Posts Tagged “Henny Youngman”

Hail (Sid) Caesar! There’ll Never Be Another!

When I heard the sad news that Sid Caesar passed away this week at 91 years old, I was very moved.  He’s one of the last of his generation of comedians from what has been referred to as The Golden Age of Television.  I think I first got to meet him when I wrote for his Friars Roast in 1983.  Every big star was there, and I was writing for the Roasts at the time and at that Roast I wrote for five different performers including Dick Shawn, Jan Murray, and Joey Travolta, John Travolta’s older brother, and the son-in-law of Dick Shawn, one of my very favorite comedians, and a friend.

(L-R) Bobby Shields, Norm Crosby, Gene Baylos, Sid Caesar, and Jeffrey Gurian at the Friars Roast for Sid Caesar, 1983.

(L-R) Bobby Shields, Norm Crosby, Gene Baylos, Sid Caesar, and Jeffrey Gurian at the Friars Roast for Sid Caesar, 1983.

Joey Travolta, Jeffrey Gurian, and Jack Carter at the Friars Roast for Sid Caesar!

Joey Travolta, Jeffrey Gurian, and Jack Carter at the Friars Roast for Sid Caesar!

Sid was the star of NBC’s “Your Show of Shows” from 1950-1954, and “Caesar’s Hour” from 1954-57, and created sketches with his co-star comedienne Imogene Coca that are funny to this very day.  Sid was a genius in what you might call “dialect comedy.”  He could make believe he was speaking almost any language, from German, French, Italian, Russian, or Japanese, and with the help of writers like Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen created many memorable characters.

He was also known for being incredibly strong physically, and supposedly once pulled a sink out of a wall in anger, and held Mel Brooks out of a window by his feet!  After we met, we stayed in touch for a while and I remmber going to see him in a theatre in NYC, and when I went backstage after the show to say “Hi” it looked like an underground bunker or construction site.

Jeffrey Gurian visiting Sid Caesar backstage in what looks like a construction site!

Jeffrey Gurian visiting Sid Caesar backstage in what looks like a construction site!

A different grouping at the Sid Caesar Roast, (L-R) Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, Gene Baylos, Jan Murray, Norm Crosby, and Jeffrey Gurian!

A different grouping at the Sid Caesar Roast, (L-R) Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, Gene Baylos, Jan Murray, Norm Crosby, and Jeffrey Gurian!

 

So many of the greats of that generation lived to ripe old ages. Milton Berle lived to be 93 or 94.  He was my original sponsor in The Friars Club and brought me into the LA club first where he was the President.   I was out there in 1985, which was where we took the photo below.

Jeffrey Gurian with Milton Berle at the LA Friars Club in 1985.  Milton was the Pres. of The Friars Club and was Jeffrey's sponsor!

Jeffrey Gurian with Milton Berle at the LA Friars Club in 1985. Milton was the Pres. of The Friars Club and was Jeffrey’s sponsor!

And in all the years I knew Milton I was always in awe of him.  I’d be on the phone with him and all I’d be thinking was, ” Holy s**t, I’m on the phone with Milton Berle!”.  Mr. Television.  The reason he was called “Mr. Television” was because people in this country bought TV’s just to watch him on Texaco Star Theatre.

He was the host on the show that ran from 1948 until 1956, eventually called “The MIlton Berle Show”, and people would crowd around in the streets watching his show through the windows of the television stores.  TV had only been around since 1941, and thanks to Milton TV ownership went from about 500,000 TV’s to over 30 million.

Milton was like a mentor to me, and we’d have lunch at The Friars Club in NY, just the two of us, and he’d tell me wonderful show biz stories and about things like “spitballing” where two comics run ideas back and forth to create new material.    He took me to his home in Beverly Hills, and showed me  his archives of kinescopes and jokes, and even showed me the thing he was most famous for in terms of his physical endowment! (LOL)  Not that I asked to see it, but I think he was so proud of it, that he showed it to people he trusted!

Jeffrey Gurian and Milton Berle at an event where Milton was performing! Circa mid-80's.

