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Comic Riff

Comedians talk about life, love, friendship and, of course, being Jewish

by Naomi Pfefferman

April 29, 1999 | 8:00 pm

It's Day 1 of rehearsal for the new and improved version of Richard Krevolin's "King Levine," scheduled to reopen at the Tiffany on May 1. But for star Sammy Shore and director Joe Bologna, it's The Joe and Sammy Show.

Sammy, the comedian who used to open for Elvis and Bob Hope, is remembering the time he hired Joe, the actor and director, to write comedy for him 40 years ago.

"He kept me out of the big time," Shore, 68, complains.

"It wasn't that difficult," Bologna retorts.

Now the two old-timers are wandering outside the rehearsal space, wondering where the producer is with the key.

"Usually, we break a window," Shore tells a reporter.

"Or kick in a door," says Bologna.

When the producer finally arrives to open the door, Bologna and Shore make the reporter sit onstage while they yuk in the front row. "You're onstage now," Shore says, gleefully. "We're watching you," says Bologna.

About four years ago, Shore called his pal Bologna while working with Krevolin on the one-man show that would become "King Levine," a comic riff on Shakespeare's "King Lear." The play tells of a grumpy bialy king who divvies up his bagel biz among three daughters, only to be carted off to the Jewish old age home, or "old Jew hell." Initially, Krevolin wanted Shore to play all four characters, which "was giving me a headache," Shore says.

Enter Bologna, who, with wife Renee Taylor, was writing his own comic riff on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," "Love is All There Is," a film about rival Italian catering families in the Bronx. Bologna agreed to direct and help shape "Levine," while Shore "kept calling every five minutes and breaking my chops," Bologna says.

Bologna the director had to keep a tight reign on Shore. Levine's monologues were a snap for the comic, who's used to working the audience. "But Sammy the stand-up is this ingratiating guy who wants people to love him," Bologna says. "And King Levine isn't lovable." Bologna imitates a few Shakespearean quotes the irate character shouts in the play, mit hecksent. Shore looks outraged and complains, "Now he's doing me, the S.O.B."

The comic grumbling aside, the Shore-Bologna chemistry works. "King Levine" played to rave reviews and sold-out crowds at the Odyssey; it will move on to Florida and perhaps off-Broadway after the Tiffany run.

Shore likes that the play is showing at the Tiffany. The theater is down the block from The Comedy Store, which he co-founded with then-wife Mitzi in 1972, but deeded away in the divorce. "I want her to see my name on the marquee, and think, 'I should have stayed with Sammy!'" Shore quips.

"King Levine" plays Thursdays through Sundays at the Tiffany through July 1. For tickets and information, call (310) 289-2999.


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