David Bruce: Thee Coolest People in Comedy — Mothers, Movies

Mothers

• Early in his life, Bernie Mac knew that he wanted to be a comedian. His mother was crying one day, the television was on, and comedian Bill Cosby made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Bernie was present, hoping that his mother would stop crying, and soon he saw that she was laughing at Bill Cosby even though her tears were still on her cheeks. A little later, she was laughing hard, and no one could tell that she had been crying. Although Bernie was only about four years old, he told his mother, “Mama, that’s what I’m going to be. I’m going to be a comedian — so I don’t ever have to see you cry.”

• Lesbian comedian Judy Gold is a mother who is very happy that children today are growing up with less prejudice toward homosexuals than their parents had. One day, a child had a play date with her young son. After going home, the child complained, “Why can’t I have two moms?”

• Comedian Bill Hicks discovered that he could get away with a lot on stage if he had the right comeback line. For example, he would do a joke about cunnilingus, shocking nearly everyone, then say, “My mother wrote that joke.”

• Comedian Bob Hope’s mother was funny, too. One of the jokes his family told was that when Bob was born, his mother shouted to her husband, “William, get the doctor back. He’s taken the baby and left the stork.”

Movies

• Buster Keaton came up with good gags, but he had to throw some of them out of his movies. For example, in The Navigator, he had a gag in which he had to repair his ship underwater, and a school of fish came near him. A big fish had trouble getting through the school of fish, so Buster acted like an underwater traffic cop. He took a starfish and let it attach itself to his clothing like a badge, and he then stopped the school of fish to let the big fish go on its way. (The gag took three days to film, and it took 1,500 rubber fish attached to violin string.) Unfortunately, the audience did not laugh at the gag because it occurred at a place in the movie where the audience thought that Buster ought to be serious — he had to fix the ship in order to rescue the heroine. Because the gag did not get a laugh when he previewed the movie, Buster deleted it from the movie. Don’t feel bad for Buster, however — he put the gag in a trailer for the movie, and the gag got a big laugh.

• Occasionally, a comic movie star will be so popular and work so hard that he or she seems to be ubiquitous — appearing in every comic movie. For comic movie star Ben Stiller, that happened in the mid-2000s. In 2006, Mr. Stiller starred in Night at the Museum, which was written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. When he was asked if Mr. Stiller was the actor they had in mind when he and Mr. Garant wrote the movie, Mr. Lennon replied, “We write every script with Ben Stiller in mind. If you work in Hollywood these days, you might as well.”

• Early in Lucille Ball’s career, she had a small role in a movie titled The Kid from Spain that starred comedian Eddie Cantor. In the film, Mr. Cantor ducked and one of the glamour girls behind him got hit with a pie that had been meant to hit him. Lucy is the glamour girl who volunteered to get hit with the pie — none of the other glamour girls wanted to do the job. Later, Mr. Cantor told celebrity interviewer Joe Franklin that he knew on that day in 1932 that Lucy would go far in the business. Why? He explained that Lucy “wasn’t afraid to be outrageous.”

• Opera singer Helen Traubel provided popular entertainment in addition to her better-known high-brow entertainment. She enjoyed both. For example, while making the film Deep in My Heart, she had the pleasure of working with the very funny Jim Backus, who was the voice of Mr. Magoo and a storyteller of renown. During a break, she laughed so hard that tears streamed down her face — a scene she filmed immediately afterwards had to be reshot because her mascara had also streamed down her face.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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