David Bruce: Comedians Anecdotes

Chris Rock became a comedian almost as a fluke. In 1983, he wanted to see in person Eddie Murphy—a comedian whom he “totally idolized.” While standing in line at Radio City Music Hall to buy a ticket, he read a local paper that included information about comedy clubs. Mr. Rock says, “I don’t know what it was but something in my head said walk away, so I did.” He walked to the comedy club Catch a Rising Star. Fortunately, it was audition night, and fortunately he drew a lottery number that allowed him to be one of the people who auditioned that night. While waiting to go on stage, he wrote jokes, and he succeeded so well that he was offered work at the club. This was fortunate. Mr. Rock says, “I knew nothing. If he hadn’t told me to come back, I never would have.” Of course, Mr. Rock rose in the comedy ranks, and a big break came when Eddie Murphy saw his act and hired him to play the role of a valet in Beverly Hills Cop II. What would Mr. Rock be doing now if he had not listened to the voice in his head telling him to walk away? He says, “I don’t know, driving a truck, something like that. But happy. I’d be a happy guy doing that.”

Back when vaudeville was alive and well, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel were performing together. Mr. Cantor made an ad-lib that got a big laugh, and then Mr. Jessel made an ad-lib that got an even bigger laugh. Not knowing anything to say to get a bigger laugh than Mr. Jessel, Mr. Cantor took off a shoe and hit Mr. Jessel on the head with it. Upset, in part because of the huge laugh that Mr. Cantor had gotten by hitting him, Mr. Jessel started complaining to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, this so-called grown-up man, whom I have the misfortune to be working with, is so lacking in decorum, breeding, and intelligence, that when he was unable to think of a clever retort he had to descend to the lowest form of humor by taking off his shoe and striking me on the head. Only an insensitive oaf would sink so low.” Mr. Cantor had the perfect response to Mr. Jessel’s speech. He hit Mr. Jessel on the head with his shoe again.

British comedian Omid Djalili’s family came from Iran, and he has appeared in much media, including Whoopi Goldberg’s 2003-2004 NBC sitcom, in which he played a handyman. Ms. Goldberg wanted him to have good and funny lines, and she got on one of her writers about it. Mr. Djalili says, “She told the scriptwriter, ‘We have someone who’s a Perrier-nominated comedian [the Perrier comedy awards, now known as the if.comedy awards, are given to the best comedy shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe] and all you can write for him are Ayatollah jokes. Is that all he’s good for? It’s my show. Write him some proper sh*t.’”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says, “The honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about.” For example, Mr. Seinfeld telephoned fellow comedian George Carlin a few days before Mr. Carlin died of a heart attack. And of course, Mr. Carlin made jokes about death. Journalist Tim Russert and musician Bo Diddley had recently died, and Mr. Carlin said, “I feel safe for a while. There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they’ve had a crash. It improves your odds.”

Monty Python member Eric Idle enjoyed the days when the Flying Circus was regarded as irreverent and scandalous. Once, while Monty Python was filming, a middle-class lady came up to them and said, “Oh, Monty Python; I absolutely hate you lot.” Mr. Idle enjoyed that, but he adds, “Nowadays I miss people who hate us; we have sadly become nice, safe, and acceptable now, which shows how clever an Establishment really is, opening up to make room inside itself.”

Choreographer Moses Pendleton enjoys coffee that is sweetened with maple syrup. He also has unusual qualifications that he looks for in the dancers he uses in his work. He looks for, first, “a quality in that person that catches your eye and makes you want to follow them.” The second quality is also very important. He says, “The other important requirement is that they appreciate the humor of their director. If they laugh at my jokes, then they’re in.”

Who was the first comedian to throw a pie in a silent-movie comedy? Probably it was Mabel Normand. In 1913, some of Mack Sennett’s comedians, including Mabel and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, were making a movie, but none of their gags seemed to work. Bored, Mabel saw a pie. Mr. Sennett’s comedians, including Mabel, played many practical jokes, and she launched the pie at Fatty Arbuckle, scoring a direct hit and many laughs.

The Three Stooges’ Curly loved making children laugh. After suffering a stroke, he was forced to retire. Long-time Stooges short-film director Jules White visited him, and at one point, Curly got tears in his eyes and said to him, “I’m never going to make the children laugh again, am I, Jules?” (A few years after Curly died, the Three Stooges’ short films started being shown on television and Curly again made children laugh.)

Groucho Marx, master of insults, once toasted a socialite in this way: “I drink to your charm, your beauty, and your brains—which will give you a rough idea of how hard up I am for a drink.” Brother Chico was a master of chasing skirts. When his wife caught him kissing another woman, he explained, “I wasn’t kissing her. I was whispering in her mouth.”

Comedian Lenny Bruce was an original. When he wanted to get out of military service, he said that he enjoyed cross-dressing. (In his act, he imagined an officer asking him, “Do you enjoy wearing women’s clothes?” Lenny replied, “When they fit.”) When bothered by hecklers, he brought them up on stage, then smacked them in the face with a pie.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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