I flew out to LA to interview Billy Crystal for the book I’m writing on the 35 year history of The Comic Strip, with owner Richie Tienken. This was thanks to Bob Wachs who’s known Billy for all those years. Bob Wachs is Richie Tienken’s partner and the co-founder of The Comic Strip. Thanks to Bob, when the club opened on June 1, 1976, Billy was the first comic to hit the stage.
Billy said if Bob hadn’t reminded him he wouldn’t have remembered. It was that long ago. Billy also was the first comic to play the Ft. Lauderdale club when they opened a Comic Strip in Florida. Bob was Billy’s attorney in those days, and Billy remembered Bob as a hardworking guy who drove a Rolls Royce. Now he and his lovely wife Tess take cabs! Not Rolls Royce cabs either. Regular yellow taxis. Bob wasn’t sure he could make it happen and it took him all of ten minutes! We spoke about it, he made a call, and the next thing I knew he was back on the phone with me telling me I was set with Billy.
The cool thing was that Billy remembered me from years ago when we were first introduced by Jack Rollins, ( now 96 years old), who was managing him in those days, along with Robin Williams, Woody Allen and a few other names that would go on to become legends. Jack was a big supporter of mine and thought there should be a sit-com based on my story about a dentist who was also in show biz, as an aspiring comic, and he thought that Billy Crystal would be perfect to play me, so he brought us together. It’s also how I met Robin. How I met Woody Allen is a whole other story for another column.
Billy told me he thought I should have told everybody I was also a dentist in those days, instead of trying to hide it. He thought it was cool, and that the comics would have dug it. When I was writing for Joan Rivers, I thought she knew because she had known me from The Friars Club and the Roasts, and asked me if I would write for her. She invited me to meet with her at her home and I remember thinking, “ Big stars usually don’t invite comedy writers to their homes. She must know I’m also a doctor.” A few minutes before I arrived, she sprained her ankle and was in a lot of pain. Her doorman asked me to wait a few minutes. I thought to myself, this would be a good way for me to endear myself to her by writing her a prescription for painkillers.
But when I arrived at her apartment she introduced me to her staff as “Mr. Gurian”, so then I realized she didn’t know. I decided not to offer the prescription, not say anything and play it safe, ‘cause I realized that no one hires you in show biz BECAUSE you’re a dentist, they hire you in spite of it! I got the gig and a few months later received an early morning phone call from Joan who was in Las Vegas. I was with a patient when she called. My nurse came in an announced to me that “Dr. Rivers” was on the phone. Joan said, “ What do you do during the day?”
It seems that her assistant at the time saw me on TV on some show discussing my two careers, and told Joan about it. My secret life was about to become unmasked! I said to Joan, “ Is this concerning the vicious rumour going around that I’m a dentist? Joan loved the idea and asked why I hadn’t told her. I explained that I had been nervous that if I didn’t get the gig, I wouldn’t know if it was because she didn’t think I was funny, or that she didn’t want to work with a dentist! She thought it was hysterical! I was immortalized in the 1998 film “Moon Over Broadway” with Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco, where a comedy writer is struggling to come up with jokes, and someone suggests, “ Why don’t you call the funny dentist?”
Check out the video with Billy Crystal, and more on this story in my Comedy Matters Vlog here.
The Comic Strip, always creating new projects, is now live streaming their new “Lottery Show”, created by manager/booker JR Ravitz, and owner Richie Tienken. The show is every Tuesday night at 10:30, and is hosted by Sherrod Small.
New comics get to perform for 5 minutes, ( or less if they’re really horrible!), and get judged on the spot by seasoned comics in a kind of rotating panel of judges, with people like D.F. Sweedler, Modi, Mike Burton, Vic Henley, Keith Robinson, Paul Mecurio, and Louis Ramey, and after they get finished skewering their victims, the wannabe comics get judged by JR and Richie in terms of whether they are ready to perform at the club.
