Posted by Steven Alan Green
It was great "working" with you once again. Yes, that was me: the second person in the audience with a question in the post-show Q&A in the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills two weeks ago. They were honoring you for all your very well deserved technological achievements in film. I was the funny Englishman. Remember my question? I asked you (in a phony British accent) the following:
“So, Jerry. …”
You then started asking your co-panelists what part of the audience my voice was coming from, as you had with the first questioner. Once you found me, I continued in full British flair.
“Yes, Jerry. Ahem. I think it a wonderful thing that the Academy has honoured you tonight for all of your incredible revolutionary accomplishments in the technological side of Film, including the Video-Assist; and it was certainly a great thing that, in 2009, the Academy honoured you for all your incredible philanthropic achievements. I know how great that evening was. I had the privilege of being a part of that audience as well. However…"
I could feel the tension in my own row. I could take this anywhere. My friends know how unpredictable I can be. But, I just stayed in character.
“However; were it me, and as you Americans say, 'I’m just sayin’,'….If it were me, Jerry Lewis, I would kinda feel a little…uh, how can I can I put this…..I would be feeling a little miffed…”
Just like ten years ago, you cut me off in mid-sentence.
“Niffed?” You turned to the panel, “What did he say….Tiffed?”
“Miffed, Jerry. Miffed,” I repeated into the mic.
“Iffed?...Did he say, ‘Iffed’?”
“No, ‘Miffed,’ Jerry. Miffed. I said miffed.”
“Oh, I see….you mean ‘miffed’! Why didn’t you say so!”
I was about to pull off the mask, revealing myself as your old friend and perceived nemesis, the one and only Steven Alan Green. Steven Alan Green, the stand-up comedian who brought you over to London September 2002 to be honoured at a big charity event I created and produced three years running, for a drug and alcohol charity launched by England’s Princess Diana. A giant and important comedy gala, all filmed for television broadcast, to take place at the legendary London Palladium, where Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis performed and where The Beatles played for the Queen. Few people know what really happened that night, but you and I do; that’s for sure. But, I didn’t say any of that in front of a room full of Hollywood dignitaries and lovers of Jerry Lewis. Instead, as they say in Hollywood, “we went another way.”
“….Yes, Jerry, if it were me, I would be feeling a little miffed that the Academy has never honored my comedic accomplishments in the world of Comedy Film. And, I think I speak for everyone here with that very true sentiment. Thank you."
I handed back the mic to the usher to a full house agreeing with that sentiment as they applauded. All the citizens of JerryLewisVille seemed pleased, relieved and gratified. I ignored the proverbial elephant in the room in my head. You know, Jerilla, I felt good about what I did and how I did it. Just like that night at the London Palladium ten years ago, I have absolutely no regrets. Why should I disrupt everyone’s evening? It’s not my style. This was your night and besides, I really enjoyed the presentation. It was well deserved. You are a genius. No question. One night in front of 1,000 people out for a good time to honor someone very special and very loved -- that wasn’t my forum. But, this blog is my forum. So, let me crack my knuckles, stretch my back and clear my throat, because I think it’s time for setting the record straight. Later, at a bar that night, some of my friends challenged me – what I did and how I did it. Just like that night ten years ago when you suddenly got ill and collapsed last minute during my show at the London Palladium; I had my detractors, “side-liners,” Monday-morning-quarterbacking out of the woodwork, analyzing every one of my moves at the Academy. You know what’s wrong with most people, Jerry? They never see the bigger picture. What some my friends wanted me to have done – and were expressing through downright forthright and hurtful criticism of me, was that I didn’t just stand up to you then and there and say into the mic, the one thing that stand-ups are supposed to say: The Truth. Instead, like a coward, I hid behind a phony comical character, spewing forth never-ending lauding contextual compliments for Jerry Lewis. And, why did I do that? Was I trying to kiss your ass? No. I tried that many times. Never worked. Besides, the only thing you only ever responded with immediate respect to me was when I showed you strength. Remember when less than two weeks before the show, I told you I was holding a press conference in London and wanted to know exactly why you were pulling out of the show (for the second time) and not doing any of the press you had solemnly promised to do? I lied. There was no press-conference. But, boy did it make you jump. Whereas you had previously flowered and romanced me with empty platitudes such, “You know, Steven. Nobody knows how hard it is to produce a big show like I do; I’m gonna be there 100% for you, I'll give you two weeks for press interviews, after the Telethon,” when it came time for just an hour and a half of phone interviews, you nastily said, “I’m not doing any press,” pulled out of the show for the second time, screaming down the phone at me, “I EAT PEOPLE LIKE YOU FOR BREAKFAST!” I threatened the aforementioned press conference through Max Alexander and you got back to me in seconds, all kissy-kiss and nice. So, it’s not that I fear dealing with you. Then what was it? Why didn’t I just simply say to you that night two weeks ago: “Jerry. My name is Steven Alan Green. I have a question for you. Come to think of it, I have a million questions for you! Why did you renege on your solemn promise to do publicity for the show I brought you to London for? A show in which I was honoring you with a lifetime achievement award. Why did you treat me so badly and try to have me thrown out my own threatre!? Not that it should matter now, but I thought we were friends. (besides, I was giving you an award?) Why did you yell at me, when it was you or your staff forgetting the music charts for the very expensive orchestra? However, I would repeat the one question every comedian from London to New York to LA all continued to ask me, literally for years to come, and still do to this very day...
Did Jerry Lewis fake his collapse?"
