David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Wit, Work

From Bruce Anecdotes


• Groucho Marx, master of insults, once toasted a socialite in this way: “I drink to your charm, your beauty, and your brains — which will give you a rough idea of how hard up I am for a drink.” His brother Chico Marx was a master of chasing skirts. When his wife caught him kissing another woman, he explained, “I wasn’t kissing her. I was whispering in her mouth.”


• Chris Rock became a comedian almost as a fluke. In 1983, he wanted to see in person Eddie Murphy — a comedian whom he “totally idolized.” While standing in line at Radio City Music Hall to buy a ticket, he read a local paper that included information about comedy clubs. Mr. Rock says, “I don’t know what it was, but something in my head said [to] walk away, so I did.” He walked to the comedy club Catch a Rising Star. Fortunately, it was audition night, and fortunately he drew a lottery number that allowed him to be one of the people who auditioned that night. While waiting to go on stage, he wrote some jokes, and he succeeded so well that he was offered work at the club. This was fortunate. Mr. Rock says, “I knew nothing. If he hadn’t told me to come back, I never would have.” Of course, Mr. Rock rose in the comedy ranks, and a big break came when Eddie Murphy saw his act and hired him to play the role of a valet in Beverly Hills Cop II. What would Mr. Rock be doing now if he had not listened to the voice in his head telling him to walk away? He says, “I don’t know, driving a truck, something like that. But happy. I’d be a happy guy doing that.”

•  In 1929, Laurel and Hardy made the short comedy film “Liberty,” for which a three-story building was constructed. At one point, the comedy team was working 200 feet above ground, but a wooden platform below them was supposed to provide them safety. Mr. Laurel expressed concern about the height the comedy team was working at, so to prove that they were safe, Mr. Hardy jumped down on the wooden platform. However, the wood was made of flimsy sugar pine, and he fell through the platform. Fortunately, a competent crewmember named Thomas Benton Roberts, who had unsuccessfully complained about the flimsiness of the safety platform, had gone to the trouble of putting up a safety net below the safety platform — something he was not required to do. Instead of falling 200 feet, Mr. Hardy fell only 20 feet. He was shaken by the fall, but he quickly went back to work.

• Bob and Ray, aka Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, worked together for decades as comedians, and apparently the entire time they were trying to make each other laugh, and as a side effect they made their audiences laugh. According to Andy Rooney, who wrote a foreword to one of the collections of Bob and Ray’s scripts, the two men “have three distinct personalities. There’s Bob’s, there’s Ray’s, and then there’s Bob & Ray’s.” According to Mr. Rooney, when you met the two men separately, “two duller people you never talked to.” And Chris Elliott, Bob’s son, who is also a comedian, says that for years he thought his father was some kind of a businessman. Only at age 11 did Chris realize that his father worked as a comedian for a living. Of course, Bob and Ray were very close. Late in their career together, Ray joked, “I’ve been married to my wife for thirty-seven years, and to Bob for thirty-five.”

• Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame knew at an early age that he wanted to be in show business. When he was 17 years old, he ran across an advertisement in Billboard for an actor on a showboat. As part of the application process, he had to mail a photograph of himself. To improve his chances of getting a job, Moe did not use his own photo, but instead he sent the photo of a taller, more handsome friend. The plan worked — he got the job! Of course, the company manager who had advertised for the actor was surprised when Moe showed up — he did not at all look like the man in the photo he had mailed. But the company manager let Moe run errands for the actors, and when he did let Moe act in a few small roles, Moe was excellent.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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