David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Education, Fame

Education

• One way that comedian Bill Cosby helped schools was through non-intrusive kinds of advertising. On The Cosby Show, his character, Cliff Huxtable, frequently wore a sweatshirt that bore the name of a predominantly black college. By the way, when Mr. Cosby hosted You Bet Your Life, the duck that dropped down when a contestant said the secret word wore a sweatshirt bearing the name of the university that Mr. Cosby had attended: Temple.

• Comedian Richard Pryor had an understanding teacher named Miss Marguerite Yingst when he was in the 6th grade. He often came to school late, and she made a deal with him. If he came to school on time each day for a week, she would let him get in front of the class and perform for 10 minutes Friday afternoon. She remembers, “It was great for Richard. The other pupils loved him. And Richard kept his promise — got to school on time.”

• Garry Moore and Jimmy Durante worked together in radio. They were both comedians, and Mr. Moore was Mr. Durante’s chief writer. For one show, Mr. Moore wrote a malapropism for Mr. Durante: “It’s a catastastrope!” He also told Mr. Durante, “You know, Jimmy, if you don’t mispronounce this, we won’t get a laugh.” Mr. Durante thought for a moment, then replied, “Yeah. Educate me, and we’ll both be out of a job.”

• A young Dick Van Dyke and the other students in his class sometimes took advantage of one of their teachers who was hard of hearing. Sometimes, she asked, “When did Columbus discover America?” They would reply with a deliberately wrong date such as “1776” because she would think that they had given the correct date and nod her head approvingly.

• Comedian Chris Rock has made it big in the risky and difficult business of show business, but that doesn’t mean that he wants his relatives to try to accomplish what he has accomplished. Whenever a family member wants help in getting established in show business, he offers to pay their college tuition instead.

• The first book Sam Levenson ever checked out of the library shocked the librarians — it was called What Every Girl Should Know. (Sam’s cousin Sophie was too embarrassed to check it out, so she asked Sam to check it out for her to read.)

Fame

• After movie shorts made by the Three Stooges — Moe, Larry, and Curly — started being shown on TV, the Three Stooges made many, many fans among the kids who saw them on TV. One day, Moe’s daughter asked him to pick up his grandchildren — Mike and Jeff — from school. Moe agreed, and when school let out, here came Mike and Jeff — and a couple of hundred other kids. Mike and Jeff had told their friends that one of the Three Stooges was coming to pick them up, and their friends had told their friends, who had told their friends. Things were chaotic for a while, and finally a teacher asked Moe to leave because of the near-riot conditions. By the way, Moe once received a telephone call from his daughter, who told him good news. She had bought a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia, and a photograph of the Three Stooges was in it! Later, Moe looked up “Comedy” in the World Book Encyclopedia, and he saw a photograph of himself and Larry wrapping an “iron” bar around the neck of Curly.

• In 1959, Mel Brooks, before he became really famous, attended a wrap party at a restaurant for the movie Happy Anniversary, in which his friend Carl Reiner appeared. Also eating at the restaurant, across the room, was playwright Moss Hart, whom Mr. Brooks recognized. Mr. Brooks approached Mr. Hart, loudly saying, “Hello. You don’t know who I am. My name is Mel Brooks. Do you know who you are? Your name is Moss Hart. Do you know what you’ve written? You wrote Once in a Lifetime with George Kaufman and You Can’t Take It with Youand The Man Who Came to Dinner. You wrote Lady in the Dark and you directed My Fair Lady.” Mr. Brooks continued naming all the things that Mr. Hart had accomplished during his life. Then he grew louder, “You should be arrogant! You have earned the right to be supercilious! WHY ARE YOU LETTING ME TALK TO YOU?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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