With my own eyes, I watched in utter horror, as you laid on the stage-floor, breathing very heavily into an oxygen mask and oxygen tank, you had coincidentally demanded last minute before you'd get on the plane from Vegas. Jerry. And, you must believe this. I was truly scared to death. You're not that good an actor. Nobody is. I know that by publishing this letter in my blog, I’m risking a few people in this town labeling me a nutter. I don’t care. In the same way Hannibal Lecter would never go after Clarice Starling, an open letter kinda violates your “rules of manners,” but frankly Jerry; I just can’t seem to help myself. I’ve got a severe case of Jerry Lewis-Itus. The last time you actually came to the phone to talk with me was August 2010, when I rang you from The Paramount Lot, the hallowed historic filming ground of some of the greatest comedy films of all time, including and especially yours in that amazing never to be topped pantheon. I told you then, that I had created The Laughter Foundation and was producing a giant comedy gala at The Hollywood Bowl and that I wanted to send you your preferred mode of communication: a fax. Excitedly, you said, “Great, Steven Alan Green! I can’t wait to read it!” I then spent the next two weeks crafting what I thought was a positive, calm, friendly and coherent letter, explaining my own true feelings about what went on between us in London, the loss of my home, my dangerous nervous breakdown, and my redemption by therapy and bicycle and my founding of The Laughter Foundation; an organization set up to help get Comedians Health Care. I explained very clearly to you in that letter that although I’m sure I didn’t do everything exactly right, I know, in my heart, that I tried my best to honour you at The London Palladium, ten years ago, September 8, 2002. I also explained to you, in explicit unemotional honesty, how your continual combative behavior ended up literally costing me big time. How a casual four-day vacation to London for you and a few of your friends was really a very risky financial investment for me. This was all on the back of money I’ve earned in Showbiz, money I got from remortgaging my property and money from one very special investor; Gloria Green. My mother. How “High On Laughter” (the comedy show I created and produced in the UK to benefit Turning Point Scotland, a drug and alcohol charity launched by Princess Diana) in its third successful year running, and featuring the very best of British and American comedians, was supposed to be an annual international television broadcast,. And, how HOL was a business. My business. Not yours. You see Jerry, sure I was being altruistic by trying to help young teenagers, who by no fault of their own, grew up and lived in one of the most intense drug capitals in the world, Glasgow, Scotland; and how I was trying to be poetic by connecting those teen and young adult heroin addicts with my “comedy addiction,” born of my stand-up comedy act and of a true belief that addictions can be cured by comedy. Norman Cousins, Steve Allen, Alan King and many others backed me up on this theory in an unpublished book, "Confessions of a Show-Biz Junkie," so I wasn’t just spitting in the wind. But, beyond all that; I was building a business. I was producing an annual international comedy charity show featuring British and American comedians; to be broadcast back annually to America and in the UK. A show that would bring me, this producer, some small, but assured annual income, and help establish me in the world of film and television production. That was my dream. But, you and your friends just walked all over it and me like you were giants. I’m going to be writing more about Max Alexander and his part in this in future blogs, by the way.
You see, Jerry, I saw the dark end of my own stand-up career. The limitations of being a unknown free-lancer, working gig to gig; never really gaining a true and long-lasting financial foothold beyond the comedy club scene; and yet making the audiences laugh; ‘cause that’s what it was really all about anyway. As brilliant as I’ve nearly sometimes have been as a comedian, fame’s golden ring always seemed to elude me, and frankly, I got tired of playing everyone else’s game; I wanted to finally “own” something. Something where people came to me, not the other way around. Something where I couldn’t literally get banned from a comedy club because some self-important comedy club owner has absolutely no sense of humor to begin with. Something where I didn’t have to do blow with a comedy booker just to stay on his books. Something where I wouldn’t have to sleep with the corpse of the owner of the comedy club, just to get stage time. Before you entered my world, Jerry Lewis, I was doing just fine, thank you. I had at least three viable cash earning careers going. I was a paid stand-up comedian and actor living and working in England. I had a pretty happy life. I had a budding commercial and film actor career going there too. And, to top it off, I had a very busy voice-over career going in England. Yes, I can see the common thread here. Me. All I was trying to do, Jerry Lewis, was to share my new found treasure of the English audience with my American colleagues. To bring some of my American friends who USED to be working comedians, but through bad luck, bad decisions and that old devil Time, found themselves with careers in the dust, spending half their life at the Improv bar, blindly staring into an empty glass, trying to pretend all was still all good. Having hilarious daily conversations with you that often morphed into tears of sorrow and intimacy on both ends of the line, I actually came to believe you and I weren’t just friends. We were old friends. Why wouldn’t I trust you? When I look back at that 3 month “friendship” leading up to the show at the London Palladium, it feels now like I’d been sucker-punched in the gut for no reason; once again made a fool of, but this time by one of the greatest comedians of all time, who also happened to have been my real childhood idol. A year before the darkest moment in my life, in the summer of ’09, I called you up and started a new dialog. With the exception of every single night I performed my one-man show in Edinburgh, London, New York and LA, we hadn’t communicated in seven years, not since that fateful night, the very subject of said one-man show. I spoke to you from my small stage, under a tube spotlight like Hamlet to his dead father. But, how in hell to break the real ice after so many years of not talking with the actual you and having several emotional violations on my record for my one-man show, which by the way, shows both our scars? I made it silly; that’s how. I became a clown.
I asked you to come to my birthday party; knowing full well you wouldn’t; but I had to ask. In a way, it was like I knew I would get a “no,” and I guess I was just rehearsing for bigger questions I hadn’t even thought of yet. I just wanted to hear your actual voice, not the Mobius strip version of Jerry Lewis in my head. We had two more phone conversations hence. But it was when I called you up the fourth time and said to you, “Jerry we have to talk about the elephant in the room,” when I saw who you really were. A comedian. You replied, “What elephant?” I said, “High On Laughter.” You said, “How long ago was that? Four years ago?” “Seven years ago, Jerry.” Your response? “Even funnier.” And, as I then explained in that phone conversation from my point of view what happened, not just that night at The London Palladium, but the three months of pre-production leading up to it (there was actually 8 months pre-production, 5 of those months before you “came on board”) you seemed to think it was all somehow funny. In fact, to my surprise, I was relieved, as well as amazed. I told you embarrassing things, such as I had no idea British comedian Daniel Kitson was going to open his set with, “It’s always been a dream of mine to play a third full Palladium for people here to see a dying man,” and how I desperately tried to see if you were okay, but couldn’t get near you because you somehow commandeered the bodyguards in my employ, which you initially had me provide for your protection. Little did I know that when you meant, “protection,” you meant protection from me. But, what you didn’t find funny was when I switched gears and got real. I asked you for a little help to save my home. Suddenly, in your mind, Steven Alan Green is just like all those other out-of-the-woodwork parasites asking for another handout. But, I didn’t see it that way. I explained very carefully to you that I had to come up with $25,000 within three weeks or I was going to lose my home. $25,000. As much as you spend on socks in one day and exactly as much as I spent on the wasted orchestra. I calculated that to be about one fifth of what I spent just on “expenses” for you and your friends to come and dance around London for four days; add another 50grand to produce the live event, 50grand to film it for broadcast and 35grand for advertising, we're talking quite a bit of money. And this is not even counting the money I spent and work I and others (including Tamsin) did for the two years previous producing High On Laughter I and II. I was building an international comedy brand. As you know, I never sued you. We had no contract. I was counting on your word. Sincere sounding pledges such as, “You know, Steven, you and I stand on the same part of the stage,” assured me that no matter what, you had my back. But, your answer on the phone to me about helping me save my home was that you "lost all your money on Enron." Not, “Let me see what I can do.” What stuck out to me mostly was who the hell writes your material? “Enron,” Jerry? Gee, Jerry…. And Warren Harding stole your monkey. The moment which should’ve been a big red flag for me back in the summer of 2002, was when you told me the story of how you and Dean did a charity gig for an independent producer “such as myself,” and how it was badly promoted, causing a low turn-out and how they (the producers) demanded their expense money back from you and Dean. The cost of the flight and hotels, etc. How you then said to me, “You’re not gonna do that to me, are you, Steven? You’re not gonna ask me for any money back?”
