Jeffrey Gurian with Budd Friedman in Montreal at the Just for Laughs Festival’s celebration in honor of 50 years of The Improv., July 2013!
It was on 44th Street and 9th Avenue, in Manhattan, and it started out as a coffee house and a place for actors to come and hang out, and maybe get up on stage to perform after they got off stage at the nearby Broadway theatres.
At first it drew actors and singers, and then comedians began to come and perform. Budd was the onstage host, and Danny Aiello was the door host/bouncer. After a while more and more comics started showing up to hone their craft.
Before The Improv came along comics would perform only in nightclubs and theatres as part of variety shows, but there had never been an establishment that offered only stand-up comedy.
After a couple of years Budd noticed that the comics were predominating, and that the audiences loved it, so he started doing all comedy, hence the world’s first comedy club!
Fifty years later The Improv is still going strong on Melrose Avenue in LA. I performed there a couple of times myself.
Narrated by Adam Sandler and produced by Judy Pastore, Monica Bautista, Budd and his partner Mark Lonow, (who joined him in 1979), and Budd’s accomplished daughter Zoe Friedman, who actually was the Exec. Producer, the film features footage with Judd Apatow, Lewis Black, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld, and Damon, Keenen, Marlon, and Shawn Wayans all in intimate sit-down recollections of their early days at The Improv. accompanied by archival video footage and rare photos. Only a legend like Budd could assemble that many huge names!
And those are just some of the comedy stars he helped become household names. Besides having Danny Aiello as his door host/bouncer, other workers went on to achieve greatness.
First there was Chris Albrecht who managed the club when Budd went to LA in 1975, and went on to become the Pres. of HBO, then Les Moonves, currently the Pres. and CEO of CBS, who was a bartender. There were the waitresses, like Karen Black, who I got to work with last year on Kroll Show, and who we just lost to cancer this past August, and cable TV’s pioneer female comic/legend Elayne Boosler, who also toiled as a waitress, and then there were a couple of other door hosts you may have heard of including Keenen Ivory Wayans and Joe Piscopo.
Jeffrey Gurian, Nick Kroll as Gil Faison, Karen Black, and John Mulaney as George St. Geegland on the L.A. set of Kroll Show!
Jeffrey Gurian with Keenen Ivory Wayans in NYC, helping him cast the new, but “ill-fated” “In Living Color”.
Jeffrey Gurian with Joe Piscopo at a fundraiser at Gotham Comedy Club!
Jeffrey Gurian with comic extraordinaire Elayne Boosler at a Diabetes fundraiser she performed in produced by Jeffrey!
A&E immortalized Budd when they had him host “An Evening at The Improv” from his Hollywood club, which was a weekly series that ran from 1982 through 1996. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t performing in those days and never got to be on, but I watched the show religiously!
Over the years I got to know Budd and his partner Mark Lonow who joined him in 1979. As a matter of fact, I wrote Budd and his lovely wife Alix into a feature film script I wrote in 1990 called Baby and Max, about a comic named Max Arnold who gets the worst gigs imaginable. The film opens with Max trying to entertain a guy on Death Row. He’s about to get the electric chair, and is already strapped in, and Max is in the execution room trying to tell him jokes.
On one of his other horrible gigs he’s trying to entertain passengers on a cross-country flight from NY to LA, by telling jokes in the main aisle of the plane, when he gets discovered by Budd Friedman who’s on the flight with his wife Alix. To find out what happens next you’ll have to come up with a budget to make the movie!
Budd and I have history! I recall many years ago he made a party in Montreal to honor Milton Berle who may have been the first honoree to be inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame, and Milton invited me to attend as his guest. He was also my sponsor in The Friars Club. We sat at a long table, with Budd at the head, me on his right and Milton directly across from me. Budd went to read the menu and put a monocle into his eye. I had never seen that before and was kind of surprised.
Jeffrey Gurian and Milton Berle at the LA Friars in 1985!
Around 1970, I had created a character I called “Spoon-eye” who went around holding a spoon in his eye like a monocle, as if he didn’t know it was there. It sounds silly but at one point Conan O’Brien came out on his show with a spoon in his eye, and it took Cindy Adams to write that it was I who started that. She wrote, “I don’t know who would even want to take credit for such a thing but it was Jeffrey Gurian who did it first.” I actually showed it to Salvador Dali back around 1978, who was so intrigued he actually tried to put one of my spoons in his ear, instead of his eye. I still have that spoon!
Jeffrey Gurian and his Spoon-Eye Club on an outing, circa 2003!
