CHRIS ROCK STEPS UP
In 1986, Chris Rock was discovered at the Comic Strip by owner Richie Tienken and Eddie Murphy. The story goes that Chris was setting up chairs and cleaning up in exchange for stage time, in a deal he made with Lucien Hold, the legendary manager of the club. One night Eddie Murphy came in to see Tienken, who was his manager for 11 years, and asked if there were any Black comics he could see. In those days there weren’t many.
Richie didn’t want Eddie to leave so he told Lucien to put Chris Rock on even though the room was packed and Chris had never performed for more than 12 people. He usually went on around two in the morning. Legend has it that Chris got up there and killed. Chris himself told me he just did ‘Okay.’ What he said was, “I wasn’t Joe Bolster. Nobody beats Joe Bolster on stage at the Comic Strip.”
That being said, he did well enough that Eddie befriended him, leading to his groundbreaking role in Beverly Hills Cop 2 in 1987. When Chris was leaving LA after the shoot was over, he was walking down this long corridor, turned to Tienken, and yelled back “Hey Richie, don’t forget about me!” And Richie didn’t.
He immediately called Lucien back in New York and told him to make sure to give Chris Rock good spots, which he did. Aside from liking Chris, Tienken knew that Chris was going be big, and he wanted to have both Eddie and Chris performing at the club. Chris never forgot about Richie’s kindness, and now that we’re working on the book and documentary film in honor of the 35th anniversary of the club, Chris Rock stepped up to the plate and accepted the position of executive producer of the film. He had already given us a two hour interview for the book. This is a guy who didn’t forget where he came from.
Chris was also very glad to see Richie re-gaining his strength, and recovering from his recent illness. Now there’s a new Rock hanging out at the Comic Strip. Chris’ little brother Jordan, who’s following in the footsteps of his brothers Chris and Tony, is there almost every night. He hangs out at the bar and does “latenight” at the same place where both of his brothers made names for themselves. He definitely has the Rock smile, if not the Rock beard.
Letterbox Pictures, the Emmy award winning company based in NY and LA, is shooting the documentary film, and is helmed by Abby Russell, who’s producing, and her partner Brent Sterling-Nemetz who’s directing. Abby is known for having created The Hamptons Comedy Festival, which I had the honor of co-producing with her in 2004. It’s the fund raising arm for Comedy Fights Cancer, the organization that brings comedy shows to people in hospitals. I myself performed in her shows at Sloane Kettering a couple of times, and thank G-d no patients got worse as a result!
One day we shot a table of comics reminiscing about their histories with The Strip, Lucien, and Richie. It was Danny Cohen, (who was there without his broach!), Lenny Marcus, Barry Weintraub, Bernadette Pauley, Cory Kahaney, and Dan Naturman. When we went to take the photos at the end, Lenny Marcus said he didn’t feel the shot would be complete without me in it, so I jumped in because basically I’m not happy till Lenny Marcus is happy. (I have him brainwashed into believing no shot is complete if I’m not in it!)
A couple of comedy clubs have had TV shows in the past, but the only one still happening is Gotham’s Live at Gotham on Comedy Central. Live at Gotham features the best new comic talents from all over the country. Each show features a star comic host and six really funny comedians.
This hit show taped it’s 4th season recently, and some of the hosts were Jim Jeffries, Rob Riggle, Charlie Murphy, Jo Koy, Doug Benson, Paul F. Tomkins, and one of my personal favorites Judah Friedlander, the World’s Greatest Champion and star of NBC’s 30 Rock. I went to catch the show hosted by Bobby Lee, a really funny comic I saw recently headlining at Carolines. Bobby got his big break one night in 1995 when Pauley Shore saw him on stage and asked him to open for him in Las Vegas.
Bobby wound up being a regular at The Comedy Store where he met Carlos Mencia and wound up going on the road with him as well. He was a longtime cast member on Mad TV, and has been in films like Harold and Kumar and Kickin’ It Old Skool. I’m a sucker for accents, and I love it when he imitates his Korean Dad who once got him a job selling corn on the side of the highway. One day when business was slow, his father told him he had to yell out the word “corn.” To see him on stage screaming the word “corn” at imaginary cars passing by doing 70 mph was definitely a comedic treat.
Stand-outs on the show were Dustin Ybarra, who may possibly have stranger hair than I do, and who is very funny and got huge applause. L.A. comic Patrick Keane, the white guy from MY TV’s Tony Rock Project, was also a stand-out. He said he played ball in high school but wasn’t that good. The coach sat him so far down the bench, the other team thought he was on their team.