“Of course not, Jerry, I love you. I would never do that, anyway!”
What a set up…for a great story.
The one question which haunts and taunts me like nobody’s business is why on earth would I ever go back now and ask for help from a person whom I sincerely thought was my friend, but never actually was? The intimate conversations and tears we shared in concert, remain, at least for me, clear forensic proof of a deep commitment (however temporal) between two men of comedy; one incredibly multi-talented; the other, you. (L-Oh-Fucking-L, Jerry!) I told you the following in person on your boat (and I meant it), it was your comedy that literally saved the child version of me from feeling the pain of being tossed aside in a very bitter parental divorce. Forcing me to change schools every few months, and choosing sides between two adults whom I thought were supposed to love each other, became the subconscious template of my chaotic life and undisciplined comedy. It was you, Jerry Lewis who helped me get through that very rough time. You making friends with the magical puppet in the storeroom in The Errand Boy? That puppet had life because you made me believe it was real. You made me feel as if I was alive too. In a stretched metaphor, as the star of The Errand Boy, you were Geppetto to my Pinocchio. But, decades later, as the “star” on my show, the roles were reversed. And, maybe that’s where we both got into trouble. Because, in the same kind of incredible arrogance you’re famous for, I too thought myself to be god-like; that like Dr. Frankenstein, I could bring back to life the great wave of love and success to my childhood hero in return. Ten years ago, September 8, 2002, my life was permanently changed, when my soul was kidnapped by Jerry Lewis (the fictional character you created) and was to be taken hostage by me; myself at the wheel of the getaway car. I believe in God. At least I do now. Before the night of “The Palladium Incident,” like most Jewish boys, I was convinced by my mother, I was God. God with low self-esteem. Maybe I was Icarus. A boy with a dream, warned by his father, who flew too close to the Comedy Sun on melted waxed wings, only to fall, atrophy and drown in my own Narcissistic ocean of self-absorption. And, if this were my sworn testimony, I would tell the court that my fascination and obsession with Jerry Lewis has much less to do with his accomplishments than it does with the man himself. Personally. Jerry, don’t take this the wrong way, but Jerry Lewis was not my true main childhood hero. Groucho Marx was. Jerry Lewis was my future. But, both of you have something historically in common. Groucho broke the fourth wall of television audibly; Ernie Kovacs did the same visually, but you, Jerry Lewis, you did both at the same time. Jerry Lewis stood on the shoulders of The Little Tramp and jumped into Dean’s awaiting arms. You guys had the world at your feet and I get Goosebumps just thinking about it.
After you collapsed on my show (and nearly dying), causing me to say the stage-prayer heard round the world, I realized I too was Jerry Lewis; and have always been. Have I, Steven Alan Green, ever yelled at a comedy club owner or walked offstage in a hissy fit because I was unhappy with my “working conditions”? Have I ever been self-deluded enough to think of myself as a misunderstood comedy genius; having to go to a European country for artistic validation? Have I ever done the one thing, which destroys the soul without notice: narcissistic self-image worshiping? Guilty on all counts, your honor. So, who the hell was I, an unfamous comedy club comic, to judge the great Jerry Lewis? When you collapsed backstage at the London Palladium, it was like my own personal 9/11. More than two and a half years ago, through a set of bizarre circumstances, I found myself literally on the brink of suicide; which when considering for years I did a stand-up routine with a fake-gun to my head finisher, is quite fitting. It started when I lost my home; my home in London; my only home. August ’09, they changed the locks. You remember Peter Grahame? Peter was my show-runner whom you allowed into your dressing room. It was Peter who relayed to me that you wished me to leave my own theatre before you’d even consider coming out on stage to accept my personal gift to you: “The Jerry Lewis Award.” Two weeks after I lost my Notting Hill multi-level flat, I was down at Peter’s club, Downstairs at the Kings Head, doing a brilliant tear on how losing your home to repossession is like breaking up with a girlfriend. I take you to Downstairs at the Kings Head, the best comedy club in London…
“It’s like, you know it’s gonna happen, right? It’s not overnight. Meanwhile, you’re living there, a place where you have fun with friends, casual business meetings, and sex with your girlfriend (or whosever girlfriend you can find at the time; if the proper alcohol to shameless ratio is achieved). Owning a home is fantastic! Rent? Fuck YOU. I pay MYSELF! But, just like when my girlfriend left me, it was like I somehow already knew. Walking out the front door of my 3-story Notting Hill massionette for the very last time, was like making love to my girlfriend for the very last time. Once I pulled out, and exited the flat through the front door for the last time, I knew it was over… She changed her lock."