Jeffrey Gurian and Milton Berle at an event where Milton was performing! Circa mid-80’s.

I recall one instance where I felt he really came to my rescue.  It was 1985, and I was in a very down place emotionally.  It was a freezing cold winter day, and I got to the door of my 2nd floor studio apartment, just in time to hear the phone ringing.  I remember fumbling with my keys, hoping to get the call before they hung up.  I raced to the phone and picked it up just in time and who was it, … Milton Berle.  He had called to see how I was doing.   To this day I still can’t believe that.  If I had been one minute later, I might have missed it because who knows if Milton Berle would have left a message on my answering machine.

He wound up inviting me to a Friars Tribute in his honor.  I think he was named “Man of the Year”, and that’s where he introduced me to Sammy Davis Jr., who actually kidded me about the amount of jewelry I was wearing.  He who wore more gold than an Aztec god! (LOL)

Jeffrey Gurian with Sammy Davis Jr. at a Friars Club tribute to Milton Berle.

Jeffrey Gurian with Sammy Davis Jr. at a Friars Club tribute to Milton Berle. 1985

Some years later, I also attended a special event in Milton’s honor in Montreal hosted by the legendary Budd Friedman, owner and founder of The Improv, the very first comedy club in the world.  Budd sat at the head of the table, Milton sat next to him, and I sat next to Budd directly across from Milton.    When Budd inserted his monacle into his eye, I took a plastic spoon out of my pocket, ( I’ve been carrying at least one spoon since the early 80’s and no one knows why! LOL) and inserted that into my eye to “look at the menu.”

Jeffrey Gurian with Budd Friedman at the 89th Birthday Roast of Henny Youngman, for TV!

Jeffrey Gurian with Budd Friedman at the 89th Birthday Roast of Henny Youngman, for TV!

It was a character I created back in the 70’s which I called “Spoon-eye”, and which was copied many years later by Conan O’Brien, and written about in Cindy Adam’s column in the NY Post.  I provided photos of myself “with spoon” from back in the 70’s, and Cindy wrote, ” I don’t know why anyone would want to take credit for something like this, but Jeffrey  Gurian definitely did it first!

Anyway, Budd looked at me like  “What the F**K are you doing?”  And I simply said, ” It’s very big out on the coast”, not thinking that HE lived out on “the coast.”  He looked at me and said, ” I live out there and I have NEVER seen anyone do that.”  In the meantine, Milton was looking at me in disbelief, and I decided to take out the spoon and just change the subject.  I don’t think it ever came up again!

On May 14, 1998, when Frank Sinatra passed away, I happened to be out in LA.  I remember very clearly calling Milton from a pay phone. I guess my StarTAC clamshell cell phone was on “Roam”!  He took the call and told me that he wasn’t taking calls from anyone else because the press was calling him non-stop for quotes on Frank Sinatra’s passing, but he said when he heard it was me he took the call.  Another amazing moment for me.

Jeffrey Gurian with Milton Berle at the LA Friars Club in 1985.

Jeffrey Gurian with Milton Berle at the LA Friars Club in 1985.

He brought me to his home in Beverly Hills, and showed me his kinescopes and the 6 million jokes he had compiled over the years that he kept in a separate little house.  He also showed me the body part he was known for, … without me asking, … which is a whole other story for another time! (LOL)

I remember the first time he let me write for him.  It was for an event honoring Buddy Hackett.  I was supposed to go to Atlantic City to meet with Milton where he was performing, and I was bringing my wife at the time, as Milton’s guests, and a couple of days before we were scheduled to come, he called me at home and asked me to give him an example of the jokes I was writing about Buddy.  If they were funny I could come, if not, I guess he would withdraw the offer.  Now I was in the position of having to impress Milton Berle with my jokes, the man who heard every joke ever told.

Jeffrey Gurian with Buddy Hackett at a Friars Roast, mid-80's.

Jeffrey Gurian with Buddy Hackett at a Friars Roast, mid-80’s.

