David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Fans, Fathers, Food

Fans

• Comedian Fred Allen once met a fan who told him that she had traveled to New York all the way from San Francisco to see him broadcast his radio program. Mr. Allen replied, “Madame, if I had only known you were coming all that way just to catch my little old show, the least I could have done was meet you halfway — say, about Omaha.”

• A boy named Bobby once wrote a fan letter to comedian Tim Conway and told him to drop by if he was ever in St. Louis, Missouri. The following week, Mr. Conway showed up at Bobby’s front door with his suitcase and said, “Hi, Bobby. You told me to drop in anytime, so I thought I’d stay for a week or two.”

• When comedian Eddie Cantor performed at Carnegie Hall, a very old man told him, “Mr. Cantor, I’ve been a fan of yours since I was a little kid.” Skeptical, the 60-year-old Mr. Cantor asked the very old man, “And how old are you?” The very old man said, “Ninety.”

• Sometimes people go up to celebrities and say, “Your face looks familiar. Haven’t I seen it somewhere?” Comedian George Gobel used to reply, “No, it’s always been right where it is now.”

Fathers

• When Adam Sandler was a little boy, he had a Diver Dan doll. Unfortunately, he lost it. Fortunately, he had a father who cared about him and didn’t want him to be unhappy. His father dressed up as Diver Dan’s father, then told young Adam that Diver Dan was not lost but instead was with him, and he thanked young Adam for taking care of Diver Dan. Today, Mr. Sandler says, “Dad would do anything to make me feel better.”

• When Sarah Silverman was three years old, her father taught her some dirty words, and then he told her to say them to his friends. She and the dirty words got a big laugh. As a grown-up stand-up comedian, Ms. Silverman says, “I realize now the laugh was pure shock value, but it felt really good, and I’ve been chasing it ever since.”

• When Chris Rock was still early in his career as a stand-up comedian, his father asked him how good he was. Chris replied, “I’m one of the best in the country.” His father knew him well, and he knew that Chris was not lying.

Food

• As a struggling, impoverished comedian early in his career, Jackie Gleason and some comedian friends found ways to survive. One thing that they would do was to go to a café and order a meal that one of them paid for. Whoever paid for the meal got the entrée. The others ate the potato, the salad, and the dessert, if there was one. They also went to the Automat, got hot water for free, then added packets of ketchup, Tabasco sauce, A-1 steak sauce, and salt and pepper to create something that resembled tomato soup. In addition, they sometimes ate the rolls or bread that a diner left behind. Another trick was to sleep through breakfast. When you’re sleeping, you’re not hungry. Even later, during his first marriage, things were bad. One February day in 1937, Mr. Gleason got hold of several brochures advertising a one-cent sale. As an advertising gimmick, each brochure had a penny glued to it. Mr. Gleason tore off all the pennies so that he and his wife could buy sandwiches.

• Once in a while, William M. Gaines, publisher of MAD magazine, would invite all the artists and writers to a dinner in a fancy restaurant. (This was a very good idea, as it allowed people — many of them freelancers who just stopped by once in a while to drop off material — to get to know each other. Because the MAD magazine employees were so numerous, they would ask the waiters if they could push some of the tables together. Once given permission, they would quickly form a circle of tables around the waiters, leaving no exit.

• Early in her career — basically before she had a career and while she was still a housewife — Phyllis Diller did a show at the Alameda Naval Air Station, where she was a hit and for which her pay was a 30-pound live turkey. She left it tied outside her apartment that night, and the next morning a couple who lived near her made her an offer: “We’re farm people, so we’ll kill it and share it with you.” Ms. Diller accepted the offer, and each family got 15 pounds of turkey.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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