The joke that set me on the path to revue I made when I was twelve. Pop had backed the station wagon into the flower bed -and I called to him: “Pop, look -there’s a Ford in your fuchsia.” Of course it was Pop who’d opened my mind to the possibilities of wit (and slapstick): he was a great fan of 1) Fred Allen, 2) WC Fields and, 3) the Marx Bros. So when Milton Berle burst on the scene we ate him up. Berle was very shtick-ey -which my twelve-year-old mind of course embraced, he walked around on the sides of his feet, dressed in drag, blacked out his teeth. Sid Caesar‘s comedy had a more refined cast to it, though just as funny. He could imitate a gum machine malfunctioning, coughing, spitting, bulging his eyes. He could mimic any language, spouting nonsense syllables that sounded like the real thing (learned, I later realized, from Danny Kaye). Then, at eight in the morning, for Christ’s sake -there was Ernie Kovacs. I’d invariably be late to school, unable to tear myself away from his nearly surrealistic concepts: after each bit, he’d cut to a string puppet in the empty studio balcony, batting it’s cotton hands together in silent applause. He’d put on a pair of goggle-eyed, cross-eyed spectacles and become lisping poet Percy Dovetonsils (modeled, I later saw, on Truman Capote): Thought’s While Falling off the Empire State Building “-oh look, there goes the twenty-fourth floor“. Phil Silvers in Top Banana was another milestone, a recap of classic vaudeville shtick from its heyday (plaintiff enters with a ladder: “I’m taking my case to a higher court” -rimshot!). My friend Bobby and I were convulsed. The hottest girl in our class was Julie Wald, she wore Angora sweaters and that pointy bra that was so big in the fifties. We decided we could woo her by dressing up like Phil Silvers (baggy pants, giant neckties, outsize cap), going up to her apartment on Central Park West -and shpritzing her with seltzer from a seltzer bottle! Jesus, the things you think up at fifteen! Accordingly, we outfitted ourselves this way, and presented ourselves to the elevator man at the San Remo, one of Manhattans tonier addresses. “The Wald apartment, please.’ The operator looked at us strangely, and didn’t shut the door when he let us off at Julie’s foyer, just kind of stood there, watching. Fortunately, Julie answered the bell herself (not her mom or dad which would have been awful): “Johnny! Bobby! What are you doing???” At which point each of us underwent a total failure of nerve, and -instead of squirting Julie- turned the seltzer bottles on each other! After which we broke into embarrassed, hysterical giggles. I’m not making this up (how could I?). We then retreated to the elevator and made our red-faced, humiliated way back out to the street. God knows what we said to Julie next day at school (I’ve repressed it). Next week: how Bobby and I started writing songs.
09 Saturday Jun 2012
Posted Celebrity Encountersin