Anyway, when Budd put his monocle in I took out a spoon and put that it MY eye. Budd looked at me like “What the heck are you doing?” and I made the mistake of trying to tell him it was very big on “The Coast.” He said to me, “I live on The Coast and I NEVER saw anyone do that!” Milton just sat there confused and I quickly changed the subject!
In 2007, Kent Emmons from All Comedy Radio made me a party in LA for my new book at the time based on my years of writing for the Friars Roasts. It was called “Filthy Funny, and Totally Offensive” and featured nasty jokes from over 250 celebs like Drew Carey, Jason Alexander, Chris Elliott, Jeff Garlin, the late Greg Giraldo, Colin Quinn, the late Patrice O’Neal,Artie Lange, Joan Rivers, Jason Alexander, and more than 200 more. Budd was there as evidenced by the photo below!
Jeffrey Gurian with Budd Friedman in 2007 at Kent Emmons’ party for Jeffrey’s book “Filthy, Funny, and Totally Offensive.”
Budd is also in the recent documentary film I co-produced called “The Business of Comedy, with Exec. Producers Scott Sobel of Scott Entertainment and Gary Licker who also directed the film. It features Budd along with Robert Klein, George Wallace, Tom Dreesen, Susie Essman, Shecky Greene, and comedy club owners who were inspired by Budd, Rick Newman and Richie Tienken. In actuality all comedy club owners were inspired by Budd, which is why when I opened this post I said that Budd changed the world! In the photo below, a young Budd Friedman with a goatee, is on the upper right corner!
The promo card for “The Business of Comedy” a doc film co-produced by Jeffrey Gurian featuring Budd Friedman, pictured on the upper right hand corner.
This is the trailer for the doc.
So on Dec. 6th at 8 P.M. ET, make sure to watch “The Improv-Fifty Years Behind The Brick Wall” on Epix and Epix.com . You’ll thank me for the tip!
Watch the Epix trailer in case you need convincing:
I get involved in so many interesting projects. Sometimes things just seem to come out of nowhere because life is magical like that. So I find myself as an Associate Producer on a wonderful documentary film slated for PBS called “The Business of Comedy” working with two great Exec. Producers Gary Licker and Scott Sobel.
(L-R) Scott Sobel, and Gary Licker with trusty camera in Jeffrey Gurian’s writing room, after his interview for “The Business of Comedy!”
They made a name for themselves with a successful documentary called “Selling Cars in America”, about the history of the American car dealership and a look at the players who set the tone in the modern day, 21st century showroom. Scott produced it and Gary Licker directed.
“The Business of Comedy” examines just what it says, the business of comedy. So they’re not only interviewing comedians, but they’re speaking to club owners, managers, agents and anybody who makes the comedy world tick. That’s where I came in. First they interviewed me in my home, in what I call my “comedy museum” packed with photos and nostalgia going back to the late 70’s and early 80’s, when I was writing for Rodney Dangerfield and many Friars Club Roasts at the behest of Friars producer Bob Saks, and my original sponsor in The Friars Club, Milton Berle.
We had so much fun on that interview and we all got along so well that we decided to progress together with me being an Associate Producer. Now as a co-producer I brought the project to Richie Tienken at The Comic Strip where we not only interviewed Richie on his vast experience as the owner and founder of The Strip, but also interviewed a bunch of comics both established and new who shared their feelings on the business of comedy.
Then we spoke to Chris Mazzilli at the Gotham Comedy Club, who offered his unique perspective and who I refer to as “the classiest man in comedy”, and Gabe Waldman owner of Stand-Up New York, who we also filmed performing on stage. Very soon we will be speaking on camera with my old friend comedy legend/icon Rick Newman who opened the legendary Catch A Rising Star at the end of 1972, which was the admitted inspiration for The Comic Strip.
Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Chris Mazzilli owner of Gotham Comedy Club at a Laugh For Sight charity event in 2011!
Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with comedy icon Rick Newman founder of Catch A Rising Star and current co-owner of Stage 72 in NYC!
But this week was something special for all of us. We got to interview Robert Klein at The Friars Club. Both Gary and Scott made no secret of the fact that they were both incredibly excited at the opportunity to speak to Robert who is himself an icon of comedy, and one of the enduring bright stars of his generation. Not only has he established himself onstage but he’s appeared in over 40 feature films.
