David Bruce: The Funniest People in Comedy — Revenge, Signs, Straight Men, Telegrams


• When Joan Rivers broke up with an early boyfriend who was working on a Ph.D., she invented an interesting way of getting revenge. She scattered the pages of his doctoral dissertation all over the floor—the pages were unnumbered.


• Jimmy Durante opened a nightclub with a few friends as investors. Because they were low on funds, they bargained for a low price from a signmaker. The bargaining worked. Instead of paying $350 for the sign, they paid only $250. Unfortunately, when the sign was delivered, it read: “CLUB DURANT.” Mr. Durante protested to the signmaker, but the signmaker said adding the extra E would cost $100, so the club opened with a misspelled name.

• Comedian Bob Newhart put up a sign saying “Armed Dog” at his Bel-Air house. Many people look at the sign and don’t even realize it’s funny because they are so used to seeing signs that say “Attack Dog” and “Armed Guard on Duty.”

Straight Men

• Fred Allen, a funny man, played straight man early in his career. One show, he got off a funny ad-lib that the audience enjoyed very much, but which the comedian he worked with did not. The comedian was furious, and he talked to Mr. Allen in the dressing room after the show. While still carrying a toilet plunger for a cane and wearing a light bulb for a nose, slap shoes on his feet, and a mangy fur coat with big patches on it around his shoulders, the comedian told Mr. Allen, “I’ll be goddamned if I play straight for anybody.”

• Believe it or not, Oliver Hardy regarded himself as a straight man for Stan Laurel. In addition to his modesty, Mr. Hardy was unselfish when it came to comedy. Once, a gag had been given to his character, but he pointed out that the gag fitted Mr. Laurel’s character better, and so the laugh was given to Mr. Laurel.


• Henny Youngman was having lunch with Jerry Lewis one day when Mr. Lewis, a very hot comedy star, was mobbed by fans asking for his autograph. Because Mr. Lewis was so busy signing autographs, he was unable to pay attention to Mr. Youngman. Therefore, Mr. Youngman was able to leave the table, go to the lobby of the hotel and order that a telegram be sent to Mr. Lewis, then return back to the table—all without Mr. Lewis noticing that he had been gone. When the telegram arrived, Mr. Lewis read: “Dear Jerry. Please pass the salt. Henny.”

• Natalie Schafer, the actress who played Mrs. Thurston Howell in Gilligan’s Island, did the pilot episode primarily to get a free trip to Hawaii, never dreaming that a TV network would actually pick up the series. One day, she received a telegram and starting crying. Because Ms. Schafer’s mother had been ill, her friends crowded around and offered sympathy. Ms. Schafer had to explain that her mother had not died: “No, no, no—the series sold!”

• Charles Lindbergh became an international hero as the result of a solo flight across the Atlantic. A few days after Mr. Lindbergh had triumphantly landed in LeBourget in France and made headlines throughout the United States and Europe, humorist Robert Benchley sent a telegram to Charles Brackett in Paris: “Lindbergh left here week ago. Am worried.” Mr. Brackett cabled back: “Do you mean George Lindbergh?”

• A cigarette company once wanted to advertise on a radio series that would star humorist Robert Benchley. They wired him: “What do you smoke?” Mr. Benchley didn’t want to do the radio series, so he wired back: “Marijuana.”

• In 1948, many people thought that Thomas Dewey would easily defeat Harry S. Truman in the Presidential election. After the election was over, and Mr. Truman had won, Bob Hope sent this telegram to Mr. Dewey: “Unpack.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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