David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Ad-Libs, Advertising


• 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.

• Being an insult comedian has its advantages. Comedians Don Rickles and Joan Rivers performed together in Miami, Florida. A Florida judge asked, “Mr. Rickles, why don’t you come have lunch and play golf tomorrow?” If he had asked Ms. Rivers, she would have politely replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I have a prior family engagement and I can’t get out of it, but thank you.” Mr. Rickles, on the other hand, is an insult comedian, so he replied, “Listen: One, I’m leaving town. Two, you’re a putz. You’re loud, obnoxious, incredibly boring, and I wouldn’t play golf with you because I don’t live here and you couldn’t fix a ticket. No.” What was the judge’s response to being insulted by a famous insult comedian? He laughed.

• Comedian Joey Bishop was quick with an ad-lib and with a joke. One evening he was performing in a nightclub when glamorous actress Marilyn Monroe came in wearing very expensive furs. Mr. Bishop said to her, “Marilyn, I told you to sit in the truck.” And after he got a small part in the movie The Naked and the Dead, he told an audience, “I played both parts.” Mr. Bishop didn’t mind making fun of his good friend Frank Sinatra, who did mind when people other than Mr. Bishop made fun of him. Mr. Bishop once said about his good friend, “Frank regularly calls Dial-A-Prayer to pick up his messages.”

• One of stand-up comedian Greg Dean’s students made the mistake of rehearsing her act silently instead of out loud, with the result that, as Mr. Dean had predicted, she forgot her act when she got up in front of a nightclub audience. Fortunately, she maintained a playful attitude and got a few laughs ad-libbing a few jokes about forgetting her act. When Mr. Dean yelled out a few words to remind her of the topic of one of her funniest bits, she got a laugh by saying to him, “Thanks, Greg, now I have to stay up here and actually do my show.”

• On Jack Benny’s radio show, Virgil Reimer, the show’s sound-effects man, ran into a problem. A telephone was supposed to ring on the show, and he had just discovered that the machine that was supposed to make the sound of a telephone had weak batteries and wasn’t working. Therefore, Mr. Reimer said into a microphone, “Ding-a-ling-ling.” The audience in the radio studio laughed, and Mr. Benny ad-libbed, “I’ll get it — it sounds like a person-to-person call.”

• British comedian Danny La Rue performed in drag, and he was very funny. One night, a woman in the audience was annoyed that her boyfriend was paying attention to Mr. La Rue’s performance instead of paying attention to her, so she bared her breasts and told her boyfriend, “Look — these are real.” From the stage, Mr. La Rue said, “Yes, darling, they are — but I can hang mine up when it’s hot!”


• The profit motive makes many retailers feel kindly toward men who like to dress like women. Joan Rivers was selling some of her bejeweled products on the Home Shopping Network when a person named “Margaret” telephoned to rave about a certain bejeweled product she had previously purchased. Based on the sound of Margaret’s voice, Miss Veronica Vera, founder of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls, wondered whether Margaret’s real name might be Pete rather than Peggy. Ms. Rivers didn’t care either way — she kept on plugging her bejeweled products.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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