David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Food, Football, Friends, Gambling


• Who was the first comedian to throw a pie in a silent-movie comedy? Probably it was Mabel Normand. In 1913, some of Mack Sennett’s comedians, including Mabel and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, were making a movie, but none of their gags seemed to work. Bored, Mabel saw a pie. Mr. Sennett’s comedians, including Mabel, played many practical jokes, and she launched the pie at Fatty Arbuckle, scoring a direct hit and many laughs.

• When comedian Steve Allen was a teenager, he ran away from home. Very quickly, he began to steal, to beg, and to eat garbage. Mr. Allen writes about finding a discarded can of pork and beans along a road. The can contained several ants and a few beans, but Mr. Allen shook the ants out of the can and enjoyed eating what was left of the beans.

• Tommy Morgan was a Scottish comedian. While staying in a Belfast hotel and hosting some friends in the hotel restaurant, Mr. Morgan was treated like the celebrity he was, and a waiter asked, “Will you be having a bit of partridge, Mr. Morgan?” Mr. Morgan replied, “A bit! What do you mean — a bit! Bring us a whole one each.”


• When Bill Cosby was in school, his grandfather advised him not to play football. Bill played football anyway, and he broke his shoulder. He was lying on a sofa, in pain, when his grandfather visited. Embarrassed, young Bill waited for his grandfather to say, “See, I told you, Junior.” Instead, his grandfather gave him a quarter and told him, “Go to the corner [store] and get some ice cream. It has calcium in it.’”

• Comedian Frank Morgan said whatever was on his mind. Once, he was reading the scores of some obscure football games on his radio program when he suddenly interrupted himself and asked, “Is anybody really interested in this nonsense?”


• At Friars Club dinners, comedians take great pleasure in insulting the guest of honor, often using very vulgar language to do so. At a dinner for Jack Benny, many dignified people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Hayes, and Senator Jacob Javits, were present, so Mr. Benny told his friend and fellow comedian George Burns, “George, this is a high-class affair, so nothing risqué.” Mr. Burns joked, “Should I tell the story about Sid Gary’s *ss?” Mr. Benny joked back, “I wouldn’t if I were you, because Javits is on ahead of you, and he’s going to tell it.”

• Actor Elliott Gould was friends with comedian Groucho Marx when Groucho was old. Groucho, of course, insulted friends as well as enemies. Once, Mr. Gould replaced a burned-out light bulb over Groucho’s bed, and Groucho told him, “That’s the best acting I’ve ever seen you do.” Mr. Elliott considers that “the best review I’ve ever had and probably will ever have.” The two men really were close — Groucho even let Mr. Elliott shave him with an electric razor.


• Even good people can be distracted from what is really important. At one time, comedian Phil Silvers was accustomed to bet quite a lot of money on sports games. Once, he visited with his mother for a day, and he had her radio tuned to a game he had bet on. At the end of the day, he realized that he had spent the day with his mother, but he couldn’t remember a single thing she had said because he had been listening to the game, not to her.

• Chico Marx loved to gamble, and he gambled all of his money away. His famous brother Harpo, however, managed to save much of his earnings. Once, Chico was asked how much money he had lost gambling. He replied, “Find out how much Harpo has. That’s how much I’ve lost!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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