I recall saying to him, ” Clean or dirty?”  He said, ” One of each.”  My clean joke was, ” Buddy’s not a good looking man.  It took him a long time to get used to the fact that girls are supposed to close their eyes when they KISS you, not when they’re introduced!”  My “dirty” one was, ” A lot of people like to think of Buddy Hackett as a little man with a rubber face.  I prefer to think of him as a little rubber, with a man’s face!”  Milton laughed, and told me to pack my bags cause he was expecting us in AC!  AMAZING!!!

Through Milton I also got to meet George Burns who was performing at one of the grand hotels in The Catskills.  In those days all the big TV stars still performed at the hotels, like The Concord, Grossingers, Kutschers, and The Nevele. George lived to be 100 years old.

Jeffrey Gurian with George (God) Burns backstage at a hotel in The Catskills! Mid-80's.

Jeffrey Gurian with George (God) Burns backstage at a hotel in The Catskills! Mid-80’s.

I got to know Red Buttons very well, who lived to be 87, as well as Norm Crosby, “The Master of Malaprop” who fortunately is still with us, and is in his mid-80’s, as is Jerry Lewis who’s 87 and who I had the honor of writing for and working alone with, when he was Roasted by The Friars, back in 1986.

Jeffrey Gurian with Red Buttons at a comedy event, mid-80's.

Jeffrey Gurian with Red Buttons at a comedy event, mid-80’s.

Jeffrey Gurian with Norm Crosby at The Friars Roast of Don King, 2005.

Jeffrey Gurian with Norm Crosby at The Friars Roast of Don King, 2005.

And then there was Henny Youngman who lived to be 91 and who I knew well from The Friars Club and from Milton.  He and Milton once headlined together at Westbury Music Fair and when Milton saw me, he gave ma a shout-out from the stage.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life.  He would always kid Youngman with lines like, ” Nice suit Youngman, who shines it for you?”  And lines like that would crack me up, cause I love that kind of humor!

Jeffrey Gurian with Henny Youngman at a comedy event, Oct. 1990.

Jeffrey Gurian with Henny Youngman at a comedy event, Oct. 1990.

I got to work with Henny for his 89th birthday roast which was televised and which I wrote with Bill Persky, the genius who wrote and created “That Girl” for Marlo Thomas, Danny Thomas’s daughter, and was also known for “Kate and Allie” and for his writing on the Dick Van Dyke Show.

I consider myself Blessed that I got to meet so many of the legends I watched growing up, and I think it’s safe to say that no matter how talented the stars of today are, there’ll never be any others like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and the others I mentioned.  And the fact that they all had such longevity adds strength to the concept that laughing keeps you young!  In any case, I certainly hope so!  As a matter of fact, I’m counting on it! (LOL)

 

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Fourth Annual Friars Club Comedy Film Festival

The most frustrating thing about attending any film festival is not being able to see all the films you’d like to see, because there’s just too many good ones to choose from. That was the case at the Friars Club’s Fourth Annual Comedy Film Festival.

The schedule for the 4th Annual Friars Club Comedy Film Festival!

Back in 2009, Friar Charlie Prince, an entertainment lawyer in Manhattan realized the lack of a film festival geared towards comedy. He suggested it to the Board of Governors at The Friars Club, and they agreed to give him the green light, so the festival was born. The second year they had 8 films in competition. This year they had over 40.

Charlie as the Exec. Director of the festival is aided by his indefatigable team, including Eric Johnson, head of Programming, Susanna Gora the Director of the festival, and Sue Constantine, Director of Communications. There are others as well not named “Sue”, whose names I don’t recall, but they all work tirelessly to make this festival the success that it is.

Films, (features and shorts) were shown over four nights, to packed audiences, in six different venues: the Cantor Film Center at NYU, The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, The Core Club, the SVA Theatre, The HBO Theater, and The PIT.

