David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Practical Jokes, Prejudice

Practical Jokes

• Impressionist George Kirby, an African American, put his impressive talents to use in 1956 when he and several other black entertainers performed in Miami Beach at the Beachcomber. This was during the Jim Crow era, and the Miami Sun printed an article with the headline “We Don’t Want N*ggers on the Beach!” As the black entertainers were in their dressing rooms nervously preparing for their performance that evening, they heard a mob, including voices that shouted, “Let’s get dem n*ggers!” Everyone opened their doors and looked outside, and then they heard the laughter of Mr. Kirby, who had put his talents to use in a practical joke that broke the tension before the performance.

• Some friends played a practical joke on actor Edmund Gurney, who always carried a rolled-up umbrella, even during good weather. The friends filled the umbrella with several small green apples, then waited for rainy weather. The joke played out better than the friends had thought it would. One day, as Mr. Gurney was talking to a lady, it started to rain, and so Mr. Gurney offered her the protection of his umbrella. He opened it over her head, and as Mr. Gurney tells the story, “out fell a ruddy orchard!”

• Theatrical actress Beatrice Lillie enjoyed playing practical jokes. In the 1936 play The Show is On, she stood behind a box-office window and co-star Bert Lahr, famous for playing the Cowardly Lion in the movie The Wizard of Oz, was supposed to go to her and exchange one-liners. One night, Mr. Lahr approached the box-office window, but she said, “So sorry, box office closed” — and then she slammed the window in his face.

• While attending UCLA, Nancy Cartwright — the voice of TV’s Bart Simpson — worked on theater sets, painting many flats with a thick brown paint that looked like chocolate pudding. One day, she and a fellow student bought some paint brushes, a new bucket, and several packages of chocolate pudding. When their supervisor came in, they were licking the brushes and saying, “Mmmm, pudding!”

• Marc Connelly and Robert Benchley once bought an old horse that was on its way to the glue factory and had it delivered at the house of Charles Butterworth. They took the horse through the front door and into the library, where Mr. Butterworth was reading. Mr. Butterworth looked up and saw his friends and the horse, and said, “Gee, fellows, you’ve been reading my mind.”

• Beatrice Kaufman once asked Alexander Woollcott to write a reference letter so her daughter could attend a certain school. As a practical joke, Mr. Woollcott sent to Mrs. Kaufman what she took to be a carbon copy of his reference letter, which began in this way: “I implore you to accept this unfortunate child and remove her from her shocking environment.”


• Quentin Crisp, an effeminate homosexual who performed one-man shows in theater, grew up in England, but felt at home in New York, where his eccentricities were accepted. One day, he stood on a corner in New York, waiting for a bus, dressed and made up in his usual manner with scarf, too-tight shoes, fedora, lipstick, rouge, dyed hair — in short, he was definitely an out homosexual. A black man looked at him and said, “Well, my! You’ve got it all on today!” The black man laughed, but without even a hint of terrorism. When Mr. Crisp had lived in London, people had felt justified in coming up to him, getting close and personal, and hissing, “Who do you think you are?”

• Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun, experienced racism at first hand when her family moved into an all-white Chicago neighborhood in the late 1930s. Although her family was middle-class — her father was a physician and an uncle was a professor — mobs surrounded her family’s house. At night, her mother stayed awake, patrolling the house with a loaded gun in her hands, and during the day, her father pursued a lawsuit that would give his family their rights. In 1940, he won the lawsuit, Hansberry v. Lee.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Los Hormiguitas — “Smelly Street”


Music: “Smelly Street”


Artist: Los Hormiguitas [The Little Ants]

Artist Location: Brooklyn, New York


Ryan Spoto- Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Bass 
JM Airis- Guitar 
Skye Beach- Drums 

Price: $1 (USD) for track; $5 (USD) for five-track EP

Genre: Instrumental Surf Rock.




Los Hormiguitas on Bandcamp



Jeanie and the Dreamers at Ohio University’s Scripps Amphitheater — 9-30-2021

Nick (left), Mark (middle), Jeanie (right)
Corbin Marsh, opening act
From left to right: Corbin Marsh (musician, mover and shaker who greatly supports local and regional music), Bruce Dalzell (musician, emcee), Mark (Dreamer), Nick (Dreamer), Jeanie (Jeanie)
Jeanie and the Dreamers in the Twilight