CHRIS ROCK AND PAUL REISER AT THE STRIP
The Comic Strip was and is still considered home to some of the biggest stars in the stand-up comedy business. Those stars openly acknowledge their debt to The Strip in a book I’m writing now about the legendary club. The Strip opened on June 1, 1976, and after 33 years is going stronger than ever.
Owner Richie Tienken, who had left home at the tender age of 13, and went on to become a successful bar owner in the Bronx, owned six bars across the New York City area, then ran the biggest bingo hall in the world. But after opening the Strip he went on to manage one of the biggest stars in the world— Eddie Murphy. Richie worked with Eddie for about 11 years, from his stint on Saturday Night Live through Beverly Hills Cop 2 in which, at Eddie’s request, Richie made a minor screen appearance at the end, as Mr. Anderson.
One night in 1986, Eddie discovered Chris Rock, who had been cleaning up the club and stacking chairs at closing, in exchange for stage time, which is a deal he had cut with Lucien Hold, the legendary manager of the club for more than 25 years.
Eddie came in that night and wanted to know if there were any black acts he could see. Since Chris was the only one there, he got his shot. He had never performed for more than about 10 people before, and that was usually at 2 a.m. But this night he got to go up during prime time, in front of a packed room, and he killed.
That set led to Rock’s friendship with Eddie, and his appearance in Beverly Hills Cop 2. The story is one of “synchronicity,” and being in the right place at the right time— although Chris explained that he basically lived at the Comic Strip, so “if you’re someplace ALL the time, eventually one time will be the right time.”
Chris considers himself to be a very lucky man to have come out of Bedford Stuyvesant with two wonderful parents, Rose and Julius, and then to have had a nurturing presence to guide him into show biz, like Richie and the Comic Strip. He is also one of the most humble people I have ever met.
I have the honor of writing this book with Richie , who I also just had the honor of sponsoring for membership in The Friars Club. So far we’ve interviewed about 20 comedy greats: Larry Miller, George Wallace, Paul Provenza, Rick Overton, Gilbert Gottfried, Susie Essman, Colin Quinn, and Paul Reiser are just a few.
Reiser came in right after New Year’s and shared the story of the annual New Year’s Day brunch at the River Café in Brooklyn, with Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Miller, and Mark Schiff. There had been a fifth, a comic named Michael Cain who unfortunately died at a very young age. It’s been going on for 28 years, and they still walk The Brooklyn Bridge in his memory.
With all the time I spend in the clubs, it’s amazing I manage to do anything else at all. I guess that’s the reason that on the first gorgeous day we’ve had in a while, I’m home writing this column.
Chris Mazzilli’s club, Gotham Comedy Club is representative of the man who runs it. Always impeccably dressed, Chris has his finger on the pulse of everything that happens in that club, and it shows. The club is gorgeous, the staff is great, and everything runs like clockwork.
Within about a week, I found myself there about five times. I was afraid I was going to get arrested for loitering. But there were too many cool things to attend.
It started with a party for Steppin’ Out Radio, the 12-step Radio Show, which is hosted by Scott Clark and producer Denise McIntee, for people conquering all kinds of addictions. It was billed as a “night of sober fun.” I’d love to tell you who was there, but it’s Anonymous! (get it)?
Actually it was hosted by Karen Bergreen, who joked about the annoying year-end letters you get from people telling you about their families’ accomplishments and plans for the future: “We had a powerful year. We’re taking a walking trip around the world!”
Jesse Joyce opened by telling of how he performed for our troops in Iraq, and had to wear camouflage for protection. The only problem was it was left over from The Korean War, so he was disguised as a bush from Korea on the desert in Iraq! Very effective!
He described a fight breaking out on Halloween, where a guy dressed as a Black Gilligan got into it with a guy dressed as a box of tissues. Anyone who knows me knows that’s my sense of humor. Great visual.
One of my faves, Wali Collins was there; he said his wife is so Dominican she’s batting .337. He also discussed Black girls having strange names. He’s Black and he can do that. He met one girl who wrote her name La-Ah. He said, “How do you pronounce that? La-Ah? She said, “No. La-dash-ah.”
Greg Giraldo closed the show, bemoaning the fact that he’s straight and is attracted to women, because approximately every 10 years he has to give all his shit away and start from scratch!
The next night I was back at Gotham helping my good friend Marion Grodin with her wonderful charity event for the Children’s Health Fund. Her Dad, the legendary Charles Grodin and the incredible Lewis Black were performing. And since I love them both, there was no chance I was missing this.
The Children’s Health Fund, (CHF) was started in 1987 by singer Paul Simon and Dr. Irwin Redlener, and works to develop health care programs for the nation’s most medically underserved children, as well as advocating on their behalf. CHF’s 22 pediatric programs have provided essential primary care services in more than 1.7 million patient visits. You can see more at ChildrensHealthFund.org. People packed the room. They raised a lot of money, but they can always use more, so if you were one of the lucky ones who did not invest with Bernard Madoff, go to the website and send in a contribution.
The next night, when I returned yet again to see Dan Naturman, I think the staff of Gotham was afraid I was moving in. Very few comics have as unique a delivery as Dan, and I think he’d make a great sit-com character, like maybe the quirky best friend. I was so glad to see my girl Karith Foster opening the show. She is so perfect as Don Imus’ sidekick on the radio, and she’s such a classy lady. Success agrees with her.
