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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Men dominate extended list of dinner companions

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you, whether you are Irish or not.

Now, let’s get right to the point. No more shilly-shallying. After mentioning a half-dozen people I would like to have dinner with, and after listing some dinner-partner choices sent in by readers, I promised to mention a lot of other people I would really like to have dinner with.

Funny, they are all comedians. That is, people who get paid for being funny, not people like Walt McNamara, who gets paid for being a lawyer and is funny for nothing. At least, I don’t think he bills clients for being funny. But I digress.

The following are in no particular order, but I am going to start with two guys you may not have heard of. Their names are Hudson and Landry (I have no idea what their first names are), and they take hilarity to unexplored limits. I was first introduced to them by a former advertising salesman at The News-Herald, Wayne Kipp. That was probably 25 or 30 years ago, and he had a tape of them, which he copied for me.

Since then I have managed to find three of their CDs, and they are priceless. I don’t know where I found them, but routines such as “Ajax Liquor Store,” “The Rising and Falling of Adolf Hitler” and “I Couldn’t Live Like That,” (the two old prospectors) send me into gales of laughter – and I mean gales.

But other funny people come quickly to mind.

I have played records (LPs, actually) by Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Joe E. Lewis, Richard Pryor (not for mixed company) and George Carlin until they are virtually worn out.

Of course, Carlin’s “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” is not for mixed audiences either, though times have changed (sigh!). You can hear almost anything on TV these days.

I once saw Lewis at the Copabana in New York, known by bop musicians as “The Apple” but since then having the modifier “Big” added by non-musicians. Those cats wrote songs like “Scrapple from the Apple” and “Back to the Apple.” Everyone knew they were talking about New York.

Lewis was a well-known drunk who had a bottle of Black & White scotch sitting on his table near us.
Every time a customer would come up to the mike and hand him a fresh drink he would proclaim, “It is now post time.”

He was, you see, a horse player. For a trip to the hospital he said he called Mt. Sinai. “They gave me a 50-50 chance,” he said. “Then I called Cedars of Lebanon. There they gave me eight to five.”

He feigned resentment that Frank Sinatra was chosen to play his life in “The Joker Is Wild.” “They told me it was because he was box office, that he has a way with the women. Well, I have a way with the women, too. It’s expensive, but it’s a way.”

I know most of Bob Newhart’s routines by heart. There’s nothing like listening to Abe Lincoln talking with his PR man, or Abner Doubleday trying to sell his game of baseball to a game company.
The first question: “How many couples, Mr. Doubleday?”

And being informed the game is much too complicated, he is told: “You come up with something for two or three couples, Mr. Doubleday, give us a call.”

Bob Goulding and Ray Eliot are hilarious, but I don’t own any of their recordings. But Joe Cocozzo and I can always manage a few laughs re-creating their dialog from the “Slow Talkers Convention.”

Going back a few years, think about how funny these guys were: W.C.Fields, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, George Burns, Red Skelton.

Here’s one that may not occur to you: Ronnie Graham. He was in “New Faces of 1952.” Then I saw him in New York in a little cabaret show called “Take Five” at the Downstairs at the Upstairs. Next it was at the Upstairs at the Downstairs and was called “Demi-Dozen.” Then came “Pieces of Eight” and “Dressed to the Nines.”

Ronnie came up with the “Harry the Hipster Gibson” routine, which I have preserved on an ancient LP. He invented the response to, “Hey man, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” (“Practice, mother.”)
I don’t know what happened to Shelley Berman, but I have his “Inside” and “Outside” routines.

Nobody was ever funnier than Mel Brooks, both as a performer and as a writer. His mind worked overtime on humor.

I am only part way through my list (where are Steve Allen and Woody Allen?) and I haven’t mentioned any ladies yet. Rose Marie, along with Morey Amsterdam, incited panic in my household, she was so funny. And Carol Burnett was in a class by herself as a comic. Also, listen to Phyllis Diller’s “Wet Toe in a Hot Socket” if you want to hear someone really funny.

But you know, it just happens to be a fact of life that there are a lot more funny men than there are funny women.

If you can explain this, please let me know.


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