David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Comedy and Comedians, Critics

Comedy and Comedians

• Normally, Jack Benny was not funny without his writers, but at least once he got off a funny ad lib. It happened when he was a guest on Fred Allen’s radio show, and Mr. Allen — who was funny with or without writers — was zinging Mr. Benny with ad-lib comic insults. Finally, Mr. Benny blurted out, “You wouldn’t dare say that if my writers were here.”

• Before becoming a comedian, Roseanne used to work as a waitress and insult her customers. After someone ordered, she would say such things as “Those drinks are gonna be six bucks, and it’ll cost you three more to have me take ’em off the tray and put ’em on the table.” She was so good that customers came in just so she could insult them.

• After comedian Margaret Cho became famous, one of the people who had emotionally tortured her when they were children came to one of her shows, walked up to her backstage afterwards, and asked her, “Do you remember me?” She replied, “No, I don’t. I have absolutely no idea who you are,” and then she walked away.

• It’s hard to put on Jonathan Winters. Pat Harrington, Jr., used to pretend to be an Italian golf pro with the name Guido Panzini. While in character, he would go up to unsuspecting people and give them golf tips. Once, he went up to Mr. Winters, who looked him over, said “Irish,” and then he walked away.

• Comedian Larry Miller once opened for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. Before showtime, Mr. Sinatra walked into his dressing room just as Mr. Miller was pulling up his pants. As Mr. Miller reached to shake hands, his pants fell to the floor and he let them remain there until Mr. Sinatra left. Mr. Miller says, “He was very cool — he didn’t say a word about it.”

• Stand-up comedian Judy Tenuta once worked in a dive so bad that a rat ran across the stage when she was introduced. The owner of the dive killed it — by shooting it with a .357 Magnum.

Critics

• Music critic Henry T. Finck enjoyed collecting anecdotes and stories. For example: 1) Lilli Lehmann used an interesting method to teach Geraldine Farrar how to act without the use of extravagant hand gestures. She would tie Ms. Farrar’s hands behind her back, and then say to her, “Now express your feelings.” 2) Some artists dislike encores. Conductor Arturo Toscanini was one. On occasion, so was Enrico Caruso. Once, members of an audience kept clapping their hands, yelling, and stamping their feet because they wanted an encore of “Una fertiva lagrima.” Mr. Caruso did not wish to oblige. He kept saying, “Hush,” to the audience, which ignored him. Finally, he carried a chair onto the stage and sat in it with his back to the audience until he was able to continue without singing an encore. 3) The Australian explorer Carl Lumholtz once told Mr. Finck about an encounter with a cannibal who asked him to walk in back because when Mr. Lumholtz walked in front, the cannibal was tempted to put a spear in his back and make a meal of him. Mr. Finck and Mr. Lumholtz once ate supper together; the main dish was terrapin liver, a delicacy, but Mr. Lumholtz confessed that it was good, but he liked python liver better.

• The inaugural performance of the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center was an opera by an American composer: Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. Unfortunately, the performance was critically panned. Even before the performance, Sir Rudolf Bing knew that the production was likely to be a failure. When he met soprano Leontyne Price’s mother just before the performance, she said, “I had envisioned you as a much larger man.” Sir Rudolf replied, “Until a week ago, I was.”

• The people who make money from dance and the people who criticize dance sometimes have somewhat different perceptions of the role of dance criticism. Dance impresario Sol Hurok once told dance critic Clive Barnes, “You know, Clive, the critic’s job is to sell tickets.” He replied, “Sol, you are absolutely right, but we get to choose the tickets we feel are worth selling.”

• A critic objected to George Balanchine’s choreography of Apollo and asked him, “Young man, where did you ever see Apollo walking on his knees?” Refusing to be intimidated, Mr. Balanchine replied, “I would ask you: Where did you ever see Apollo?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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