When I suddenly had no place to stay in London, I had friends galore, offering me their couch for a week or girlfriends, their bed. Comedy booking agents offered me road work, where I could stay in hotels and not worry about where I was going to sleep or eat. But when I came back to LA (mostly to take care of my sick mother) and I lost my car and my right to drive? That’s when I found out what LA is all about. Asking someone to see if they can pick you up and drop you somewhere was like asking your best friend if you can sleep with his wife. No fucking way. This is LA. And after months and months of trying to find paid work of any kind and just running face first into hoards of freshly laid-off day job workers coming the other way, I was starting to get concerned. But, it was when I tried to ply my comedy crafts here, and got such an overwhelming lukewarm (and sometimes hostile) reception from the current carnies running the comedy game, I got a bit “miffed.” It wasn’t like, “Don’t they know who I am?!!” No. I was more like a polite British gent, quietly and carefully approaching agents, managers, comedy clubs, who then dismissively told me sign up and audition like some beginner. Audition, moi? Are they kidding me? Not only was I one of the most working emcee’s at The Comedy Store in its heyday (bringing up Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield on a nightly basis) I was an across the board success in England, a much harder place for most of the comedians from any American circuit to play. I was on television over there (several times), co-starred in a TV pilot and, most importantly, created and produced three giant and important comedy galas, bringing over and putting up on the British stage for the first time, American comedians: the likes of Zach Galifiniakis, George Wendt, Jim Gaffigan, Rick Overton, Emo Philips and god love you, you. I played The London Palladium, for godsakes! And, I couldn’t get a 5-minute spot at my old home club The Comedy Store? And, as I looked around me, I found out why. It wasn’t me. It was my age. Unlike the British comedy scene, which has had comedians in their seventies on the circuit (and plenty of comedians spanning the entire work-force age and life experience spectrum), Hollywood insatiably craves youth and it wants nothing else. (The beast will rub lotion on itself.) They don’t want no experienced smart guy. It’s like when I recently tried to get a job with Starbucks or Taco Bell. What, you don’t think I could handle a register with a stupid smile? Of course, I can. Maybe they’re afraid I will do what I did last time: give all their bean dip to you. Nobody in LA recognized or cared what my past credentials were. I was that newly immigrant New York cabbie, who, six months previous, was a respected surgeon or president of Ghana. So, there I was. Stuck on the balcony of a high-rise Century City condo, watching my mother die in the next room and completely disconnected from the rest of a very disinterested and hostile world. Having no internet, I read as much as I could. From Deepak Chopra to John Lennon to existential philosopher Alan Watts to Bible passages, including Jeremiah 33:3, ironically recommended to me by a radio DJ friend. I was dangerously in psychological trouble and so I called my old Beverly Hills therapist, the one I used to see on a weekly basis when I had Blue Cross. Instead of calling me back, my ex-therapist sent me an unpaid bill from two years previous. That’s when I told my family, that, “in four days, I’m jumping off the building”. I was serious at the time. Why I needed four days, I’ll never know. Maybe I wanted time to find an opening act; collaborate with a friend on my suicide note, make it a Kickstarter project.
For three straight years, I've pedaled my way to therapy. And being 30 pounds overweight from many years of fine dining, it wasn’t easy. But, I did it. I got my fat ass on an old bicycle, held an umbrella in one hand and pedaled in the rain. I made it a point of pride to pedal everywhere. From Beverly Hills to North Hollywood and back. I did it. And, it gave me the one thing I really needed: a sense of purpose. Bicycling and therapy literally saved my life. And, so one day I was thinking, “You know, producing got me into this trouble, maybe producing will get me out!” So, I asked a bunch of my friends if they would do a benefit that I would produce; all in an effort to get my car out of hock. All of them agreed, but I needed a big name. One very well-known British A-List comedian, who has a very well-known love affair with cars, apparently said, “I can see doing a benefit for a kidney, but for a car?” So, back to the drawing board.
In November 2010, I created The Laughter Foundation. The initial idea was to get comedians health care. As a Resident of the UK, I have National Health Care “from my Queen”. But, as an American, I got squat from my president. (Well, maybe now that will change hopefully.) I started to organize a huge charity benefit and reserved The Hollywood Bowl for April 1, 2011. Roseanne was the first on board. Following her were Margaret Cho, Bill Maher, Penn & Teller, Tim Allen, Dane Cook, Robin Williams and Conan O’Brien – for starters. I was gonna bring over Russell Brand, whom I worked with, and Eddie Izzard whom I knew and Rickie Gervais, who personally told me he happened to be in the audience that fateful night at the London Palladium along with Stephen Merchant, his co-creator of "The Office". I would then dip into some local color and get the best of urban and comedians of all colors and styles, all levels of fame, and have a great big night, that would culminate with the entire cast and audience singing Monty Python’s, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. The opener was going to be the “Execution of Michael Richards,” with Pee Wee Herman as the hooded executioner. Alas, it never happened. No production money; no sponsor. So, back to the drawing board. I produced four little local benefits at places like The Jewish Community Center and The Comedy Store. All of them, money losers, putting me more in the hole than I was before. But, we did accomplish some pretty good stuff with the foundation. We supplied one comedian cancer meds for a couple of weeks and actually saved another comedienne (a single mom with a cute kid) from eviction. I am most proud of that. And we got a little press. This was, and still is, The Heckler Fund. An emergency grant program for comedians in trouble. If the Heckler Fund had been there for me when my car was towed away, I believe I would never have been driven (as it were) to the brink. But, then I created something else. Something that really got the interest of people with vision and money.
COMEC is The Comedy Museum Exploratory Committee. The idea is to form a committee of experts in the fields of philanthropy, comedy and museum building, and look into how to build a world-class museum to study and exhibit the art, history and science of comedy. Target city: San Francisco, the birthplace of American stand-up comedy. Then, I got a great idea. How to publicize it all. I would pedal my bicycle 305 miles from LA, through the desert, to Las Vegas. I reserved the brand new 2,000 seat Smith Center for the Performing Arts. But, alas, once again there was no money to produce and not enough big enough stars on board to sell tickets. So, it had to be cancelled. Sure, if it was the Hollywood Bowl, yes, I could get almost any comedy star. But, maybe, I mean what if I could get my old friend Jerry Lewis to give me that performance he still owes me? After all, I think it’s fair to say, I paid in full for a performance I never got. Once again, you turned me down and frankly, I’m not surprised.
