David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Mishaps, Money

Mishaps

• Homero Blancas once hit a bad shot that bounced off a palm tree and ended up in the bra of a spectator. He asked Chi Chi Rodriguez what he should do. Chi Chi replied, “I think you should play it.”

Money

• Lesbian comic Rebecca Drysdale went to Sarah Lawrence College, but she fell in love with comedy and show business. Also attending Sarah Lawrence was Jordan Peele, now of MADtv fame. The two ignored classes, choosing instead to spend time improvising together. Eventually, Ms. Drysdale said to Ms. Peele, “I’m going to Chicago [to Second City]. Do you want to come?” Ms. Peele was willing: “Yeah. All right. Let me just go get my hat.” Ms. Drysdale does well, but occasionally — the result of pursuing a career that lacks a steady paycheck — she needs to borrow money from her parents. Of course, she has promised to pay them back — and to buy them a house in the south of France. Now, whenever she needs to borrow money, the house in the south of France gets a little bigger. When her father hands over the money, he says, “Well, that’s the fountain. That’s the art studio, the music room.” Ms. Drysdale says, “It’s turning into an extremely nice house in the south of France. But I will make good on it.”

• Comedian Fred Allen was generous with handouts to moochers, and whenever he went out, he stuffed dollar bills into his pockets to give away. Of course, his reputation for generosity became well known, and moochers used to wait for him so they could cadge a dollar handout. Being human, Mr. Allen sometimes grew tired of always being hit up for cash, so when he left his NBC studio, he tried to outwit the moochers by leaving through a different door, choosing one of eight widely separated exits. But whatever way he exited the building, the moochers were waiting. Eventually, he figured out that the moochers had placed a spotter inside NBC. Mr. Allen would head toward an exit, and the spotter would rush outside and tell the moochers which exit Mr. Allen was using.

• Comedian Jackie Gleason spent lots of money even when he didn’t have lots of money. He had a tab at the Villa Capri in Hollywood, where he ran up the bill until he owed the Villa Capri owner, Patsy D’Amore, $5,000 — a huge amount of money in 1950. He then left Hollywood — and his unpaid bill — for three years. When he returned, he invited some friends at dinner at the Villa Capri, where they ran up a bill of $75. Mr. Gleason then wrote a check for $6,000 and gave it to Mr. D’Amore, saying, “I’m a big tipper.” In addition, Mr. Gleason once ran up so big a tab at the bar of his friend Toots Shor that he told Toots that he felt like he couldn’t use his signing privilege anymore. Toots, a true friend, told him that if he didn’t want to sign his own name, then he should sign Toots’ name. Mr. Gleason borrowed $20 from Toots, used it to tip some servers (a big tip), then joked, “Hey, I personally am always good for a C-note [$100], but you guys all know how cheap Toots is.”

• British music-hall comedian Ken Dodd made people laugh for over 50 years, debuting in 1954 and still entertaining at the end of 2007. Unfortunately, he did get in trouble with the tax people in the late 1980s because of £700,000 in 20 offshore bank accounts — which he allegedly had not declared. Of course, because he is a comedian, his trial (which ended with him being declared not guilty) had some light moments. For example, at one point the judge asked him what £330,000 in a suitcase felt like. Mr. Dodd replied, “The notes are not heavy, m’lud.” Mr. Dodd is a gifted comedian. One of his best jokes is this: “Men’s legs have a terribly lonely life — standing in the dark in your trousers all day.”

• In 1915, Eddie Jackson, a singer who later teamed with Jimmy Durante and Lou Clayton and performed comedy, worked in a bookbindery in Brooklyn under a foreman whose name was Al Capone. Mr. Capone liked to bet on horse races, but he wasn’t good at it, so he often borrowed money from Mr. Jackson. Eventually, Mr. Jackson quit the job at the bookbindery, and eventually, Mr. Capone became a famous gangster in Chicago, but Mr. Capone didn’t forget Mr. Jackson. Whenever Mr. Capone returned to New York for a visit, he would see Mr. Jackson perform and throw $100 bills at him.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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