I think it was Gary who said that he’s interviewed many celebs but that the excitement of knowing he was going to interview Robert Klein kept him up the night before the interview! We had intended to do the interview in the beautifully appointed Milton Berle Room but as were were setting up we ran into Peter Rosegarten, Robert’s manager from The Conversation Company who facilitated us moving to the gorgeous dining room to do our interview. It’s actually Peter’s brother Rory who works directly with Robert and has done so for the past maybe 30 years ever since Robert left Rollins and Joffe.
Exec. Producer Gary Licker adjusting the microphone for Robert Klein before his interview at The Friars Club!
That story is in my new book with Chris Rock called “Make ‘Em Laugh” in a great interview that Rory gave me. Rory and I go back many years and he represented me when I was writing for Joan Rivers.
Gary and Scott started out by playing a little audio recording of Budd Friedman founder of The Improv, which he opened in 1963, saying some very complimentary things about Robert Klein who was a regular there. Robert was very gracious and humbled by Budd’s statement, and said that as years go on, the more those kind of things mean to him. That kind of set the tone for what turned out to be a fantastic interview.
Exec. Producers Scott Sobel and Gary Licker interviewing Robert Klein at The Friars Club for their project “The Business of Comedy” on which I am Associate Producer!
Robert was so generous with his sharing of stories and his energy. I loved how he easily remembered the date of his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I believe he said it was Jan. 9th, 1968. He remembered Johnny also as being “generous” with his laughter and support.
In 1970 Robert had his own summer replacement comedy/variety show called “Comedy Tonight”, which he hosted along with frequent guests Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn. He has since done nine HBO comedy specials, and is still very active performing around the country at different venues.
Exec. Producer Scott Sobel with his notes asking questions of Robert Klein for the doc film for PBS, “The Business of Comedy”!
His original manager Jack Rollins who helped me greatly in my own career and who originally introduced me to his other clients at the time Billy Crystal and Robin Williams figured greatly in Robert’s early career. I was still a Cosmetic Dentist in those early days and Jack thought that Billy Crystal would be perfect to play me in a sit-com about a dentist who wanted to be in show biz. That’s why when I interviewed Billy for my book “Make ‘Em Laugh” in one of the photos we took he was pointing to his teeth!
Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Billy Crystal in Billy’s office in LA. Billy is pointing to his teeth referencing Jeffrey’s background as a Cosmetic Dentist!
Robert was inspired by Jonathan Winters, and Lenny Bruce who was persecuted, blacklisted and ultimately ruined for performing material that was considered obscene in those days, but would be considered tame by today’s standards, where literally anything goes. Robert spoke of comedy as a “craft” that used to have a certain “dignity”. I saw it that way as well.
I was also very glad to hear that Robert and I share the same sensitivity as to what is commonly referred to as “bathroom humor” and I can’t really grasp the fascination that many young comics seem to have with bodily functions that to me have no place in a show where men are taking women out for an evening of entertainment.
Neither Robert nor I are prudes in any sense of the word. I wrote filthy jokes for Friars Roasts for many years, but that wasn’t the material I chose to do when I went on stage, and neither did he. We just share the same dislike for unnecessary grossness which is all too common these days.
Robert literally gave us “gold” for the documentary with his honest evaluation of the comedy scene then and now, and he kept me on my toes by throwing questions at me, when certain names in comedy history didn’t quite come to him right away, like Dane Cook and Rosie O’Donnell! He also remembered many years ago when I approached him about writing some material for him. It’s amazing what sticks out in people’s minds that you would think they would never remember!
I was so happy I was able to give him a copy of “Make ‘Em Laugh” because it’s about everyone he knows!
Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Robert Klein at The Friars Club, holding Jeffrey’s book ” Make’Em Laugh!”
His spirit was youthful and engaging and I hope to see him again soon and maybe even work with him on something fun and meaningful.
Btw, in case you’re interested this is the very cool trailer for the documentary “The Business of Comedy!”
Jodi Lieberman, Amber J. Lawson, and Zoe Friedman are three powerhouses in the world of comedy, and I’m proud to say I know them all! They teamed up to create Transforming The World Through Comedy, a philanthropic organization simply known as TWT, because they said they wanted to use the power of comedy to help those less fortunate than them.
So tonight they held the world’s first multi-city,(NY, Chicago, and L.A.) multi-platform comedy fundraiser, which I attended. It was held at Gotham Comedy Club, thanks to owner Chris Mazzilli who always makes himself available for a good cause. He was there tonight as well, after having put in a full day of work before. ( In a suit and tie as usual! LOL )
The photo below was on a former night when he accidentally removed his tie! (LOL)
Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Gotham Comedy Club owner Chris Mazzilli, sans tie!!!