Through all of this, Jerry, I think I may have finally settled on a nice little raft in this massive lost-at-sea nightmare. My blog. Enjoy the Veal has been going 15 weeks and I really love writing it. It’s sometimes a bit difficult to get to gigs I wanna review in LA on a bicycle and bus, but I usually get there and on time, and a little sweaty. It’s a great learning tool for someone who still considers himself to be a stand-up comedian himself, but also a student of the art form. I am very grateful to The Jewish Journal for giving me this wonderful opportunity. When I started writing this open-letter, I was thinking, “What’s the one thing that Jerry can’t argue with?” What’s the one clear mistake he (or his staff) made? The answer was simple. Jerry, one of your requests/demands was that I provide you with an orchestra. Remember? We talked about the orchestra a million times. What songs you were gonna do, when you were gonna do them. You even said to me, “As long as they’re good enough to play Ronnie Scotts,” the famous London jazz club. Well, I went well beyond that and assembled for you 18 of the best musicians in London. Some of them having just played with Sting and George Harrison. And, what happened? Peter Grahame informed me you or someone in your staff forgot to bring your musical charts to London. I didn’t think it was a big deal and told Peter to see what the orchestra could play without music. Peter explained to me it doesn’t work that way. There are 18 of them. They can’t just jam. When I gingerly approached you – just two hours before show time – as soon as I found out there was no music for the orchestra to play – you decided to ream me a new one. And this time, not privately over the phone. No. This time in front of the entire television and stage crew and the assembled orchestra. The sweet and innocent comedy legend, turning once again into a monster…
“I’LL GIVE YOU A SHOW AND YOU’LL LIKE IT!” Everyone froze like an E.F. Hutton commercial. Zombie-like, I turned my back to you to leave you alone to stew in your own anger. But, no. You had to humiliate me even more. This time with a full audience.
“DON’T WALK AWAY FROM ME NOW!...YOU HUNG UP ON ME ONCE!”
Yeah, I hung up on you, Jerry Lewis, because when I tried to follow up on some press interviews you promised you do, you not only pulled out of the show for the second time, but you screamed at me, “I EAT PEOPLE LIKE YOU FOR BREAKFAST!” THAT’S when I snapped! Anyone would have. You turned me into Robert DeNiro as Rupert Pupkin. “You know what, Jerry? I don’t WANT you on my show….!” Your feeble response? “Whad I say?” I hung up on you. That orchestra that sat on its ass the entire show because they had no musical charts, cost me over $25,000. But, it’s the embarrassment you caused me in front of the entire London comedy scene, the irreparable damage to my reputation as a comedy producer and of course, to my big dream for High On Laughter IV, V, VI, etc., which will take me a long time to forgive and forget.
Jerry, I’m glad I didn’t say all this the other night at the ceremony. I didn’t want to interrupt the flow, pollute the evening and make it all about me. It was an evening full of sincere love and true respect for one of the greatest comedians of all time. Aw, Heck, Jerry. Let’s just say, “The Greatest Living” comedian. And, for my money (I hate that phrase), I hope you’re around for a long time more. I really do. You’re certainly (as the Brits would say) a “See You Next Tuesday,” but you’re also a great genius. Just do me and the rest of the world one favour. Try and accomplish the one thing you’ve never been able to consistently achieve: Humility and complete respect for others, especially those you work with, regardless of their status. Once you learn that? THEN, I’ll then think of you as a grown up. How dare you forget me, sir. No. Not on my watch. What do you think I am? Your Patsy? Your Errand Boy? No, Jerry. I am the new King of Comedy and you’re not even a subject. You’re an article. In fact, you’re a book. Stop pretending I don’t exist! I’m not Fatal Attraction. I’m Comical Attraction and I’m not gonna be heckled! (LOL!) Jerry, you became super-famous because of the incredible magic that Dean and yourself had. It was like what The Beatles had. What Morton Downey Jr. had. It’s inexplicable. You couldn’t recreate it because you didn’t create it. It was created by something beyond our mortal comprehension. For whatever reason, our star-crossed paths were meant to cross. I truly believe that. And, even if you dismiss me as a “stalker with a blog” and ignore all the above at the advice of your close friends, business associates and staff of attorneys, please remember one thing: Martin and Lewis made it so big because they were the perfect artists to express the new medium of live television. Martin kept the women watching, but Lewis did something incredibly more special. Lewis watched us. Jerry Lewis of The Colgate Comedy Hour literally pushed his head through the television screen, looked around our family living room and then talked with ya'. Jerry Lewis broke the Fourth Wall. If you wanna give Jerry Lewis an award? It’s for scientifically breaking through the Fourth Wall of Comedy. Jerry Lewis is the Stephen Hawking of Comedy, who lives in a wheelchair, so how appropriate. I just can’t imagine Jerry Lewis as Stephen Hawking.
Ya’ know, Jerry, of all the things I have dreamed of getting from you (everything from a damn explanation as to why you were so pissed off with me in the first place), I guess the one thing I would love the most is to just get you stoned. You’re from the Cocktail Gen and that’s cool. I love Martini’s myself. But, maybe if you found a new younger partner who will be not Dean Martin, but Kush Martian; your joint holdin’ smooth singing guy; you might just get back on your feet. I think I just figured out why all the anger. When Dean left you. That’s it; isn’t it? Don’t worry ‘about him. You need another partner. Someone, like Dean, who can sing and is better looking than you. I hereby publicly offer my services.
Martin and Lewis defined live television. Bloggers around the world are doing same in this new medium called The Internet. With much smaller portions of effect, but with a worldwide reach. It’s an amazing world in here, Jerry. My entire being can only come to life with regular maintenanced ordered button pushing, or “typing.” I read you got ill again in Australia, missing an appearance. I sincerely hope you’re okay. But, one question: When you go down the drain down there, do the swirling rumours flow in the opposite direction? (FLOY-BEEN-HAVEN! WOE DEAN!) Jerry, for two years, I’ve needed a root-canal, but can’t afford it. In less than ten days I’m literally going to be homeless once again, couch-surfing my way around LA. I've been without a car in LA for three years now. Jimmy crack corn and, I don’t care. I’ve got my bicycle, my laptop and my wicked sense of humour. I’ll be good. I was just at Factors Deli, meeting with a TV producer. Somehow, I have no idea how, suddenly my audition wasn’t the focal point of the meeting anymore. This producer said to me, “So, what’s this Jerry Lewis story I hear about?” And when I got to the part of seeing you lying there on the Palladium stage, with an oxygen mask over your face and your friends standing around trying to help you, I unexpectedly choked up and had to run to the bathroom like a crying little girl. Jerry. This letter stands testament to the fact that no matter what happened in the past and no matter what happens in the future, you were, and will always be, my childhood hero. You cannot take the puppet away from me.
I hereby call upon the powers that be in Hollywood to finally honour the one and only Jerry Lewis for all his incredible film work, both comedy and drama. Giving Jerry awards for his technological and philanthropic achievements, but ignoring his film achievements, is an insult to comedians everywhere.
