David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Practical Jokes, Prejudice

Practical Jokes

• In Act 4 of Puccini’s La Bohème, Mimi lies dying of tuberculosis, and Musetta gives her a muff to keep her hands warm. Frederick Jägel once surprised the singer playing the role of Mimi. When she slipped her hands inside the muff, she discovered a warm Polish sausage.

• Comedian Brad Stein liked to sneak a couple of ketchup packets on board airplanes. After the plane had taken off, he would secretly squirt the ketchup below each ear, then point to his ears and ask the flight attendant, “Is this supposed to happen?”

• When comedian Jay Leno, host of The Tonight Show, was in high school, he used to sneak into the girls’ bathroom, pour water into the Kotex dispenser, then watch it expand and tear itself from the wall.

Prejudice

• British comedian Omid Djalili’s family came from Iran, but he is not a Muslim (he is a Baha’i); however, because of his genetics, he looks foreign to some of his fellow Brits, and that can lead to misunderstandings. For example, at Heathrow Airport, he looked anxiously at two men who seemed suspicious to him: they were muttering and bearded. He then looked at his fellow Brits, and he saw that they were anxiously looking at him. He says, “I shouted at people and said, ‘What are you looking at me for? Can’t you see those blokes over there?’ I had a real go at them, which made things worse. People just got upset and averted their eyes and I ended up muttering to myself.” This story is important because, as British journalist Ginny Dougary writes, “One slight problem with this is that his bearded brethren were doubtless just as innocent as Djalili. But it’s still a relief to hear a comedian having the guts to examine prejudice from his own perspective, only to demonstrate how he is also the victim of the same nervy thought poison.”

• Early in his career, Jewish comedian Milton Berle — then little more than an adolescent — worked on the same bill as Frank Fay, a comedian who was known for a lack of sensitivity. Because Frank Fay was annoyed that Milton was standing in the wings, he told the stage manager, “Get the little kike out of the entrance.” Shocked, Milton complained to his mother, who told him that probably Frank Fay had said “tyke,” not “kike.” Milton then listened carefully to what Frank Fay said the next time the two were close together, and when Frank Fay told the stage manager, “I told you to keep that little Jew bastard out of the wings,” Milton personally and immediately made sure that Frank Fay felt a strong urge to visit a hospital.

• Many years ago, the Seacrest Hotel of North Falmouth, Massachusetts, was restricted — meaning that it did not welcome Jews. When new managers took over the hotel, they decided to concoct a fictitious name for the new owner to show Jews that the hotel was no longer restricted. The name they decided on was Milton Q. Shapiro. Although “Milton Q. Shapiro” was completely fictitious and never existed, some would-be guests tried to bluff their way onto the premises when the hotel was filled to capacity by saying, “I’ll have you know, I am a very close friend of Milton Q. Shapiro. He was a classmate of mine in college and a fraternity brother besides.”

• In Chappell’s Show, comedian Dave Chappell attacked racism by playing such characters as a white supremacist who happened to be blind as well as black. Unfortunately, although most people recognized that racism was the real target of the subversive humor, some racists took it literally and congratulated Mr. Chappell for holding the same views that they did. Mr. Chappell was so shocked that he stopped making his TV show and stopped making the millions of dollars that went with making his TV show.

• Kathy Nijimy and Maureen Gaffney are actor-comedians who created “The Kathy and Mo Show: Parallel Lives.” They performed it at a lot of women’s music festivals, where they discovered that gay people are just as likely as straight people to make assumptions about other people. At the women’s music festivals, everyone assumed that Kathy and Mo were gay. In straight society, straights tend to assume that everyone is straight.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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