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

Fame

• Charlie Chaplin was widely imitated. One day, he was watching one of his imitators on a street in New York when a small boy pushed him. Mr. Chaplin asked him, “What’s the matter?” The small boy said, “Oh, git outa me way. I wanta see Charlie Chaplin. Whada you care about seein’ him? Youse guys always gets in a kid’s way.” On another occasion, Mr. Chaplin had finished shooting a scene in an alley. The people he was working with left, but Mr. Chaplin stayed because he wanted to watch some crap-shooting newsboys. A police officer came by and wanted to run Mr. Chaplin off, but Mr. Chaplin protested, “I’m Charlie Chaplin, and I’ve been working here!” The police officer replied, “You Charlie Chaplin! Huh, I guess I know Charlie Chaplin when I see him. You’re just one of his bum imitators. Get out!”

• As a young comedian, Jim Carrey made out a $10 million check to himself “for acting services rendered,” and carried it around in his wallet as a physical symbol of an important goal. Later, he received $10 million for starring in The Mask 2 — and $20 million for starring in Liar, Liar. Along the way to mega-success, he achieved success as an actor in the TV comedy series In Living Color. Unfortunately, his fame did have a downside when he took his daughter out for trick-or-treating on Halloween. Perhaps exaggerating a little, Mr. Carrey says that people would say, “It’s the dude from In Living Color! Here’s an extra candy! Do something [funny]!”

• Terry Gilliam considers himself fortunate because he is the least recognized of the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He is recognized just enough to keep his ego happy, but he realizes how much of a hassle it would be to be recognized everywhere he went. He says, “Thank God I’m not John. It’s an awful job to walk down the street and be John Cleese because you can’t escape from it!”

• Stan Laurel was funny in his old age. At a stationery store, a man kind of recognized him, saying, “Aren’t you…,” but the man was unable to come up with a name, so Mr. Laurel suggested a name: “Oliver Hardy.” The man replied, “Right. Whatever happened to Laurel?” Mr. Laurel sadly replied, “Oh, he went balmy.”

Fans

• Comedians are often writers; for example, Bill Cosby does much writing — both of comic routines and of books. His old comic routines still hold up. One day, some parents brought their nine-year-old son to see Mr. Cosby. The son was a fan, and he started doing Mr. Cosby’s 1966 routine “The Playground.” In the routine Bill and his friends play safely in a vacant lot despite the presence of broken glass — but they are no longer safe after someone installs monkey bars. The nine-year-old boy recited the routine, using Mr. Cosby’s inflections, and Mr. Cosby says that he started “listening to, and admiring, my writing. The kid’s performing, and I’m saying to myself, ‘This is really wonderful writing.’”

• Comedian Fred Allen was generous with his time. Whenever a fan wrote him, the fan received a personal reply from the great comedian himself. In addition, Mr. Allen did not repeat himself. If 10 requests for autographs came in the mail, Mr. Allen sent back 10 different replies and not one reply copied 10 times. One of his writers, Arnold M. Auerbach, once asked him why he spent so much time answering fan mail. Mr. Allen replied, “Anyone who takes the time to write to me deserves a personal answer.”

• At the premiere of stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman’s movie titled Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, which includes music in addition to comedy, an enthusiastic fan told her that she was “the true heir to Lenny Bruce.” She smiled and replied, “Wow! Thank you! That is the ultimate compliment! I’m actually not that familiar with Lenny Bruce’s work, but from what I understand, he was a really great singer.”

• Jack Riley played the character of the insulting, misanthropic Mr. Elliott Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show. Frequently, fans of the showed asked him if he was anything like the character he portrayed. Because he was a professional comedian, Mr. Riley’s standard response to this question was in the character of Mr. Carlin: “Bite me, you wiener.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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