Inside Comedy

The book is David Steinberg’s tribute to comedy legends (a category he includes himself in) that he has known with some biographical data and what appear to be written excerpts from the TV show of the same name. Quick familiar read with a few surprises.

Me? I got into a class taught by Philip Roth. Sort of. I had never seen a stand-up comedian, but this was the most witty, compelling, interesting human being. He was incredible? He was the Leonard Cohen of his time. Then I got into a class led by Saul Bellow. Still in the Lab Program. Surprised? Me, too. He was amazing. (pages 17-18)

Doing comedy is being smart, which I saw with Lenny. I suddenly knew that I wanted to be smart, which I saw with Lenny. I suddenly knew that I wanted to be smart as I wanted to be funny. And then I realized that being funny is a version of being smart. That has stayed with me to this day. And as you will see, many comedians feel this way. (page 19)

When the Nobel Prize-winning poet died in 19065, Eliot’s widow, Valerie, invited Groucho to the memorial service. Groucho was reluctant to speak, but, when encouraged by Laurence Olivier, he did manage to say a few words. When Groucho returned to Hillcrest, his pals around the table – Jack Benny, Milton Berle, and George Burns – gave him a hard time. “How could you, Groucho?” they said. “You know that son of a bitch was anti-Semitic!” “Well,” Groucho replied, “there are a lot of Jews I don’t like, either.” That was Groucho. (page 95)

Groucho was sitting quietly, in the corner, alone, I remember someone walked up to him and said, “I am just wondering how do you know Lucille Ball, because…” And Groucho quickly said, “Zeppo fucked her.” I dined out on that story forever. (page 96)

A little backstory: Joey Gallo was about forty years old when we met and about as famous in his own high-visibility field as I was in mine. Born in Brooklyn, tight with his brothers and fellow juvenile delinquents, Larry and Albert “Kid Blast” Gallo, by the time he was in his teens he was working as an all-around enforce3r for the Profaci mob. “Murder Incorporated” Anastasia, after which he was a “made man.” And I ended up being best man at Joey Gallo’s wedding, but hold on for that story in its shattering ending…(page 105)

Going on the road had been grueling, but I liked it – especially the comedy groupies. (page 124)

as an aside, Bob Hope did the Oscars the Friday after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Hope was different – the Oscars were postponed a day, and Hope’s attitude toward the whole thing was that he seemed more concerned about it affecting his jokes. His attitude: ‘I can’t believe they postponed it over this’ (page 133)

I was also able to unlock talented actors and actresses and make them shine. That said, I never unlocked Bea Arthur. (page 143)

Al Jolson, Danny [Thomas] said, was a notorious tightwad asshole who was always getting himself “knobbed” under the table, usually for free, by chorus girls. I never worked up the courage to ask what “knobbed” meant, but I got the idea. (page 147)

She called me “Jewface” all night. (By the way, Bea was Jewish.) It wasn’t just me, though. I found out later that Bea Arthur terrified every new director on the show. The crew thought that she liked to make people’s lives a little unpleasant so that hers might be a little more pleasant….”David, why do people take such an instant dislike to me?” And I said, “It just saves time.” (pages 160-1)

Around 1980, Larry Charles asked me to hire a friend of his, Larry David, who had produced a short-lived ABC skit show, Fridays, and was now living in New York City, broker than broke. (page 177)

Bette [Middler] opened for George Carlin at a club on the night that he decided he wasn’t going to do his regular act anymore, that he was going to be edgy and avant-garde. That was, to say the least surprising, Bette says, “It was horrifying. Nobody knew what was coming, and I was the opening act. He started riffing, and he was fantastic, but the crowd started to boo him. The next day, they asked me to be the headliner because they’d fired him.” (page 231)

It opened and, surprisingly, it was a hit, has a cult following to this day, and holds up if you have the patience. (page 284)

A pure, improvised show,. It’s called The Harold, essentially one-act plays, purely improvised from a single word, a mundane suggestion like ‘paper’ or ‘rock’ or something like that. (page 296)

Some little-known facts about Richard [Belzer]: He is Henry Winkler’s cousin. Both his dad and his brother committed suicide. And he is truly an expert on assassination theories about President John Kennedy’s death, having written four books about what he calls the conspiracy theories, which, by the way, is a philosophy he brought to Detective Munch. (page 298)

“For me,:” emphasizes Billy [Crysrtal], “I was influenced by Carl Reiner, Ciosby, Lily Tomlin, Alan King, Laurel and hardy, Chuck McCann, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson….I finished my set, and it went very well, and Orson Welles is sitting backstage going over his jokes. I walked up to him and said, ‘Mr. Welles, I just want to say-‘ and he finished my sentence for me: ‘That I’m a great influence on you. Thank you very much, and now basically go fuck yourself.’

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The book also includes a picture of Dick Van Dyke and a mention of his name but nothing else. And now my first attempt at embedding an mp3 file:

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