• A bad review can give birth to a good joke. David Woods and Jon Haynes make up the anarchic theatrical group known as Ridiculusmus, although it used to have more members. In 1993, critic John O’Mahony was very impressed with Mr. Woods, and he wrote about him, “He transforms every bit-part into a central character, while showing up the paucity of talent in the rest of the group.” For years after the review appeared, whenever Mr. O’Mahony saw the group, Mr. Woods would be genial — but nervous — and the other members of the group would glower at Mr. O’Mahony and hiss at him. By the way, the group now consists of just two people, but that has nothing to do with Mr. O’Mahony’s review. The two remaining members do work well together. Mr. Woods says, “I think we complement each other.” Mr. Haynes adds, “Some like his exuberance. Others prefer my intensity. And a lot don’t like either of us.” At the very beginning of their careers, they had a comedy venue called the Tomato Club. They invited bad comedians to perform, and they gave audience members overripe tomatoes to throw at the bad comedians. With good reason, Mr. Haynes is concerned about critical notices: “Critical success would upset our equilibrium. Who can we bribe at the [British newspaper] Guardian to give us a one-star review?”
• Elaine May went backstage to see Dudley Moore after a Broadway performance of Beyond the Fringe and told him, “I loved the show.” When Mr. Moore, who was in a mood for receiving lots of reassurance, asked her if she had really loved the show, Ms. May, who was not in a mood for giving lots of reassurance, replied, “No.”
• British comedian Stephen Mangan started out studying law, then switched to serious acting, and finally started performing comic roles. He read many, many biographies of theatrical actors such as Ellen Terry, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Henry Irving, etc., and he says, “As a 16-year-old, all I wanted was to be living in digs in Darlington, heading off to do the matinee of Charley’s Aunt.” But he instead studied law, although at school he was around many, many “people who flipped their capes over their shoulders and said, ‘I’m going to become an actor.’” Still, when he graduated, he was too afraid to take a chance on theater, and he says that it seemed that he would become “a disgruntled lawyer, a slightly bitter bloke with the world’s largest theatrical biography collection.” However, his mother died from cancer at age 45, and Mr. Mangan’s priorities immediately changed. “From that moment, I heard the clock ticking,” he says. “You think, God, if that’s how long I’ve got, why not try and do it?” He tried it, and he succeeded at it.
• Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says, “The honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about.” For example, Mr. Seinfeld telephoned fellow comedian George Carlin a few days before Mr. Carlin died of a heart attack. And of course, Mr. Carlin made jokes about death. Journalist Tim Russert and musician Bo Diddley had recently died, and Mr. Carlin said, “I feel safe for a while. There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they’ve had a crash. It improves your odds.”
• Groucho Marx got a lot of letters in his old age, but he reasoned that he got so many letters because two of his famous comedian brothers, Chico and Harpo, had died before he did. If they had lived, they would have received many of the letters. Groucho was a skeptic concerning the afterlife. Before Chico and Harpo died, they made a promise to Groucho, who explained, “They said they’d get in touch with me if there were a hereafter.” So what happened? Chico died in 1961, Harpo died in 1964, and in an interview with movie critic Roger Ebert in 1970, Groucho said, “I never heard a word. Not a godd*mn word.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN COMEDY