I also liked his take on Cain, from biblical brothers Cain and Abel, which reference once lead me to a good Roast joke. “He treated me like we were brothers, ‘Cain and Abel.’” He said that when Cain was around there were only a handful of people on Earth. Cain killed one of the three people he knew, which meant that if you knew Cain, you only had a 66 1/3 percent chance of surviving. Very clever.
L.A. Comic Don Friesen holds the honor of being the only comic to ever win the prestigious San Francisco International Comedy Competition twice, in it’s 30 year history. That’s the competition that helped launch the careers of Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Ellen DeGeneres and Sinbad. Don said his wife told him he had to be stricter with the kids. They have to know that “No” means “No.” He said, “Well, what if I’m raising them to be sales people?” My thought was, what if he was raising them to be rapists?
JACK CHEESE AND MARTY FROMAGE
There’s a special bond between comics who start out together, and come up through the ranks at the same time. (Like Tony Rock and Sherrod Small for example!) Once you endure torture with someone, it brings you together in a way most people wouldn’t understand. It was that way with Bobcat Goldthwait and Robin Williams.
Robin is starring in Bobcat’s new film, World’s Greatest Dad playing Lance Clayton, a high school poetry teacher who has learned to settle for his lot in life, despite having dreams of being a famous writer. When his son dies in a “sexual-gratification accident,” he’s suddenly faced with the possibility of achieving everything he has always wanted, through a bizarre series of events created by Bobcat Goldthwait’s inventive mind.
Bobcat made the transition from stand-up and acting to working behind the camera as a writer/director when as he put it, “my retirement from acting came at the same time people weren’t hiring me, so it wasn’t such a bold move!” He said he had started doing stand-up at only 15 years old in Syracuse, (which was strange because he was living in Indiana at the time !), and then at 18 he moved to Boston and would come down to New York to audition for Letterman and other shows. “When I was in San Francisco as a young performer, with Robin Williams, sometimes I appeared using the name Jack Cheese. And sometimes when we played clubs together in San Francisco, which was thanks to him and not to me, since he was already pretty well known, he didn’t want to publicize his appearance, so he used the name Marty Fromage.”
There were some clubs that tried to cash in on the connection to Mork and Mindy, so they advertised him as “Marty From Mars” instead of “Marty Fromage.” Robin also had a cameo in Goldthwait’s film Shakes The Clown, in which he was again billed as Marty Fromage. (For those of you who never took French in high school, “fromage” means “cheese.”)
Bobcat gets offered lots of reality shows but he prefers to work behind the scenes. His favorite job of all time was directing Jimmy Kimmel Live. He had had many jobs going back to high school, where he worked as a janitor, which he said facetiously was a great way to get lots of girls. On my way to this interview with Bobcat, I got caught up in midtown traffic and was really afraid I’d be late, but as often happens to me, for whatever reason, as I got to the door of Magnolia Pictures where the interview was taking place, a car pulled up, and who stepped out but Bobcat and his publicist. So I wound up riding up in the elevator with him, and was able to invite him to be in the Comic Strip book and documentary film, just cause I got there late.
It’s happened to me many times. Once years ago, I attended the premiere of the Richard Lewis film Drunks. My goal was to see Richard, but I didn’t let him know I was coming. I got there late, ran down the wrong staircase, and wound up running right into Richard walking up the stairs. He looked at me and said, “What the f*+% are you doing here?” I told him I had come to see the film and bring him some unsolicited comedy material, which I gave him right then and there. Richard has never used any one else’s material, but I felt so strongly that I could write for him, that I decided to try anyway. The worst that could happen was that he’d have me deported and threaten my family, right?
Later that very same night there was a message on my home answering machine from Richard, thanking me for the material, and explaining that he never used anyone else’s material but that if he did, he would use this, and somewhere in there he used the word “brilliant.” I actually have that call on my website as it was such an honor to get that kind of compliment from Richard Lewis. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work. Make sure to go see World’s Greatest Dad.
COMEDY MATTERS QUICKIES
Comic Sue Costello is on the move. She recently finished shooting a feature film called The Fighter, which is a boxing movie based on the true life story about the step brothers from Lowell, MA. Mickey Ward played by Mark Walhberg, and Dicky Ward, played by Christian Bale. Dicky fought Sugar Ray Leonard then developed a crack addiction. He then trained his brother Micky to a welterweight championship. Sue played a crack addict with Christian Bale.
She also has a one-woman show called Minus 32 Million Words, about growing up fighting in Boston and then moving away and learning to use her words, instead of her fists, after reading an article in the New York Times that said that poor kids hear 32 million less words than rich kids.
