• When comic singer Anna Russell decided to sell her house in Australia and move back to the United States, she decided to get rid of many of her possessions. Many items were auctioned off, but an assortment of odds and ends were dumped into her living room, where she held a farewell party and rummage sale. Her maid looked at the stuff, then asked, “Why don’t you give the garbageman an extra $10 to cart it away?” Fortunately, Ms. Russell did not listen to the advice, because at the rummage sale she made over $900.
• Early in her career, stand-up comedian Judy Tenuta used to make money on the side insulting people at parties. For example, a woman would pay Ms. Tenuta to go to her house and insult her husband on his birthday. At the birthday party, Ms. Tenuta would say such things as, “Hi, it’s your birthday, pig. Come, let me play my accordion in your face.” A fringe benefit of these performances was free food. Ms. Tenuta would always ask that food be brought to her so she could eat as she insulted the guest of honor.
• The Marx Brothers flopped in London with a vaudeville skit called “On the Mezzanine.” During the skit, the Londoners began to throw pennies on the stage—a deadly insult. Groucho went to the front of the stage, raised his hand for silence, then said, “If you people are going to throw coins, I wish to hell you’d throw something more substantial—like shillings or guineas.” This joke was quoted throughout London, and the Marx Brothers became successful in London with a different skit titled “Home Again.”
• To gain experience as a comedian very early in his stand-up career, Jay Leno used to go into a bar and ask the manager if he could do his act. If the manager said, “Get out of here,” Mr. Leno would whip out a $50 bill and say, “Just let me tell some jokes, and if people leave or I embarrass the customers, you can keep the fifty.” All the managers returned his money to him, and a few invited him back to perform again—and next time they let him pass the hat.
• Comedian Richard Pryor grew angry at the low wages paid by Budd Friedman, owner of the Improv comedy club, so he confronted Mr. Friedman and accused him of paying him less because he was black. Mr. Friedman denied the charge, and later, he told his wife what Mr. Pryor had said. She replied, “You should have told him that you take advantage of all performers, regardless of race, color, or creed.” Despite the confrontation, the two men remained friends.
• Zero Mostel got involved in show business as a result of some gallery talks on art he gave at the Museum of Modern Art. Always a comedian, he spiced up his talks by making his audience roar with laughter. Because of the word-of-mouth reputation he received, he soon was asked to entertain at parties, where he received $3 or $5—he also asked for “all the pastrami sandwiches” he could eat.
• Very early in her career, Carol Burnett worked in the Catskill Mountains. A voice coach named Ken Welch heard her, was impressed, and wanted to teach her. Unfortunately, Ms. Burnett had very little money. Mr. Welch offered to teach her for free until she got a better-paying theater job, but Ms. Burnett gave him IOUs, which she paid off with quarters she earned as a hat-check girl.
• Stand-up comedian Judy Carter believes in rewarding the laughing members of her audience. Back when she performed in small clubs, if only a few members of the audience laughed at one of her jokes, she would take money out of her wallet, go over to the laughers, and hand them the money. This always got the audience’s attention and greatly encouraged laughter.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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