Opening night was fun with a film titled ” It’s A Disaster” starring America Ferrera, Julia Stiles and David Cross, which could possibly be described as an apocalyptic comedy if there is such a thing! It was directed by Todd Berger, and Todd, America, and David, along with a couple of funny actors named Jeff Grace, and Kevin Brennan, were at the Q&A that followed as well as the kick-ass opening party at the legendary Friars Club, a gorgeous mansion on East 55th Street in midtowm Manhattan.

(L-R) Moderator Charlie Prince, with America Ferrera, Jeff Grace, Kevin Brennan, and director Todd Berger from ” It’s A Disaster”!

I shot some very cool video interviews with Charlie Prince, David Cross and some of the comics at The Friars CLub which you will see as soon as it’s edited!

Other highlights of the festival for me, and there were several, were seeing my old friend, widely-loved comic Eddie Pepitone immortalized in a film about him,called “The Bitter Buddha”, as well as seeing the film “Price Check” with one of my favorite actresses, indie-queen Parker Posey, and actor Brian Berebbi, who was also there for the Q&A and for the after-party, along with director Mike Walker.

Actor/improv comic Brian (30 Rock) Berebbi, at the premiere of Price Check at the HBO Theater!

Brian played a fun role in the film and as I left the theatre, because my life usually turns into a Woody Allen movie, I fell down in the darkness, and unknowingly cut my hand. As I walked outside with my producer Rob Krieg, I saw Brian who called me over to introduce me to the film’s director Mike Walker, and producer Dolly Hall, and as I extended my hand to shake it was dripping blood.

(L-R_ Charlie Prince, Mike Walker, Dolly Hall, and Brian Berebbi on stage at the HBO Theater, for the Q&A for Price Check!

We all had a good laugh as I made my way to the Men’s Room to clean up. Fortunately it was a minor injury, but a funny visual for a film, trying to shake hands with people while you’re bleeding but trying to act very casual!

The Bitter Buddha was made by Steven Feinartz,(pronounced Fine Arts, which is about as good a name for a director as you can get! LOL.) The title is how Feinartz describes Eddie, who is often called ” the comedian’s comedian” meaning someone that other comics like to watch perform, and it was a great look into his life and what makes him tick.

Eddie Pepitone fielding questions during the Q&A for the film about him “The Bitter Buddha”!

The scenes of Eddie with his Dad, who doesn’t get to attend many of Eddie’s shows, but who unexpectedly came out to Gotham Comedy Club to support his headlining performance there were particularly heart-warming. You could see how proud he was of his son!

Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV in the audience with Eddie Pepitone after his performance in “The Bitter Buddha” a doc on his life. I couldn’t resist holding up my book ” Make ‘Em Laugh” with a great intro by Chris Rock!

And it was particularly gratifying to me to see the turnout for the afterparties at The Friars CLub, and to see the club packed with so many young, creative people. That’s how it’s supposed to be. I’ve been involved with the club for so many years, and it’s great seeing the energy that Charlie and his team bring to the club.

I attended the closing party with Shoko Tamai, a very talented, and super-creative ballet dancer originally from Japan, but who performs all over the world, and is also surprisingly very funny! I’m excited that she will be doing some comedy work with me, and we are planning some fun and unusual things together!

Friar Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV, with internationally known ballet dancer Shoko Tamei, on the Step and Repeat at The Friars Club!

It was thrilling for me to be able to show her around the club, and watch her amazement at the show business history that is obvious everywhere you look in the club. There’s really no other place like The Friars Club, and it always feels good to be there.

Jeffrey Gurian from Comedy Matters TV, with international ballet star Shoko Tamei, in the Milton Berle room at the legendary Friars Club in NYC. Milton Berle was Jeffrey’s original sponsor in the Friars Club!

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Tuesday Night Comedy At The Friars

The flier for Tuesday night comedy at The Friars Club!

I’ve been going to The Friars Club since the late 70’s, and it’s as exciting today to walk in there as it was then. Granted, I don’t run into Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, or Joey Adams anymore, but I do run into people like Richard Belzer, Richard Lewis, and even people not named Richard, … like Alan Zweibel!

Friars Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV and Richard Lewis in the dining room of The Friars Club!

Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Richard Belzer in the dining room at The Friars Club!