TWT teamed up with an organization known as Off The Mat Into The World, or OTM, to bring this event to fruition, and the monies raised will go to Haiti. By the time I left there were 40,000 people online watching, … and laughing, I’m sure! Haiti still needs lots of help. Last year I was privileged to co-produce a 3,000 seat sold out fundraiser for Haiti starring Kevin Hart, and featuring Tony Rock with Will Sylvince as the MC. It was at the Westbury Theatre on Long Island.
Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV with Kevin Hart at a promo event before the fundraiser for Haiti at the Westbury Theatre!
The TWT show was streamed live on www.TWTComedy.com and Stickam, which carried the Japan Aid show as well. The New York show started at 8 P.M., the Chicago show held in Zanies comedy club started at 8:30 P.M. Chicago time, and the LA show at the Hollywood Improv started at 8 P.M. LA time, which of course is 11 P.M. here in NY.
The footage will be live on TWTComedy.com for the next 7 days until 11/21/11, to be able to continue bringing in the donations.
Eddie Brill from The Letterman Show MC’ed the NY event, which is always a good choice because Eddie is an excellent MC. It’s much harder to be an MC than a regular comic cause you have to keep the energy running all night, and bring the acts up in a timely manner, while keeping the audience connected to what’s going on. Eddie’s like the Energizer Bunny, especially since he lost so much weight! It’s also a good analogy for him, because he does a bit on the Easter Bunny, and how you don’t find anything about chocolate or bunnies in the Bible.
Eddie Brill onstage, MC’ing the TWT event for Haiti!
First up in New York was Bonnie McFarlane, who I’ve been seeing a lot lately and enjoying more and more each time I see her. She has a certain quality on stage that really draws you to her, and not just because she’s so attractive! Her punchlines are not predictable and come out of left field, which I always appreciate. She’s married to comic Rich Vos, and in saying that I’m not giving away any secrets, because they’re kind of open about it.
Bonnie McFarlane making people laugh at Gotham Comedy Club at the TWT event for Haiti!
They travel together a lot. In just the last week alone, I’ve seen them both perform at the tribute to Mike DeStefano, who was a comic who left us much too soon this past year, and they were both judges on The Lottery Show at The Comic Strip this past Tuesday night. Very often they have their beautiful little daughter Reina with them, who Bonnie explains away by saying, ” I have a daughter. That’s what happens when you do it in the front!” (LOL) She guesses her daughter is about 4! (LOL)
People tell Bonnie her daughter looks like her, but Bonnie disagrees. She thinks she’s so much better looking than her daughter! I think Bonnie’s very cool!
Rich performed as well and was a crowd pleaser as usual. He knows how to take control of a crowd, and make them pay attention. He too is a great host!
Rich Vos, a favorite of Opie and Anthony, doing what he does best onstage at Gotham for TWT!
Tom Papa has TWO little girls, and the audience absolutely loves him. No matter what he says he gets big laughs. It’s not only his jokes, but the energy he puts behind them. Audiences respond to that. I see why Jerry Seinfeld chose him to host his show “The Marriage Ref.” Tom wonders where all the money went from the US, Europe and even China. No one seems to have any money except for Jay-Z. He must have it all!
He talks about no kid wanting to have a “hot” Mom. You want a cinnamon-scented fat-ass in a flowered dress! That leaves out Bonnie McFarlane! (LOL)
Tom Papa in the midst of an animated gesture, killing it onstage at Gotham for TWT!
In talking about tall thin fashion models, Tom wonders what you’d do with one if you had one in your house! He said it would be like having a live giraffe in your living room. They’d probably knock things over, and move around awkwardly. His advice, … ” Feed ’em cocaine. They seem to like that!”
Rachel Feinstein was next, and she’s turning herself into a real comedy “babe”! I like seeing her transform, and have been watching it happen with great interest and appreciation for a while now! For a long time, I think girls thought they had to come across as real plain in order to make people laugh. She does great “voice” work, and is one of the few women working who can imitate a guy’s voice dead-on!
Rachel Feinstein performing at Gotham to raise money for Haiti at the TWT event!
Like when she imitates the guys who hang out on the stoops in her hood in Brooklyn, and harass her as if it was “her naughty little idea to be a woman!” And when talking about dating older men, she also referenced doing The Charleston a couple of times, which is always good to me. Obscure references always work in comedy! It reminded me of a joke I once wrote, “You know a guy is old if he asks you to do The Hucklebuck!” Any word like “The Hucklebuck” is bound to get a laugh!
