• British music-hall comedian Ken Dodd made people laugh for over 50 years, debuting in 1954 and still entertaining at the end of 2007. Unfortunately, he did get in trouble with the tax people in the late 1980s because of £700,000 in 20 offshore bank accounts — which he allegedly had not declared. Of course, because he is a comedian, his trial (which ended with him being declared not guilty) had some light moments. For example, at one point the judge asked him what £330,000 in a suitcase felt like. Mr. Dodd replied, “The notes are not heavy, m’lud.” Mr. Dodd is a gifted comedian. One of his best jokes is this: “Men’s legs have a terribly lonely life — standing in the dark in your trousers all day.”
• In 1915, Eddie Jackson, a singer who later teamed with Jimmy Durante and Lou Clayton and performed comedy, worked in a bookbindery in Brooklyn under a foreman whose name was Al Capone. Mr. Capone liked to bet on horse races, but he wasn’t good at it, so he often borrowed money from Mr. Jackson. Eventually, Mr. Jackson quit, and eventually, Mr. Capone became a famous gangster in Chicago, but Mr. Capone didn’t forget Mr. Jackson. Whenever Mr. Capone returned to New York for a visit, he would see Mr. Jackson perform and throw $100 bills at him.
• Jack Benny often gave the biggest laughs to other members of the cast — he wanted laughter, and he wasn’t particular who got it. (This is a characteristic of Mary Tyler Moore on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.) Other comedians wanted to be the ones who got the laughs. Once, a leading comedian read a script for his radio program, then angrily complained to his writers that the script made him the highest-paid straight man in show business. Writer Goodman Ace replied, “Jack Benny makes three times the money you do.”
• Comedians have various reasons for going on tour, including needing the money to buy a house. For example, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders decided to go on one final tour as French and Saunders because Ms. French had seen a house in Cornwall that she wanted to buy, but she knew that she didn’t have the money to buy it. Sometimes, the house is not for the comedian’s personal use. Peter Kay went on a “Mum Wants a Bungalow” tour to raise money to buy his mother a house.
• Jack Benny’s comic persona was that of a man who is very tight with money — but in real life he was very generous. One night, he did a radio show in which his persona gave a large tip because he had forgotten his glasses. Following the show, Mr. Benny got into a taxicab, and when he paid his fare, he gave his usual large tip. The cabby, who had listened to the radio show, looked at the tip, then said, “You sure do need your glasses!”
• Fred Allen lived frugally, although he gave away great sums of money to the poor and needy. When he decided to go to Hollywood, he wired an agent to find him and his wife a couple of rooms in an inexpensive hotel. The agent wired back, suggesting that he stay in a 12-room house. Mr. Allen responded with yet another telegram: “Don’t be alarmed. You don’t have to let on you know us.”
• Opera singer Frances Alda once made a fishing bet with Charlie Chaplin. First he bet her a dollar that she wouldn’t catch any fish, then he said he would give her a dollar for every fish she did catch. After two hours of fishing, she had caught 83 fish, so he called off the bet and paid her $83. Ms. Alda knew she would win the bet — she hadn’t told Mr. Chaplin that the flounder were running.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN COMEDY