David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Television

Television

• Ray Romano was happy when his TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond premiered. His wife, Anna, was in New York, and Ray was in Los Angeles. Ray decided to celebrate with a friend named Kevin James in Las Vegas, and he telephoned Anna to tell her, “Hey, my show aired last night. You know what? Millions and millions of people saw me on TV.” Ray admits that at the time, “I’m just goofing around with this bravado.” He then added in his conversation with Anna, “OK? So that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, ’cause I am a TV STAR.” She told him, “You’re still the d**k I married.” Ray laughs and says, “That’s good for me. There’s somebody in my life you get the truth from.” By the way, when the producer of The Late Show with David Letterman telephoned him to express interest in developing a TV sitcom around him — the sitcom that became Everybody Loves Raymond — the producer said, “Just want you to know we’re interested. Don’t sign with anybody else because we’re interested.” Ray replied, “There IS nobody else.”

• The Bob Newhart Show is a much-beloved TV sitcom featuring Mr. Newhart as psychologist Bob Hartley and Suzanne Pleshette as Emily, his wife, a schoolteacher. In the sitcom, Bob and Emily are childless because Mr. Newhart did not want a show where the children use big words and are much more intelligent than their lovable but bumbling father. However, for the 6th season of the show, Mr. Newhart read a script in which Emily announced that she was pregnant. When he was asked what he thought about the script, he replied, “I think it’s a very funny script — who are you going to get to play the part of Bob?”

• Performers in television need to make their marks; that is, they need to stand in certain spots so that the camera operators can properly do their jobs. However, some performers in the days of live television declined to worry about making their marks. For example, comedian Jackie Gleason moved where the spirit moved him. When a camera operator complained, Mr. Gleason told him, “Well, pal, since I’m the star of this show, and your camera has wheels, just who in the h*ll do you think is going to move their *ss?”

• Tommy Smothers, one of the two famous Smothers Brothers, was a genius at overcoming censorship. Back when satirist Pat Paulsen was running for President, network censors were very nervous about what Mr. Paulsen might do and say. As a producer, Tommy made Mr. Paulsen fidget during tapings, thus accomplishing two things: 1) making Paulsen the politician appear shifty, and 2) making editing the tapes impossible because of the technological limitations of the 1960s.

• Groucho Marx could be cynical about such things as politicians and marriage, but when satirist Paul Krassner asked him what gave him hope, Groucho answered, “People.” Of course, Groucho met many people as the host of You Bet Your Life, and his favorite contestant was an elderly gentleman who was happy. Groucho asked what made him happy, and the elderly gentleman replied, “Every morning I get up, and I make a choice to be happy that day.”

• Comedian Martin Short has created many characters, including his favorite, talk-show host Jackie Rogers, Jr., whom he created when he was just a kid. Often, he would perform a variety show with Mr. Rogers as host. The venue was his family’s attic, and the audience was a tape recorder. Mr. Short says, “In my mind, I would see this show airing on NBC-TV at 8:30 on Thursday nights. But it was only every other week because I was far too hip for weekly TV.”

• Larry David, one of the creators of Seinfeld, did not want the show to be one of the sentimental varieties of sitcoms in which everyone hugs at the end after learning a lesson. This is evident in the way in which Seinfeldshowed that each of the main characters could at times be shallow and manipulative. In fact, people involved with the show wore jackets that bore this motto: “No Hugging, No Learning.”

• During an appearance on the quiz show You Bet Your Life, a man was completely paralyzed by stage fright and could not speak a word. Groucho Marx said to the audience, “Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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