In the last year alone, I shot video interviews there for Comedy Matters TV with Friar Lisa Lampanelli who made her singing debut at the club, Friar Richard Lewis who came to town to headline at Carolines, and Friar Brett Ratner, who was honored at the club, and you can see these videos on my Comedy Matters Channel at http://www.youtube.com/guriannewsnetwork

Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Friar/director Brett Ratner at an event at The Friars in his honor!

Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Lisa Lampanelli at The Friars Club for her singing debut in preparation for her upcoming one-woman Broadway show!

The Friars is like a museum of show biz, and if you’re a comedy fan, you can’t help be excited to be within it’s walls. The club itself is a beautiful 6 story mansion on East 55th Street between Park and Madison, with a pool room, a well stocked gym, a couple of cool bars, like the downstairs Billy Crystal Bar, a fantastic dining room, a card playing room, and several gorgeous meeting rooms.

Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Billy Crystal in Billy’s office in Beverly Hills!

Once a month, comic/producer Aaron Haber puts on a comedy show in where else, “The Milton Berle Room” on the 2nd floor. Aaron is the busiest guy. He also produces shows at Al Martin’s Broadway Comedy Club, and also just launched www.evilnewsdaily.com

Jeffrey Gurian with Milton Berle in 1985 at the LA Friars, the year he sponsored me into the club!

This month he invited me to participate and in all my years at The Friars it’s the first time I performed stand-up comedy there.

I’ve been hosting shows at the legendary comedy club The Comic Strip for about a year now, so I felt I was ready to do The Friars. It was a great show. Aaron, who could have been the inspiration for Chris Rock’s play, “The Mother-Fuc*er With The Hat”, is a perfect MC, and somehow reminds me of Kevin Nealon, with his delivery. He’s very funny.

Aaron Haber or as he’s known, The Motherfu**er With The Hat, MC’ing his show at The Friars Club!

Also on the bill was Moody McCarthy, and I always mean to ask him how he got the name “Moody” cause he’s always in a good mood when I see him. He agreed to go on first which is always a tough spot, but not so much when you’re funny, and he is. It’s a very appreciative and supportive audience, and they loved him.

Moody McCarthy entertaining Friars in the Milton Berle Room!

Then my old friend Maureen Langan went up and killed it. Comics always reminisce about going on road trips together where they travelled to their gigs in the same car. Maureen lives on my block so we walked over together all the way from East 54th Street! What a reminiscence that will be some day! (LOL) Hey Mo, remember the time we walked three blocks together to get to that gig? And it was a little windy too! Remember that??? My hair almost got all messed up.

Maureen Langan making a comedy point to the audience at The Friars Club!

I followed Maureen and felt pretty good about my set. At least no one threatened to take away my membership, … and General Manager Michael Caputo was there, and was even kind enough to shoot the group photo you see below!

(L-R_ Moody McCarthy, Maureen Langan, Jeffrey Gurian, Aaron Haber, and in the back Josh Spear! ( A Spear in the back sounds painful! LOL)

The next comic up, Josh Spear, was an old friend of mine from the club scene days, where he used to promote hot parties. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and was glad to see we were going to be on the same show, so it gave us a chance to catch up! He had a really good set, and told me he had to leave on the early side, because he was actually going back to college to pursue the education he never took the time to get previously. I thought that takes a lot of courage, and is very commendable since he already has a career in comedy.

Josh Spear being funny onstage at The Friars Club!

Friar Steven Scott doing his thing onstage at The Friars Club!

And closing the show was the always entertaining Steven Scott, who’s a perfect closer, cause he does so many things. Not only does he tell jokes, but he does imitations, voices, sound effects, and can even imitate music with his voice. Once we were on the Joey Reynolds radio show together, and he acted as an entire band, making the sound of each instrument with his mouth. It was truly amazing.

All in all it was a fantastic show, and all The Friars had a great time. You have to either be a Friar or a guest of a Friar to attend, so if any of you in the biz ever wanna come to a show, let me know and I’ll sponsor you for membership!

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