• When escape artist Harry Houdini was a child, he worked as a messenger boy. One Christmas Eve, when his family was impoverished and lacked food, he came home from work and told his mother, “Shake me — I’m magic.” He then shook himself, and coins fell on the floor — they were the tips he had collected that day. That Christmas, his family ate well.
• One Christmas Eve, humorist Robert Benchley was having lunch with some friends at a restaurant, but he rose to go home. His friends urged him to stay a little longer, but he explained, “I owe it to the children — they’ve never seen me drunk.” (By the way, Mr. Benchley was only joking — he was not drunk.)
• When comedian Bill Hicks was very ill and showing signs of the pancreatic cancer that would kill him, he celebrated his final Christmas with his family, and Rachel, his seven-year-old niece, who had not been told that he was ill, turned to him and said, “Uncle Bill, you’re going to be our first angel.”
• On December 13 in Hungary, girls write down on slips of paper the names of eligible bachelors, put them under their pillow, and draw out one name each day until Christmas, when only one name remains. According to folklore, that is the name of the boy they will marry.
• While attending high school in the 1950s, Ilene Beckerman and a friend each wanted a “basketball sweater” but unfortunately they lacked athlete boyfriends to give them sweaters — also unfortunately, their high school didn’t have a basketball team. Eventually, Ilene and her friend discovered a store that would custom-make these sweaters — but only if a minimum of four sweaters was ordered. Therefore, Ilene, her friend, and two other girls ordered sweaters. On the back of the sweater was a space for the name of the team, but since the girls lacked a team they had “WC’WD” embroidered there. The initials stood for “We Couldn’t Think of a Name, So We Didn’t.” (By the way, the girls were so young that they thought the salesman was “vulgar” when he measured their chests when they ordered the custom-made sweaters.)
• Mary Moody Emerson, the aunt of Ralph Waldo Emerson, once was visited by the mother of Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden. Cynthia Thoreau was wearing clothing with pink ribbons, and Mary Emerson shut her eyes while talking to her. Eventually, she asked Mrs. Thoreau if she would like to know the reason for the tightly closed eyes. Mrs. Thoreau said that she would, and Mary Emerson replied, “I don’t like to see a person of your age guilty of such levity in her dress.”
• Phyllis Diller was an amateur comedian before she became a professional comedian. At college, she amused her female dorm mates by walking the halls with a rose in her mouth, a belt around her waist, curlers on her head, and nothing else. She also used to memorize jokes before going on dates. Later, as a homemaker before she became a professional comedian, she entertained other homemakers at the Laundromat.
• The Three Stooges’ Curly loved making children laugh. After suffering a stroke, he was forced to retire. Long-time Stooges short-film director Jules White visited him, and at one point, Curly got tears in his eyes and said to him, “I’m never going to make the children laugh again, am I, Jules?” (A few years after Curly died, the Three Stooges’ short films started being shown on television and Curly again made children laugh.)
• Some of the comedy routines of Mike Nichols and Elaine May started with a line from real life. For example, Mr. Nichols’ mother once telephoned him and said, “Hello, Michael, this is your mother — do you remember me?” Mr. Nichols had to ask her to hang up so he could call Ms. May and tell her about the new comedy line they would improvise around that night.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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