David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Laughs, Letters


• The Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin were, as you would expect, practical jokers. When they were in vaudeville, the Marx Brothers gave Mr. Chaplin a free ticket to their show. He showed up, but all during their act he ignored them and read a newspaper. Mr. Chaplin then gave the Marx Brothers free tickets to see him, but the Marx Brothers gave the tickets to some Hasidic Jews. Mr. Chaplin thought that the Marx Brothers had dressed up as Hasidic Jews with long beards and black hats and black clothing, and he performed magnificently, but the Hasidic Jews weren’t into comedy, and they left in the middle of his performance.

• Fellow comedian Eddie Cantor once wrote Groucho Marx asking which were the two biggest laughs he ever received. Groucho replied: “Briefly (and quickly) the two biggest laughs that I can recall (other than my three marriages) were in a vaudeville act called ‘Home Again.’ One was when Zeppo came out from the wings and announced, ‘Dad, the garbage man is here.’ I replied, ‘Tell him we don’t want any.’ The other was when Chico shook hands with me and said, ‘I would like to say goodbye to your wife,’ and I said, ‘Who wouldn’t?’”

• In 1956, the Olympics came to Australia — so did satirist Stan Freberg. He opened his comedy concerts by parodying the carrying of the Olympic torch, which was then making its way from town to town in Australia. Mr. Freberg, wearing a blue suit, would arrive at the comedy concert venue carrying the Olympic torch and make his way to the stage — where he allowed a confederate to use the torch to light his cigar.

• Ben Blue did a bit in his act as Chandu the Magician that George Burns considered hysterically funny. Mr. Blue put a man into a big basket, raised the basket about 15 feet above the stage, then he shot through the basket. “Blood” began dripping onto the stage, but Mr. Blue ignored the blood. As Mr. Burns wrote, “For the rest of the act, it kept dripping down. It was a riot.”

• At his first rehearsal at Glyndebourne, noted conductor Fritz Busch raised his baton, then he lowered his arm before even a note had been played, and joked to the orchestra, “Already is too loud.”


• In 2007 and in some previous years, Gabe Kaplan, former star of Welcome Back, Kotter, considered himself a D-list celebrity. No problem. No one needs to be an A-list celebrity to lead a life of wit and intelligence. When Mr. Kaplan received an e-mail asking him to fight another D-list celebrity in Celebrity Boxing, he knew that he would reject the invitation, but he wanted to do so in a funny way. Therefore, he e-mailed back a list of silly demands that would have to be met before he would fight. For example, he claimed that he had become a Hasidic Jew; therefore, when he fought, he would have to wear a skullcap and a tzitzit, which Mr. Kaplan explains is “a body prayer shawl worn under a shirt so that only the fringes are visible.” To his surprise, his silly demands were taken seriously. This gave him the idea to see what a D-list celebrity could get away with. He contacted a reputable book publisher, claiming that he had broken Wilt Chamberlain’s record of sleeping with 20,000 women. The book publisher took his claim seriously. He contacted the Postmaster General’s office, saying that he was a good candidate to be the first living person whose image would appear on a U.S. postage stamp. The Postmaster General’s office thought he was serious. He contacted Sioux City, Iowa, to see if they would be willing to throw him a gala birthday parade, complete with floats. The good people of Sioux City, Iowa, were willing. Eventually, he got the idea of putting his e-mails and their responses into a book. Most people were good sports and gave him permission — and the good people of Sioux City, Iowa, let Mr. Kaplan know that they were still willing to throw him a gala birthday parade, complete with floats. Therefore, in 2007 Mr. Kaplan celebrated his birthday with a gala parade in Sioux City, Iowa. (By the way, Mr. Kaplan’s book is titled Kotter’s Back: E-mails From a Faded Celebrity to a Bewildered World.)


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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