Most get the thumbs down, because The Strip is one of the most prestigious clubs to appear at and your material and stage presence have to be killer in order to be chosen. JR goes first, and then Richie can override him if he wants to! Bob Wachs takes a position on the other side of the club, armed with a mic, and offers his honest opinions as well! The show is a hit, and deserves a big audience!
I went to see my old buddy Tony Woods headlining at Gotham. He’s such a crowd pleaser, and so laid back. He’s the essence of comfort on stage. You’d think he was at home in his living room, but the man is just so funny. And with him he had two other faves of mine, Gina Brillon and Kevin Flynn who I hadn’t seen in too long. What a great show.
I had come from performing in the downstairs room, and got done just in time to catch the whole show in the big room. Then I went to see Nick Cannon’s New Faces show, cause after I saw him do comedy the first time at Gotham, I was so impressed with his talent, I promised myself to show up whenever he was there! Nick talked about his new twins with Mariah Carey, Moroccan and Monroe, and how celebs choose names like that because they have to be different. People expect it of them. But Nick is very real. He also told the audience to stop glorifying celebrities and start glorifying people who deserved it, like teachers.
Some of the people on his show I had never seen before. Like Keith Alberstadt who Nick accidentally introduced as Keith Albright. I understand he writes for SNL, and he did well on the show. The next comic, 17 year old Pete Davidson, did not make the cut on The Lottery Show at The Strip the night before, but got signed by Nick Cannon that night for Nick’s entertainment company Ncredible, and is the first comic to be signed for the imprint. That’s how comedy works. It kills one night and blows the next, or vice versa!
Also on the show was Nick’s boss at 92.3, a guy named Ron Wagman, who did a very funny set. Nick said he had never heard him perform before but took a shot at giving him a chance! I think that was a good choice on Nick’s part!
He also had a couple of my faves on his show like Kyle Grooms and Jessica Kirson. Kyle Grooms always destroys when he performs. His Barack impression is right on, like when he asks for “Change, ….. of a dollar! Does anyone have change for a dollar?” And Jessica Kirson I don’t get to see often enough. Jessie is fantastic, which is why they had her close Nick Cannon’s show.
Combining her great material with her hilarious facial expressions, that you can even see from the back of the room where I sit, (Table 69), she’s non-stop laughter from start to finish. Her imitation of a newborn infant would even make another infant laugh. And you know how hard it is to make newborn infant’s laugh! I saw two infants who were absolutely hysterical during the show, and they swore they would tell other infants they knew to come see Jessie at her next show. She draws a heavy infant crowd!
Jessie also puts together the New Faces shows at Gotham in the big upstairs room, but I’m usually performing in the downstairs room, so I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. She’s a true talent and a super nice person on top of that!
Paul Provenza’s Green Room Premiere
Showtime picked up Paul Provenza’s “The Green Room” which airs Thursday nights at 11 P.M. and he had a NY debut and screening at the prestigious Core Club on East 55th Street in Manhattan. I actually delayed my trip to LA for a day so I could attend this event, and I brought my trusty D.P. Sean Mannion with me to film the craziness that I knew would ensue when Paul and I get together.
Lisa Lampanelli came as well to be part of the panel that discussed the show after the screening was over. I love Lisa and she’s the best at what she does. I’m always so happy to see her, and happy for all of her success. She and I were going to do a Roast business just before her career blew up. We even had the brochures made up, and I’m sure I still have them somewhere. Some day they will be collector’s items. Some day I will probably be a collector’s item!
Paul’s episodes had people like Judd Apatow, Kathy Griffin, Dana Gould, Garry Shandling, Bo Burnham, Marc Maron, and Greg Proops! Paul gets them all, and he actually said the same thing about me!