Gary Gulman was next and I was glad to see Gary cause it had been a while since our paths had crossed. Gary is one of those good looking guys who seems to hate the fact that he’s good looking and does everything he can to play it down. I’ve known a few guys like that. There aren’t many. It’s a sign of humility! In talking about Greece’s troubles, Gary wondered what happened to them. In a relatively short time they went from Plato and Aristotle to John Stamos and Yanni!
(L-R) Colin Quinn and Gary Gulman genuinely enjoying each other’s company at the TWT event for Haiti at Gotham Comedy Club!
And my old buddy Colin Quinn closed the show! I never get tired of seeing Colin perform. He too performed at the Mike DeStefano Tribute. There are some comics who are always willing to give of themselves for a good cause. They could all be out making money, but instead they donate their time to make others laugh to help collect money for worthy causes.
I don’t know how Colin did in school, but he’s a master of language and nuance. Talk about obscure references. Maybe only Dennis Miller has more, but Colin is funnier! (LOL) He analyzes every word and phrase ever uttered by anyone since time immemorial, and shows you the foolishness of every remark. Like when he describes how New Yorkers talk, and accuse you of things at the same time : ” Where’d you get that ice cream?” Or how they can come off as being very confrontational over nothing : ” Nice day today, … right or wrong?” You could be afraid to answer a question like that!
Colin Quinn with the smile that endears him to the audience, raising money through laughs at Gotham, for TWT!
Or like when he recounts having a conversation with an old guy in his neighborhood and mentioning a guy who was strong. The old guy says something like, ” that guy is so strong he could take you by the neck, drag you into the middle of the street, pull down your pants, and “have his way with you!” ( Except he didn’t use those exact words! LOL) Colin then asks the old man, ” Isn’t there another way for you to prove your point without me being sodomized against my will?” And the audience shrieks with laughter because we’ve all known people who embellish stories like that, and you’d secretly like to sign them up to take some sort of psychological test to find out why!
Needless to say, the show was a huge hit! Congratulations Zoe, Amber and Jodi! You guys did good!!!
I’ve met lots and lots of stars in my day, but none more exciting, and adorable than Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who got on my lap almost as soon as I met her! Not because I’m that good with women, but because she’s only 4 years old! I have the pleasure of being good friends with her Dad, Kent Emmons who started All Comedy Radio, and headed up National Lampoon Radio for a while, and is now heavy into creating infomercials with his company Kent Direct!
Jeffrey Gurian holding Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, the new star of ABC's Modern Family, along with Ed O'Neill and Sofia Vergara!
When I told Kent I was coming out to LA last month to perform and also to interview Billy Crystal and Russell Peters, he insisted that I stay at his home in Westlake Village, and I’m so glad I did. Kent is the kind of host that makes you feel at home right away. And he and his assistant Sarah made sure I felt like part of the family for my whole stay!
Jeffrey Gurian and Kent Emmons in Kent's new home in Westlake Village!
As part of the family, I got to meet little Aubrey. I had met her before but it was when she was just born. I was out in LA with my new book at the time, “Filthy, Funny, and Totally Offensive”, which was based on my writings for the famed Friars Roasts for many years, and Kent was kind enough to make me a book party at his home in the Hollywood Hills. It was a great party and Budd Friedman, the father of comedy clubs was there, as was uber-literary agent Peter Miller, and Hollywood starlet and dear friend Kali Hawk, among others. Kali, by the way, is gorgeous and talented, and will be HUGE, and I’m glad to say I know her for a loooooong time !!!
Comedy Legend Budd Friedman of Improv fame at the party that Kent Emmons made for Jeffrey Gurian's book "Filthy, Funny, and Totally Offensive."
Super literary agent Peter Miller at Kent Emmon's party for Jeffrey Gurian's book "Filthy, Funny, and Totally Offensive."
Jeffrey Gurian with the gorgeous and talented actress Kali Hawk at Kent Emmons' part for Jeffrey's book, " Filthy, Funny, and Totally Offensive" with the favorite nasty jokes of 250 celebs!
Anyway, I think Aubrey had been born about a week before I arrived, and I felt badly for her mom, comic Amy Anderson who really didn’t need house company at a time like that. I did my best not to cause any trouble! (LOL)
This time, I got to see Aubrey all grown up! What a beautiful, happy, well-adjusted child! Her parents must be doing something right. Her personality is that of a 12 year old, but she’s so loving and adorable, and accomplished. I got to spend quite a bit of time with her, and at the time I was there, we knew she was up for the role of Lily, on Modern Family, replacing the twins Jaden and Ella Hiller, but we didn’t know she got the role yet!
