David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Audiences, Auditions

Audiences

• Comedian Eddie Cantor often spoke in Christian churches, and when he was present “officially” for a charity, the church was usually standing room only. But when he dropped in without advance notice, the church would often be half-empty. Once he ended a speech by saying, “Your minister tells me you’ve set an attendance record today. I suppose I should be honored — but isn’t it a shame that God Himself isn’t a big enough attraction!”

• Starting out as a stand-up comedian can be tough. Dallas comedian Sherry Belle remembers getting laughs her first time on stage; unfortunately, the audience was laughing at all the wrong places. For example, she finished a joke, but the audience didn’t laugh, so she said, “That was the punch line.” That made the audience laugh.

• Sam Mayo was a British music-hall comedian who was popular for a time, but whose comedy fell out of favor and forced his retirement. After retiring, he used to stand outside of music halls listening to the applause given to other performers as tears ran down his cheeks.

Auditions

• Jim J. Bullock is famous in part for playing Monroe Ficus on the TV sitcom Too Close for Comfort. To get the part, he first had to perform at the audition, which started late and kept him waiting for an hour. Mr. Bullock stormed into the audition, threw a hissy fit — and threw the screenplay at the feet of the producer — screamed that he should never have been kept waiting that long, and stormed out. A moment later, he entered the room again — on his hands and knees, begging for the job. Everyone laughed, and he got the part.

• Comedian Robin Williams earned great fame as Mork of the TV sitcom Mork and Mindy. Mork was an outer-space alien, and when Mr. Williams was asked at an audition to sit in a chair while in character as Mork, he did exactly that — and sat on his head. Fame really did come quickly. At an ice-skating rink, Mr. Williams stepped into a telephone booth to make a call. He was recognized by fans, who gawked at him through the glass. Mr. Williams says, “I felt like I was in the San Diego Zoo.”

Autographs

• Morris “Moe” Feinberg was the brother of Larry Fine, one of the Three Stooges. Mr. Feinberg went to a nightclub in Atlantic City, where an entertainer recognized him and introduced him to the audience, talking about the Three Stooges and saying, “I see Larry’s brother, Moe Fine, a good friend and a fellow performer. Moe, would you stand up and take a bow?” Afterward, a woman came up and asked for Mr. Feinberg’s autograph. He explained that he was only a small-time performer and not famous, but the woman smiled and said, “You can’t fool me with that ‘brother’ stuff. You’re Larry, all right.” Mr. Feinberg signed the autograph, “With warm regards, Larry ‘Stooge’ Fine.”

• English comedian Benny Hill appears to have been very likeable in real life. For one thing, he answered every letter from fans and never turned down a request for an autographed photograph. Also making him popular, of course, was his talent at being funny. Mr. Hill did joke about his public image as a comic lover. He used to say, “I imagine people also think I’m having it off with the girls in my show. Well, I haven’t had it off with them since … what time is it now?” and “This is the book where I keep the names of all the girls I’ve been to bed with. They’re in alphabetical order. Starting with Zelda.”

• Being a popular entertainer does have drawbacks. Country comedian Jerry Clower once ordered a ham dinner at Cracker Barrel, but he never did eat it because his gravy got cold as he signed 39 menus. He ended up going to a Seven-Eleven and buying crackers and Vienna sausages.

• Groucho Marx wrote this note in reply to an 11-year-old autograph collector: “Here is the autograph. I would send you a lock of my hair but it’s at the barbershop getting washed.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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