Also there was Billy Connolly, Rain Pryor who came with her brother Richard Pryor Jr., ( who I sponsored for membership in The Friars Club), Jamie Kilstein, and Robin Bronk from The Creative Coalition, who sponsored the event. The Creative Coalition, is an organization made up of artists and entertainers to focus attention on such issues as the First Amendment, arts advocacy, and education. Some of the people on their Board are Richard Belzer, Tom Fontana, Adrian Grenier, Doug Herzog, Marlon Wayans, and lots of other heavy hitters. Check them out at thecreativecoalition.org)
And check out the cool, fun video of the event at the Comedy Matters Vlog here.
Comedy Matters Quickies
I wound up at Broadway Comedy for two special events. One was produced by Geoff Kole, who is also a very funny comic. You can tell by the way he spells Geoffrey. This was a predominantly Jewish themed event. It was a comedy contest for a newspaper called “The Jewish Week” which I have been in many times over the years.
Geoff had a great line-up, and when I walked in expecting to just do my set, he said his MC didn’t show up that night and would I mind MC’ing the show. When something like that happens, I make myself say “Yes” before I let myself get nervous. I just happened to have an index card in my wallet with lots of new ideas on it, so I knew I wouldn’t run out, cause as an MC you have to have a lot more material than you usually would. It went great.
Then I was present for the comeback performance of a guy I happen to love, John Femia. John was a child star back in the 80’s on a show called “Square Pegs” and appeared with stars of today like Jami Gertz, and Sarah Jessica Parker.This was John’s first time back on stage in about 4 years, and he chose to do it on a show he produced as part of the Stand-Up 360 Comedy Festival to benefit Wounded Warriors, our soldiers who have been wounded overseas. The festival boasted names like Judah Friedlander, Ted Alexandro, Amy Schumer, and Keith Robinson.
The midnight show that John produced and that I was on, which he called “The 7 Comics of the Ra-pocalypse”, was to benefit Saranne Rothberg’s foundation Comedy Cures. Saranne launched her Comedy Cures Foundation from her chemo chair in 1999, and never looked back. Fortunately she’s in good health, her Stage 4 cancer in remission, and she works tirelessly to bring comedy shows to cancer-stricken, and seriously ill people in the US and abroad. ( http://www.comedycure.org )
It was great to see John back on stage again. He’s a really funny guy, with a great heart! Comics Carolina Hidalgo and Adam Chisnall produce a weekly show downtown at a place called “Angels and Kings”, and I popped in to do a set. It’s a worthwhile show that should be supported. Go and check them out!
Madison Malloy and Andrew Schwartztol, ( wouldn’t the Schwartz have been enough??? They had to add the “tol” on the end???) are two other comics who co-produce shows together. They do it from a couple of places but the most recent one I attended and performed on was at Gotham, and it was their Funny Faces show. I hope that name doesn’t apply to the comedians, cause I was on that show!
They got a great line-up including Vic Henley, Chris DiStefano, and closing was the very funny Karen Bergreen, who does great imitations of her children. Both Andrew and Madison are very funny in their own right, and Madison does a particularly sexy act which is hard for an attractive woman to pull off, but she does!
Director John Gallagher and screenwriter Nick Brooks , ( Mel Brook’s son!), popped in to my office to discuss some projects we hope to do together including my screenplay called “Men of Violence” , a martial arts/gangster/action film in the comedic style of a Pulp Fiction, and a screenplay they wrote called “Sam.” Stay tuned on this one!
Comedy Matters in L.A.
My L.A. stay was made even more special by the fact that I stayed with my dear friend Kent Emmons the creator of All Comedy Radio, and the past CEO of National Lampoon Radio, at his gorgeous home in Westlake Village. Kent is now heavy into the infomercial business through his company Kent Direct (kentdirect.tv ).
