, best known as his most famous character, a Greek called Nick Parkyakarkus.

He is the father of comedian Albert Einstein who, for obvious reasons, changed his name to Albert Brooks.

After being diagnosed with a heart condition in the late 1940s, he semi-retired from comedy, appearing primarily at the Hollywood Friar’s Club Roasts.  It was while performing at one of these, a roast honoring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in November of 1958 that he died of a heart attack.

The $100 a plate affair served as a fundraiser for a Burmese leper colony.  A crowd of nearly 1,200 packed the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton for the Friars Club dinner.

When it was Einstein’s turn at the dais, he annihilated the audience with a hilarious barrage of jokes that lasted about 9 minutes.  The audience was banging on the tables, roaring with laughter.  He was the hit of the show, leaving the podium to a standing ovation…the best live performance of his career.  As Einstein returned to his seat, the emcee, Art Linkletter, remarked:  How come anyone as funny as this isn’t on the air?”  Einstein sat next to Milton Berle and his fellow comedians called for him to stand and take another bow…which he did, amid thunderous applause.  He sat down again and immediately fell over on Berle’s shoulder, stricken with a heart attack, while the sound of laughter and acclaim were still ringing in his ears

Berle screamed “Is there a doctor in the house?” which many at first thought was a joke.  [There actually was an old Vaudeville bit that consisted of the star collapsing on stage, asking “Is there a doctor in the house?,” and when the physician answers, the star gets up and asks “How do you like the show so far Doc?”]

Einstein’s wife, actress Thelma Leeds, knew better and rushed to the dais with nitroglycerine pills, which were used to treat his arteriosclerosis.   People in the audience began yelling for doctors, some even shouting for certain clinicians, whom they knew to be in the room, by name.

He was carried backstage, while other performers tried to divert the stunned audience.  Berle asked Tony Martin to sing a song…unfortunately, the crooner’s choice from his repertoire was “There’s No Tomorrow.”

Because the  Roast was also a medical benefit, five doctors were at his side within seconds, including a surgeon who cut open his chest with a pocket scalpel and massaged his heart.   Another doctor administered electric shocks to his heart by stripping the insulation from a lamp cord and using it as a makeshift defibrillator.  After the doctors worked on him for over an hour, he was pronounced dead.

“The interesting thing to me was that he finished,” said Albert Brooks.  “He could have died in the middle, but he didn’t.  He finished and he was as good as he’d ever been in his life.  That’s what makes you believe in something.”