Brimstone, the wrestler/actor/philanthropist was roasted for his 35th birthday, as a way of raising money to help poor kids break into the arts, through the help of The Brimstone Foundation. I was the Roast coordinator, and worked the red carpet interviewing the celebs that attended the event. My co-host was Josaine Espinal Coba, who you might have seen on WE TV’s Bridezillas. Josaine was “the Dominican Bridezilla” which meant she “out-Bridezilla’ed” the other girls using just her head motions alone, while she was yelling at people, and telling her bridesmaids to massage her feet.
Josaine and I had a great time together. Contrary to her on-screen presence she’s a very sweet girl with a great sense of humor. We got to interview a lot of the reality stars that showed up like Sarah Hartshorne, and Claire Unabia from America’s Next Top Model, and Leilene Ondrade from Flavor of Love, Charm School, and I Love Money. And we also got to interview Pablo Escobar Jr., the actual son of Pablo Escobar Sr.
Junior was larger than life and was a very funny roaster. He was carrying a magazine with a photo of his father on the cover, and told me of his plans to do a movie about his Dad, showing the good side of him that not many people ever saw. I figured he would have no trouble getting it made because when you think about it, who says “No” to Pablo Escobar Jr.? (It’s a rhetorical question that needs no answer!)
The ECNY awards were created in 2003, and used to stand for “Emerging Comics of New York” awards, Now according to Jon Friedman, from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and the creator of The Rejection Show, (something I know lots about!) it no longer means that. He’s not sure what it means but he knows it no longer means that.
I brought Sarah Hartshorne with me from America’s Next Top Model, who is actually very funny and should be doing stand-up. The show was great, with Michelle Collins from Best Week Ever as a stand-out stand-up. Her rapid fire delivery and powerful stage presence really won me over.
Then there was a video from Nick Kroll and John Mulaney that knocked me out. It was a 1930’s style newsreel called “Cavalcade of Personalities” and when I get a minute I have to call them and find out how they did it. It was fantastic.
PARTYING ON THE WENDY WILLIAMS SHOW
Josaine and I got along so well that she brought me as her guest for her appearance on the fabulous Wendy Williams Show on weekdays at 10 A.M. on Fox. After 23 successful years on the radio, for which she will be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame this November, Wendy now has a hit TV show. Last summer, Wendy made the move to TV, and Fox tested out her show in four markets for six weeks, where it beat out every other show amongst young women, which is the demographic that advertisers look for. (It’s also the demographic that most young men look for! )
As a result, the show launched nationally in July. Wendy is a truly beautiful woman, with an amazing smile, and fabulous voice, who is larger than life, and so comfortable with herself that she even adjusts her wig, (one of many that she proudly owns!) on camera.
She loves being the tallest woman in any room and often adds five inches to her 5’11” height with her Christian Louboutin heels. She has truly embraced herself as a woman, which comes across with her amazing comfort on camera. Wendy is no stranger to comedy as she had a long running show at Carolines every Wednesday night called The Wendy Williams Experience and Wendy held court there as only Wendy can do. So she’s naturally funny and brings out “the funny” in her guests.
Backstage in the green room, everyone’s very chill, and I ran into Wendy’s longtime, loyal assistant Pamela Smith who I had met before at Carolines. Pamela makes sure everything gets done the way it’s supposed to, and she made sure we were all very comfortable.
Josaine actually got to open the show and bring on Wendy, while I sat in the front row with her husband Bobby. The show’s like a real party cause there’s a DJ spinning hot music and the audience actually gets up and dances on the show stage before the show actually starts. By the time Wendy comes out everyone is pumped. Make sure to tune in. You’ll have lots of fun. I know I’m planning on going back.
JEFFREY ROSS WRITES A BOOK
Speaking of Roasts, … aside from all the other things he does, like acting, dancing (Dancing With The Stars), and movie making, (Patriot Act) Jeffrey Ross had made quite a name for himself as a “Roaster.” Jeffrey has been a hit on the famed Friars Roasts for many years, as well as the spin-off Comedy Central Roasts, like the most recent one of Joan Rivers. Now Jeffrey has written a book called I Only Roast The Ones I Love – Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges, which I will get to see at the book party at The Friars Club on September 10th. I hope he will write something nice for me in the book, but I won’t count on it!
We interviewed Jeffrey recently for the book and the documentary film we’re doing on The Comic Strip, and when I opened with the question, so how long have you been performing comedy and what are your earliest memories of The Comic Strip, Jeffrey answered by saying, “I started performing the year you bought those sunglasses. (LOL) I think it was about 1989, the same year those Capezios you’re wearing were in fashion.”
And it was then that I realized two things, one that I was actually being roasted by Jeffrey Ross, and that two, I should never try to do a book interview on camera, because as soon as comedians see a camera they start performing. It was a good lesson, and fortunately I still wound up with a great interview, because Jeffrey Ross is a funny man.
Anyway, until next time, remember … COMEDY MATTERS!!!