While there I got to see his gorgeous little daughter Aubrey who’s 4 years old and up for a part on Modern Family. I also got to re-connect with internet guru Adam Gilad, the creator of Net-To-Bed, and an entire industry of things, who I hadn’t seen in too long. I also wound up performing on a couple of big shows. I did Jamie Masada’s Laugh Factory on Kevin Nealon’s show where comics perform and then sit on stage with Kevin for like a 10 minute interview about anything he want to talk about. Kevin is a great talent and we’ve been friends since his SNL days. Last time I had seen him was when he was shooting something in New York, on Broadway and I just happened to be walking by.
I knew he’d be surprised to see my name on his show roster, and when he saw it, he yelled out, “ Jeffrey Gurian? Is Jeffrey Gurian here?” I was in the back waiting to go on third at my assigned time, but Kevin said, “ Let’s bring Jeffrey Gurian on first”, and before I knew it I was onstage. It all went great, and Jamie Masada saw it and liked my set so much that he said I could perform there any time I was in L.A. …. As long as the club wasn’t open! (LOL) I added that line, because I’m still not comfortable writing complimentary things about myself!
I also did the Friday night 10 P.M. show at The Improv which was hosted by a really funny guy named Ralph Figueroa. Most of the acts were Latino, except for me and Helen Hong, who I was so glad to see since she’s a friend from home.
I was concerned that I might not go over well with a mostly Latino crowd, but they were AMAZING! I had another killer set, both of which are on the video that will appear at the end of this column, so you can see I’m not exaggerating. I hung out backstage at The Comedy Store quite a bit looking for Pauly Shore, who for some reason never got back to me while I was out there. I didn’t get to do a set, but I did get to talk to Tommy Morris who books the club and lives in that little booth outside where people come to pay and get in. He doesn’t really live in there, but he spends so much time in there he might as well! Tommy is the talent coordinator personally trained by Mitzi Shore, the owner of the club, and Pauly’s mother.
Pauly once told me that she used to get Sam Kinison to baby-sit for him, when he was little, and that’s why he was so messed up! (LOL) Who wouldn’t want Sam Kinison as a baby-sitter??? Why not some guy named ‘The Mangler”? One of the best pieces of advice that Mitzi ever gave him said Tommy was the night she yelled at him for telling a so-so comic that he did good. Mitzi said, “ It’s a sin to encourage mediocre talent.” And he never forgot it.
So many times we see that. People telling unfunny people they’re funny and they believe it, and they tell other unfunny people that they’re funny cause unfunny people usually know each other, and no one has the guts to tell them the truth. Mitzi has the guts!
Fun Photos With Liv Tyler
Liv Tyler is starring in a new film called “The Ledge” along with Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, and Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy! When I went to interview her, I brought an old photo of us together from when she was 16. She was so excited to see it that we held it and took a new photo holding the old photo, as I am prone to do, and have done with Richard Belzer, Paul Shaffer, and Ray Romano!
Russell Peters Rocks
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting with Russell Peters, the man who can draw 18,000 people plus to a stadium two nights in a row. And then invite them all back to his house for dessert afterwards! ( The second part of that is just a joke!) Coincidentally, he’s working on a project with Billy Crystal, which I mentioned to Billy when I saw him, and which Billy confirmed. Russell’s house is amazing. He refers to it as “the house that jokes built. “
It has a private screening room, ( as compared to a public screening room?), with a wall to wall TV, and reclining chairs, and a separate entertainment room with pinball machines and a DJ set-up cause Russell also spins. His shows always feature two of the hottest DJ’s in the Universe, Spinbad, which to me is the best name ever in the history of the world, and Starting from Scratch, and they get the crowd going as soon as they arrive.
Russell will be hosting a show in Montreal next week at the Just For Laughs Festival, and he handpicked the comics, like Dom Irrera, Nick Thune, and Jeremy Hotz. As a special treat we took a spin in his new Rolls Royce, a Phantom Drophead Coupe, which I believe is the most expensive one they make! You go Russell!!!
Check out the video of all this insanity in the Comedy Matters Vlog post right here.
And remember until next time, …. COMEDY MATTERS!!! (And if you don’t believe me, listen to the celebs on the Vlog! )