Kent Emmons and his beautiful daughter Aubrey, having the best time at a Reggae Festival!
We all went all over together and we even went to a Reggae Festival with internet master Adam Gilad, because the Reggae Festival was being produced by his son Amit, who I had also met when he was just a kid! All of a sudden he has a beard, and is producing music festivals! What happened???
Jeffrey Gurian having a laugh with TV star Aubrey Anderson-Emmons over dinner in a Mexican restaurant!
Anyway, I just got the good news from her Dad, and Aubrey was all over the trades this week. This is a cool article on her in Entertainment Weekly! AubreyEntWeekly
We wish her so much luck on her debut when the show returns on Sept. 21st. I already got an invite to return and stay with Kent, but I hope Aubrey doesn’t get so famous that she won’t wanna hang out with her uncle Jeffrey! (LOL)
Coincidentally, while I was in Montreal recently at the Just For Laughs Festival, I got a great little interview with Steve Levitan the creator and writer of Modern Family. You can check that out right here:
This is a brief compilation of my recent trip to L.A. featuring my interviews with Billy Crystal, the first comic to ever set foot on stage at The Comic Strip on June 1, 1976, and Russell Peters, one of the only comics to be able to fill stadiums, as he did in Vancouver when 18,000 people came out two nights in a row to see this dude!
Jeffrey Gurian with Billy Crystal in Billy's Beverly Hills office, Face Productions!
As I told Kal Penn when I interviewed him for Comedy Matters, ” there was a time, and not too long ago, when no one knew that Indian people could be funny!” And Kal cracked up because he knew it was true. Kal stars in the Harold and Kumar films and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Indian people can be funny. Russell Peters takes it ten steps further!
Jeffrey Gurian with Kal Penn for the release of a new harold and Kumar film!
Born in Canada, and speaking perfect English with no accent at all, Russell says he identifies more with being Canadian than with being an Indian man. He’s Indian in his DNA, and his skin color, so when he looks in the mirror he’s aware that he’s Indian, but that’s about it.
He sees himself as he is, and sees the humor in seeing everyone for what they are. What I love about him, besides just about everything he does, is that he has almost singlehandedly destroyed a stereotype, which is very hard to do. He has broken the stereotype of the humorless Indian man. To be able to see yourself as you believe others see you, and to make it funny is pure genius.
Russell Peters is not only “hip”, he’s too hip for the room! And that’s at a time when everyone is striving to be “hip.” The legendary Rodney Dangerfield who was the first big star I ever wrote for once told me, ” Jeff, you know who’s hip?” I’m like, ” No Rodney, who’s hip?” He’s like, ” Two guys in the Village.” And we all fell down laughing cause he was right. Everybody is so caught up in being “hip” when almost no one is, … except for these two elusive guys in The Village!
Jeffrey Gurian, jus' chillin' with Russell Peters at Russell's home in L.A.
Russell is a rare talent and I call him “The Messiah of Comedy.” All you have to do is attend one of his shows, to see the multi-cultural background of his audience. There are people there in turbans and traditional Indian dress and they’re laughing their asses off! I teach at NYU where the majority of students seem to be Indian females and almost all of them bust out laughing at just the mention of Russell Peters’ name. The man is a phenomenon!
He brings all ethnicities together and in a clever way makes fun of everyone, but he comes from such a good place that no one could ever be offended. He has the ability to see things clearly that other people miss. True artists are like that. And people love when you can imitate an accent. I don’t think I can think of one accent that Russell can’t do. But when he does the Indian accent, people are crying from laughing so hard. Not only does he do the accent but the facial expressions, the head movements and the hand and finger movements. He’s a genius at physical comedy. I am truly amazed at Russell Peters.
Jeffrey Gurian and Russell Peters checkout out the munitions artwork that adorns Russell's walls!
I wish I could do a Chinese accent. I talk about it in my act but it would be better if I could do it!
The only accent I can do is like a Greek accent or some kind of Eastern European accent, like when two guys meet in the street and one guy says, ” Hello my friend, how are you today?” And the other guy answers, ” Five thank you, how are you?”. First guy – ” Not too good, I feel a little six!” Second Guy – “Really, you don’t look six at all. You look just five to me!” And they go on through this conversation using numbers instead of the right words, until the end when the first guy says, ” I have to go now. Nice threeing you again!” and the second guy says, ” Nice threeing you two!” That’s the extent of my accent work, and it absolutely “kills”, … around my apartment!