I realised, in the end, that it's not a matter of whether it's a good idea or not to end my life. That's a dumb question. And to have previously thought that to be a reasonable question is the definition of mental illness. And realising that is the cure. So, we're good here. I'll reserve most of my dying for the stage. Jerry, you want to make it all up to me? Why don’t you come down this Friday, the 28th to The Improv Lab. Rick Overton and Friends. On Melrose, just next door to the Improv. I’m gonna be doing a few minutes in a great show with great comedians and actors. I’ll leave your name plus one at the door. Tell the doorman you’re “Steven Alan Green’s new comedy partner”. And, Jerry? Please be nice. C.O. (collapsing optional)
Enjoy the veal, Jerry Lewis.
Steven Alan Green
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
Romney couldn't debate a chair.
When Buddy Holly performed stand-up, he heard crickets.
If The Beatles got back together as Jews, would they be Reformed?
Everybody in LA stares atcha until they realize you're not Brad Pitt; then when they realize you're Lindsay Lohan, they quickly turn their heads away in disgust.
Clint Eastwood is just another old man talking to his stool. (attrib: K. "Moondog" Crites)
Bill Clinton is all about Arithmetic. Romney is all about Division.
Nobody can really make ends meet. You can invite them to the same bar, but that's about it, really.
There are two ways to get on television in LA. One is to be in a high-speed chase; the other is to be near a high-speed chase.
Life is just a stage I'm going through.
A true Mormon President would have several First Ladies.
Bob Dylan is the only person who can wear sunglasses indoors, and to whom you can't say, "Who do you think you are, Bob Dylan?"
You just know Romney is gonna screw up his concession speech.
"What time is it?" is the only question whose answer keeps changing.
GUEST FACEBOOK TWEET OF THE WEEK:
I just rented 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Netanyahu'. Israel gets younger and younger till it's 1947 and it disappears altogether. Al Jazeera raved, "The Feel Good Hit of the Year!" - Comedian and Emmy Award winning writer Mike Dugan
THIS WEEK'S ETV COMEDY VIDEO PICKS:
THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:
TUESDAY SEPT 25TH, THURSDAY SEPT 27TH, & SATURDAY SEPT 29: Set-List is taping episodes for British television. Read my review of Set-List.
TUESDAY SEPT 25TH: The Crispy Comedy Show - Variety and funny equals comedy value for money. This edition includes Perry Kurtz and Rick Shapiro!
TUESDAY SEPT 25TH: I'll be performing as comedian Archie Black in a mockumentary being filmed. @ Big Fish, 5230 San Fernando Road, Glendale, 9 pm.
THURSDAY SEPT 27TH: Guts Will Be Bustin' in Burbank - Dangerously funny Karen Kilgariff and downright funny Mike Uryga are included in this comedy show at Flappers.
FRIDAY SEPT 28TH: Rick Overton & Friends at The Improv lab. - This is gonna be a great show, with Friends: Ed Crasnick, Paul Dooley, Robert Dubac, Steven Alan Green, Cathy Ladman, Will Ryan (music), Rick Shapiro, Hosted by Chris Pina. Read my review of Rick Overton & Friends.
SATURDAY SEPT 29TH: Yukaholics 2012 - A great LA hidden comedy tradition.
SUNDAY SEPT 30TH: Uncabaret. Join Beth Lapides and special guests: Greg Behrendt, Jake Johanssen, Beth Grant, Kira Soltanovich, in what will clearly be one of the better comedy shows in LA this week. Read my review of Uncabaret.
ODDZ ‘N ENZ:
Next week's Enjoy the Veal! includes my reviews of Erin Foley & Friends at The Improv Lab and Tammy Jo Deering's Comedy Show in the Belly Room of The Comedy Store.
To have your comedy show reviewed or hire your humble comedy writer or to complain about anything: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Never take life too seriously; you'll never get out of it alive!!"
5.16.13 at 12:22 pm | A great new opportunity for our favourite. . .
4.7.13 at 5:32 pm | It seemed like an impossibility before, but I am. . .
2.20.13 at 2:09 pm | My long-awaited review of Nato Green @ The. . .
1.15.13 at 10:49 am | My public appeal to the director of Duel, 1941. . .
12.25.12 at 10:47 pm | ETV Interview with big time comedy and comedian. . .
12.9.12 at 4:34 pm | Been another crazy week here at Enjoy the Veal,. . .
5.16.13 at 12:22 pm | A great new opportunity for our favourite. . . (59)
11.29.12 at 6:27 pm | It's been a very busy few weeks here at Enjoy the. . . (15)
9.26.12 at 3:32 pm | I hereby call upon the powers that be in. . . (14)
September 2, 2012 | 11:01 pm
Posted by Steven Alan Green
The new hit comedy reality TV show, The Republican Convention, has been nothing less than the comedy event of the season. No wonder MTV cancelled Snooki.
The only good thing about this extremely dirty campaign is that you know how good Jon Stewart on The Daily Show is gonna be. It’s total madness and when one side fights too dirty, it’s not a fair fight. Sure, the Republicans are the Religious & Economic We’re Right and You’re Wrong, but Obama has a secret weapon. Something so powerful, it’ll blow the Romney Supporters outta the water. The Obama campaign has Joe Biden. A comedian. And so, while Romney and Ryan lay out their heckles from a safe dark distance with innocuous patriotic platitudes, Obama is up on stage, sweating it out, holding the mic steady and sticking to his well-thought out and brilliant material, warming up for headliner Joe “The Closer” Biden, who will roll up his tux sleeves and will do his Don Rickles to Obama’s Bobby Darin. And, the rest of us? We’re in the audience licking it all up.
It seems to me, that the big problem we Americans face, and have always faced, is ourselves. The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution are not God’s law. They are manmade documents, a collective of ideas, put together in search of an ideal society. And, yet, some of us in the boat want to put down proven sociological and economic paradigms, such as European Health Care, without even trying them. Who do they think our Forefathers (and Foremothers/they never tell us) were in fact declaring Independence from? England. And yet, we felt no compunction to “borrow” (then modify) their democratic system; their sitcom ideas (from All in the Family to The Office) and do same with the English language, something they literally invented and we bastardized, and continue to do so today. America is the rebellious teenager who gets on his motorcycle, built by the hard-working hands and minds of his parent’s generation, then flips his parents the byrd, as he buzzes down the road, disappearing round the corner. Why can’t we Americans seem to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time? Proven tradition mixed with unproven innovation? Like Reformed Judaism. Why can’t we solve our problems the scientific way? Experimenting with borrowed ideas. We import French Wine, Cheese and Fries, why not borrow the European health care model, spruce it up and make it work here? I mean, I think it’s fair to say that Mitt Romney is of two minds about health care. Come to think of it, the Mitt-ster is of two minds about anything and everything. I don’t know. He scares me. His face has the perpetual look as if he’s about to blow his brains out. Health Care would cover that, Mitt.
