David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Critics, Death, Easter, Education

Critics

• Elaine May went backstage to see Dudley Moore after a Broadway performance of Beyond the Fringe and told him, “I loved the show.” When Mr. Moore, who was in a mood for receiving lots of reassurance, asked her if she had really loved the show, Ms. May, who was not in a mood for giving lots of reassurance, replied, “No.”

Death

• British comedian Stephen Mangan started out studying law, then switched to serious acting, and finally started performing comic roles. He read many, many biographies of theatrical actors such as Ellen Terry, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Henry Irving, etc., and he says, “As a 16-year-old, all I wanted was to be living in digs in Darlington, heading off to do the matinee of Charley’s Aunt.” But he instead studied law, although at school he was around many, many “people who flipped their capes over their shoulders and said, ‘I’m going to become an actor.’” Still, when he graduated, he was too afraid to take a chance on theater, and he says that it seemed that he would become “a disgruntled lawyer, a slightly bitter bloke with the world’s largest theatrical biography collection.” However, his mother died from cancer at age 45, and Mr. Mangan’s priorities immediately changed. “From that moment, I heard the clock ticking,” he says. “You think, God, if that’s how long I’ve got, why not try and do it?” He tried it, and he succeeded at it.

• 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.”

• Groucho Marx got a lot of letters in his old age, but he reasoned that he got so many letters because two of his famous comedian brothers, Chico and Harpo, had died before he did. If they had lived, they would have received many of the letters. Groucho was a skeptic concerning the afterlife. Before Chico and Harpo died, they made a promise to Groucho, who explained, “They said they’d get in touch with me if there were a hereafter.” So what happened? Chico died in 1961, Harpo died in 1964, and in an interview with movie critic Roger Ebert in 1970, Groucho said, “I never heard a word. Not a godd*mn word.”

Easter

• Bob Ferguson owned a shoe-repair shop in Akron, Ohio, and his shop was notable for its window displays. When a friend suggested that he put a bunny in the window for Easter, Mr. Ferguson displayed a mannequin dressed (undressed?) as a Playboy Bunny.

Education

• Comedian Buster Keaton spent exactly one day in school. At age six, he was already a veteran comedian in vaudeville, thanks to his vaudevillian parents, and he treated school simply as another stage on which to make other people laugh. After disrupting the taking of attendance, the teaching of geography, and the teaching of grammar, he was sent to the principal, who sent Buster back home to his parents with a note pleading with them to keep Buster at home. His parents thought the note was funny, and his mother started teaching Buster at home (and on the road, since they continued their vaudeville act).

• Comedians Jimmy Durante and Don Knotts once co-hosted a Kraft Music Hall special on TV. During rehearsal, the director said that when they were introduced, he wanted both of them to walk onstage doing the famous Jimmy Durante strut. In other words, Mr. Durante was supposed to be himself and Mr. Knotts was supposed to imitate Mr. Durante. However, Mr. Durante was forced to ask Mr. Knotts to show him the famous Jimmy Durante strut. He requested, “Hey, Don, do me! I don’t know what I do!”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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