Then Mike Vecchione took the stage. Mike is very funny, aggressive, and looks by his own admission like a Staten Island cop. He’s an ex-wrestler with an interesting delivery, and he figured out how to keep his apartment from being robbed. He keeps police tape on his door so it always looks like a murder was committed in his apartment.
But Naturman is a wordsmith, and understands the importance of each word and it’s position in a joke, so when he talks about the commercial that tells you to ask your doctor about Previcid, he follows it up by saying, “How is that my job?” Which is so much funnier than any of several other ways to say that. And then when your doctor says, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you,” he asks, “Well, how about Previcid?”
I used to not like performing because it felt weird having to repeat the same jokes every night, which of course is the essence of building an act, proved by the fact that I look forward to hearing certain comics tell particular jokes. So I look forward to hearing Dan say, “9 out of 10 students in New York couldn’t pick out Canada on a map, and it was a map of Canada.” I also like “Things Not To Say on a Job Interview”, like “How’s the psychiatric coverage?” and “Can I have my resume back, it’s my only copy!”
And just when I thought I could stay away from Gotham for a few days, I went down to catch their monthly show, in the downstairs lounge, with Marc Maron as the MC, who I had recently seen at Cal Wynter’s Bleecker Street Street Theatre, where Mike Birbiglia’s show Sleepwalk With Me is playing. Maron was wonderful in a funny, poignant, brutally honest, and sometimes sad show called Scorching The Earth (produced by Punchline Magazine), about the break-up of his marriage.
I’d like to bring my comedy/variety show “Uncle Nat’s Traveling Peep Show” to that theatre… maybe this Spring.
By the time I went to see the incredible Pablo Francisco, from Mad TV and Comedy Central, who was at Gotham for three days, I was afraid that the staff would think I was homeless, and just went to shows to get out of the cold.
I actually wanted to go and see Pablo twice just to see him try and duplicate his act, which is so frenetic. The man does not stop for a minute. He makes Robin Williams seem like he’s on downers. Everything Pablo sees, or thinks of, leads him into another bit with the most amazing sound effects. I can’t imagine him doing the same show twice. At the end of his show he greets the audience and poses for photos and signs autographs and DVD’s. He was kind enough to give me a signed copy of his latest DVD, Bits and Pieces, and as soon as I finish writing this column, I’m going to watch it.
COMICAL RADIO IS A HOOT
I always have fun going on Comical Radio with Danny Lobell and his crew, David Kasten, Chris Iacono, and new addition Myka Fox because, mainly because I can be myself. They give me time to talk about my inventions— like the flashlight that only works during the day, the 24-hour stapler, and the battery-operated beard. I invented the flashlight that works during the day so now people can see where they’re going during the day also. It didn’t seem fair to only have a flashlight that worked at night. Why should people only be able to see at night?
And the battery operated beard has changed dating as we know it, because as you well know, most young women like dating men with long, Biblical length beards, especially ones that swing back and forth like a pendulum. Until recently, you would have had to plug your beard into a socket in order to keep it swinging all night, but then you had to bring an extension cord with you, in case the girl you wanted to talk to was on the other side of the room. Before you knew it, extension cords were getting tangled, and clogging up the dance floor, which was kind of dangerous, especially after you’ve had a few drinks.
I also got to reminisce while on the show. I enjoy reminiscing about all the parking spots I ever found, but then I find myself wondering who’s parked in them now. Then I think about all the wrong numbers I ever received, and whether I should have kept in touch with those people, and that leads me to recall all the people I passed when I was on the down escalator who were going up at the time, and wondering how they’re all doing.
And that’s why I like going on Comical radio, because they give me free rein, … and a small amount of water.
NO WRITERS GUILD AWARD FOR ME
So I went to the annual Writers Guild East Awards at the Hudson Theatre in the Millennium Hotel, with my trusty photographer, “hot” Asian model/actress/photog Evie Liu, just to see if I had accidentally won anything, and I didn’t.
It was ably hosted by John Oliver from The Daily Show, who was sharp and funny, and kept things moving along. I didn’t know any of the winners, except for Tom Fontana, but I knew a bunch of the presenters, and ran into Gilbert Gottfried with his pregnant wife Dara. That Gilbert did it again! Dara looked great, and is expecting a baby boy to go with their daughter Lily.
Gilbert turned the event into a Friars Roast, when he used the “C” word in referring to Kim Basinger, and claimed that Alec Baldwin called Gottfried’s house and insulted Gottfried’s daughter Lily, who was only one at the time. The audience screamed as they always do when Gilbert is on stage.
Jerry Stiller and his wife Ann Meara were presenters. You hardly ever see them together, and a funny, awkward thing happened. When I got there, I put my coat over the back of a chair at one of the tables, and my bag under my seat. Evie did the same on a seat at the same table. When we went back to our coats, expecting to sit down, Jerry and Ann were sitting at that very table eating comfortably by themselves.
Of all tables they had picked that one, and I didn’t want to just sit down and join them even if my coat was there first, as it felt kind of pushy for me to do that. So Evie and I just stood around, and talked to other people like writer/producer/series creator Tom Fontana until they were finished eating.
And get this: Judah Friedlander was there in a suit and no trucker hat. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a trucker hat. He came sort of late for the cocktail hour, grabbed some food and a drink, and was hanging with cast mate Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock.
Anyway, until next time, remember … COMEDY MATTERS!!!