I’ve never actually done it on stage, because I haven’t hated myself enough yet to try it out, ( just in case it doesn’t work!), … but maybe someday???
So anyway, I’m in LA and I call Russell ’cause his brother Clayton, who is a great guy and also his manager, left me a message that if I come to LA, Russell would make time to see me, and hang out. I had only a few priorities on my trip. The first was to interview Billy Crystal, the second was to hang out and interview Russell, and third was to perform in the clubs in LA cause I had never set foot on a stage in Los Angeles, and that was a hurdle I was ready to take on.
I wound up performing on Kevin Nealon’s show at Jamie Masada’s Laugh Factory. I happen to know Kevin back from his SNL days cause I was friendly with him, and Dana Carvey, and Jon Lovitz, and especially Phil Hartman. Listen to this weird synchronicity! When I packed to go to LA, I grabbed a small leather case that I used to carry my comedy material in, without looking at what was inside. When I got to LA and opened it up, I saw that it was material I had written for Kevin Nealon for the Friars Roast of Chevy Chase back in 1990. This was at least 3 days before I knew I’d be performing on Kevin’s show! Coincidence? I think not! (LOL)
Jeffrey Gurian with Kevin Nealon at Jamie Masada's Laugh Factory!
So I get the call that I’m on Kevin’s show and that after my set we’ll do an onstage interview. I’m like, ” Cool.” I hadn’t seen Kevin in a long time and I figured he’d be surprised to see my name on his show roster. I was told I’d be on third at 8:40. I got to the club a little after 8, while Kevin was on stage warming up the crowd, … not with jokes, with blankets and hugs! He was literally warming up the crowd because they felt chilly from the air conditioning! ( I’m just being silly!)
So he’s warming up the audience when he suddenly says, ” We have a great show for you tonight. Let’s see who’s on the list, and he starts reading names and when he comes to mine he says, ” Jeffrey Gurian? is Jeffrey Gurian here?”
And I was in the back of the room, so I answered that I was there. He was like, ” Jeffrey Gurian is here. He’s funny! Let’s put him on first. Give a warm welcome to Jeffrey Gurian.” And the crowd started applauding, and I couldn’t say anything, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, ” I thought Kevin liked me. Why is he putting me on first?” Turns out he did me the biggest favor in the world because I had no time to get nervous, I went right up and if I have to say so myself, I killed!
Kevin Nealon on stage at The Laugh Factory hosting his weekly show!
Fortunately I was not alone in that assessment! Kevin said so, and so did owner Jamie Masada who was there and saw the set. Jamie said I could perform there anytime I was in town. Not only that, he told me to call the club the next day and tell the booker that Jamie said to put me on Tom Arnold’s show the next night.
I was so psyched, because Tom is a friend and I had e-mailed him a few days before telling him I was going to be in LA to see if he had time to hang out. He wrote me back saying he was doing a lot of filming including a thing on “Sons of Anarchy” and probably wouldn’t have time for us to get together.
Jeffrey Gurian with Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada, AFTER Jeffrey's set in front of the Laugh Factory logo!
So when Jamie told me I’d be on Tom’s show I was thrilled, cause I knew he’d be surprised to see me there, and I’d kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. Who by the way, was ever killing birds with a stone? Where did that expression start? And not only one bird but two birds with the same stone? They must have been very slow moving birds. Who does that anyway? Killing birds with a stone. Very bizarre! So I’m psyched to do Tom’s show, and impress him with my comedic talent (LOL), and at the last minute Tom has to cancel because he’s stuck on the set of ” Sons of Anarchy.” It just goes to show that you can not micro-manipulate The Universe. Things only happen when they’re supposed to.
Kevin by the way sent me this really nice e-mail in response to my thank you e-mail to him, saying : “Great seeing you again, too. You always crack me up. Hope to see you again down the road.” How nice is that that Kevin Nealon says I always crack him up?
Jamie happens to be a very kind man. I remember being out in LA one Christmas and Jamie does this thing where he feeds people all Christmas day from the club. Non-stop! Homeless people, and comics both, … and sometimes they’re the same thing! (LOL) The way most comics dress, they ALL look homeless! (LOL)
So I didn’t get to perform for Tom Arnold, but but I DID get the Friday night show at The Improv thanks to booker Emilie Laford, who put me on the 10 P.M. show with Ralph Figueroa as the host. It was also a very successful show and Ralph sent me a really nice e-mail telling me that I did an “awesome” set and that he hoped to work with me again! Thanks Ralph, the feeling is mutual!