Most of my life I’ve suffered from manic depression and creative madness. A deep desire to get to the real truth of myself and explore what motivates my mind and emotions. Therapy is my favourite hour of my week. It’s truly The Steven Alan Green Show, but with a sort of a nicer version of Judge Judy; a sensible non-partisan professional, making sure I don’t just drown in my own bullshit. I don’t know why I have this quest in me. It’s not like I am confused or lost. I’m not. I’m just curious. I can’t help it. And, frankly, I shouldn’t have to. I want to know who I am and why I am. In early 1995, my dad, the late Harold Green, implored me to leave America and go back to London, England, where I had once played to great acclaim. Talk about being heckled! He wanted me to leave the country. I was getting nowhere in either LA or New York and like many of my comedian friends, had somehow become an invisible part of the comedy furniture. The two or three comedy powers out here, had either never liked me or had learned not to. In 1986, after 5 years as a Comedy Store Regular and house emcee (bringing up everyone from Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison) through a connection through my father, I met Chris Albrecht. Chris was the new hot agent in town, Head of Comedy at ICM, whose two big clients were Eddie Murphy and a young Jim Carrey. Chris, who was innocently sent a cassette tape of my 1981 Comedy Store audition (where I got 27 laughs in 4.5 minutes) was immediately impressed and came to see me at The Store. But, by 1986, after five years of being thrown into a world of great up and coming comedians (The Garry Shandling Generation) I was dried out then spit out. I had spent all that time, trying to figure out what kind of comedian I was. What my style was.
There were the orthodox stand-ups, who felt that unless it was just you and a mic, doing pre-written material (no props, no guitars, no costumes, no tapes, no characters) you weren’t a real comedian. The Comedy Store had (and still has) plenty of those guys. And, I am a huge fan of that style. If I had developed that style myself (which I tried and tried) I would’a probably have been okay, getting on The Tonight Show, Letterman, etc. Instead, I was like the other comedy sect. The Convention Breakers. Now, wait a minute. I’m not artistically patting myself on the back. I’m talking about who I admired. Whether it was “I’m a movie” Harry Basil, a Comedy Store favourite who flew around on stage, magically changing costumes to the instruction of famous current hit movie soundtracks, or the masonry screams of the downright demonic destructive Sam Kinison; How I defined a good comedian, was like any artist: Those more than proficient in the art form, and able to transmute the art by breaking convention. One of everybody’s favourites at the time was Jimmy Brogan, considered by many to be the nicest inquirer this side of Joseph McCarthy. Jimmy’s entire act was “Where ya from?”; and then he’d brilliantly riff from there. Managed by Rollins and Joffe (who at the time had Robin Williams, Woody Allen and David Letterman in their very exclusive stable), Brogan, relying completely on prompted from the crowd quips, made all those other scripted stand-up club comedians look somewhat lame. And since my dad was always knocked out by my extemporania and I couldn’t remember material very well anyway (even taking notes on stage, then immediately losing interest), talking with the crowd worked for me. It became my staple. My comedy therapy, if you will. Even though I was able to write and sell jokes to the likes of Leno and Arsenio, I was never able to write material for myself. You see, basically I knew who they were, what their acts were like. What “character” they were playing. Leno, the Everyman. Arsenio, the Assimilator. Jimmy Walker, the Knave. I was like a tailor. Vatever they needed? I got. For myself? How could I possibly write for Steven Alan Green? I not only didn’t know what my act was, at the route of it all, I had no idea who I was.
When Albrecht came to see me, I was done, dusted and dull. I was nervous. I bombed. And yet, to his credit, Chris saw something and allowed me the privilege of being able to call him up or even drop by on occasion. Admiral Albrecht set sail the SS Original Improv back east, in the day when Richard Lewis was discovering how sexy neurosis can be and Larry David was insulting the audience for being a buncha stupid lugs, then walking off stage in a huff. In a new world where I felt nobody understood me, Chris seemed to. He understood comedians. He had been one himself. In 1986, when Mitzi at The Comedy Store decided to re-audition a bunch of us “Regular” comedians and clean house of the comedy deadwood, she demoted me from “Paid Regular” to “Non-Paid Regular”. It was like, “You can keep your job, we’re just not gonna pay ya’ anymore!” I was depressed and needed a change. Chris arranged an audition with Mitzi’s arch rival Budd Friedman at the Improv. I was scheduled very early: 7:45pm at what they called a “Pre-Show”. The small handful people in the early evening “crowd” (more like an uptight police line-up) who were still finding their seats, looking at menus ordering drinks and nachos and barely listening to the emcee on stage, who was doing his best to say, “Hello? We got a show over here!” I was understandably nervous, considering I was sneaking behind Mitzi’s back: she couldn’t find out or I was a dead duck at The Store, which I kinda already wuz. The Comedy Store and Improv had a long-standing feud, which was the result of the famous Comedy Store Strike in 1977 and the rule was, if you were a Comedy Store Regular and even played The Improv just once, rumour was that Mitzi would ban you from her club for life. Budd wasn’t so fussy. He didn’t care where else you worked; he just wanted you to show up on time and if you were late, it better not be because you were playing The Store.