Jeffrey Gurian with show host/comic Ralph Figueroa at The Improv in Hollywood!
Plus, I got to go on stage right before my good friend Helen Hong, who I know from New York and who can definitely do the Chinese accent! Maybe if I ask nicely she’ll teach me! Helen is always so funny! Prease Heren, would you teach me???
Jeffrey Gurian with Helen Hong at The Improv in L.A.!
Anyway, back to Russell Peters! ( I feel like I’m all over the place with this post! )
Russell invited me to his house and I expected something special but it was even better. I got to meet his wife Monica, who he married in August of 2010, and his new little daughter Crystianna, who was so cute I tried to take her with me when I left, but he caught me and made me give her back! He was like, ” What’s that lump under your jacket?” And I was like, ” OK, you caught me. I’m sorry. Here. You can have your baby back!” She was really that cute!
Jeffrey Gurian reclining in Russell Peters' screening room with wall to wall TV!
Russell has a screening room, with reclining chairs where you can just lay back and chill, and watch this huge screen TV that covers the entire wall.
Then there’s the entertainment room with the pinball games.
But my favorite toy of his was his new Rolls Royce, which I’m pretty sure he called a Phantom Drophead Coupe, or Dropdead Coupe, or something like that. ( There’s supposed to be an accent mark over the last “e” in Coupe, but my computer only speaks English so I don’t have an “accent egout” which is what I think they called it in French class when I wasn’t paying attention! LOL)
They only started making this model in 2007, and Russell was too humble to tell me it’s the most expensive Rolls Royce they make. It’s got like a stainless steel hood, what Russell referred to as “suicide doors” that open backwards towards the back of the car, and which you can open and close remotely, and believe it or not the exterior is available in more than 44,000 color combinations. I didn’t even know there WERE more than 44,000 color combinations. My crayon box has about 108 colors and I thought that about maxed it out.
Jeffrey Gurian and Russell Peters in his new Drophead Dropdead Rolls, with the stainless steel hood, just in case you want to cook lunch on the top of your car!
So Russell and I were chillin’ in the Rolls and I felt I had to remind him that you were supposed to get these things like a gorgeous home and Rolls Royce BEFORE you’re married not after! We had a good laugh about that! And I think that was when he discovered I had his baby! (LOL)
Who wouldn't be smiling driving a car like this???
And before I left his house, with his “man-servant”, or assistant who he referred to as “Homeless Matt”, I happened to tell him that I was going to interview Billy Crystal the next day. That’s when he told me that he and Billy were doing a movie together and that I should send Billy his best, cause Billy was his boy!
Billy was as nice as could be. We met at his offices in Beverly HIlls, thanks to Bob Wachs, the co-founder of The Comic Strip in NYC, and Billy’s lawyer in the early days, and Billy graciously gave me about an hour of his time. We reminisced about how we first met through Jack Rollins who is currently 96 years old, G-d Bless him,( I’m becoming my own grandmother! ) and how Jack had wanted Billy to play me in a proposed sit-com about a dentist who wanted to be in show business. He even remembered calling me “the funny dentist” and how Alan King referred to me the same way.
Billy Crystal pointing to his teeth, referencing the rumour that Jeffrey Gurian used to be a dentist!
And he shared with me a little gem that Jack Rollins had told him after seeing his early stand-up. He said, ” You did great, and your act was fine, but ” you didn’t leave a tip!” You didn’t leave the audience with anything to remember you by! ” And that message stuck with Billy all these years and changed the way he performed on stage from that day forth! He always remembered to share a little bit extra of himself with his audience, and always left them a tip!
I did remember to send Billy Russell’s regards, and Billy echoed what Chris Rock said about Russell, who ranked #9 on Forbes list of highest earning comedians, ” Russell Peters, … he’s the most famous comedian that no one ever heard of.” I have a feeling that all that will change very soon! ( My words, not Billy’s!)
In summary, … anytime you have an opportunity to see Russell perform, make sure you go, because it’s really a treat! So check out the little video interview I did with Russell. There will be a longer version coming up soon, but I’m getting ready to go and see him perform in Montreal next week at the Just for Laughs Festival where he will be hosting his own show, with his own hand-picked comedians like Dom Irrera, and Jeremy Hotz, and it was all I could do to get this short version ready for the public before I left.