As I stood off stage in the dark, watching the audience (what little there were of them), they seemed foreign to me. They were somehow much more uptight and business-like than the big party atmosphere Comedy Store audiences I was used to. Besides, and I realized it too late, both Chris and Budd are gonna wanna see pre-written material, not my crowd work, which the emcee had tried and failed with. My first three bits pre-written regular material fell flatter than Twiggy under a steamroller, and by the time I got to my audience as material as backup, it was way too late. I got the light. Even though I said as I exited, “Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the show,” in their minds, the show hadn’t started yet. I laid a big comedy fart on Melrose, which still stinks to this day. And, yet Chris remained supportive; he saw something in me and remembered the laughs I got on the tape. After that disastrous night, I called Chris, every day, sometimes twice a day at his prompting, checking in on any progress with that second chance with Budd’s audience, perhaps a bigger, more settled-in crowd, which I could then bounce off of. Scared to death, I would have to leave LA for greener pastures, leaving Hollywood and my unresolved relationship with my father behind, I begged Chris to get Budd to give me a second chance. Chris repeatedly told me he hadn’t been able to reach Budd, but he would continue to try; and to keep calling him to check. To me, that was proof Chris still believed in me. Meanwhile, I was having massive differences with my father; loud shouting matches, arguments culminating in dramatic shortness of breath, near chest-grabbing moments; where he’d grab a pill, regain composure, then tell me to leave him alone. After one of these scary but pointless battles with him down at the Commerce Casino one night, (and once I saw he was okay) I tearfully drove to the Improv to have a drink with strangers and forget my troubles. But, this time, they wouldn’t let me in. Told me they were full up. I looked and saw they weren’t; the place was virtually empty. Then I saw Chris, sitting with Budd and someone else, laughing it up. I thunk to myself, “Oh, well. The game’s fixed. At least I am a Non-Paid Regular at The Comedy Store.” I drove home. But, when I returned to my Hollywood apartment, I stopped the car, and thought for a minute. A light bulb went on. Cut to: me standing on the sidewalk in front of the Improv, playing and singing my guitar as loudly as I could. “Kum Bah Yah, my Lord, Kum Bah Yah” They would get the joke! They would see that I’m satirizing my own impetuousness! That I’m a performance artist! I’m Andy Kaufman!!! Chris finally came outside and introduced me to his friend, Bob Zmuda, Kaufman’s writing partner, founder of Comic Relief and rumoured to be Tony Clifton today. We all laughed it up, Chris giving me an arm-noogie for being such a wild and crazy guy. “You nut job! Call me in the morning,” Chris said and left. I did. The next morning, Chris informed me Budd Friedman had banned me from The Improv for life.
When I started flying across the pond in the early 90’s from New York to London, I was looking for one thing: A fresh start. After all, I had conveniently pissed off one half of the two Comedy Generals in the Los Angeles Comedy Army; and I was circling the drain. I was unhappy. Eight years in New York City proved no better for my type of humor. I did great when the Original Improv was still up and running, but when that hallowed Off Broadway institution closed, I was out of work. A few gigs there, a few there, but nothing to whet my whistle. My dad, knowing he was on his last legs, implored me to leave the country. To try London; after all, I had played The Comedy Store there in 1982 and brought the house down. So, I kissed my girlfriend Kathrine goodbye and grabbed a taxi to Kennedy just outside our residence: Apartment 507 of The Chelsea Hotel, the legendary haven for artists, whackos, star-fuckers, drug-addicts and the former home of Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Andy Warhol, Mick and Keith, Jimi Hendrix, Dee Dee Ramone and George Kleinsinger, who with Paul Tripp, created Tubby the Tuba. I didn’t know much from London, but I wanted to prove my father wrong. Well, within a biblical week, I was headlining almost every club, doing comedy reports for the BBC, small roles in film and television (always playing “The American”), television appearances with my stand-up (something I never did in America), “Comedian of the Week” in Time Out Magazine, being represented by one of the two main comedy management companies, and well on the way to a flourishing voice-over career. Needless to say, I was a little less glum. Then, I see Eddie Brill’s name in Time Out Magazine, the “weekly entertainment bible,” as they call it. Eddie (now the warm up guy for Letterman) was a New York comedian playing The Comedy Store (in London, no affiliation) and I’d been to Eddie’s house on the Lower East Side for a poker game once and knew him casually round the comedy clubs. All I wanted to do was to welcome Eddie to London. American to American. So, I walk into the Comedy Store, now in its third Soho location (I played the first two), but this time it was eerily empty, the show was over and now a very big and tall doorman comes up to me and tells me, “You’re not welcome here. You’ll have to leave now please.” Completely astonished, I politely asked him what on earth he was talking about, but he told me to keep movin’ and we’d talk outside, where he then accused me of stalking. “You’re the guy who has been bothering Paul Merton with a script.” I told him that I didn’t know what on earth he was talking about, that I had a literary agent thank you, and had no idea who Paul Merton was. (I do now. He’s great. Really.) Just then, the other doorman (the one with the freckles) hears what’s going on and shouts out to his co-worker, “You’ve got the wrong guy!” The first doorman looked at me like the RCA Dog.
For years, I was always dressed in costume. Big black baggy trousers with suspenders (“braces” for the Brits), white shirt, funny tie, slicked back hair, big comical mustache and red high top sneakers. But, when my father passed away, he left us a little money. You see, the “look” worked for me on stage. I was seen as a character to the audience. Off stage? I was stared at left and right throughout London’s real world. It was pretty brutal. And trying to pick up a beautiful British female type? Forget it. British society dictates everyone’s physical appearance trumps their manners. So, I joined a gym, took off 30 lbs., bought a new Paul Smith suit, cut my hair New Laddish style, chopping off the mustache and traded in my big black round glasses in for a pair of barely visible Air Titaniums.
END FREEZE FRAME
So, the Freckle doorman suggest we go back down in the underground dungeon known as The Comedy Store and settle this obvious mix-up out with the manager. Wendy comes out. A very short, very old and very mean woman, who, when I called her from New York months earlier, was so nice and helpful. “What are YOU doing here! Don’t you know you’re not welcome here?! You’re always bothering comedians backstage!” As confused as I was, I tried to defend myself as politely as I could, trying to clarify who or what she was talking about, but you have to imagine, as I’m looking down on the dwarf, two giant footballers are looming over each shoulder. No matter what I said, she just got meaner and meaner. I finally left, shouting down to them, “This isn’t even the real Comedy Store!” I ran to a pay phone dialed a friend. He wasn’t home, but his lovely wife was. “Is there something wrong, Steven? I can hear it in your voice.” There was something wrong, terribly wrong indeed. I left America in search of a new life, to start over fresh, and yet my past bad luck seemed to travel with me, hiding in the overhead and sneaking past customs like a bad virus. Something in Sarah’s voice made me break down like a baby. Crying my eyes out, right there, just off Piccadilly Circus, thousands of young clubbers, theatre goers and petrified tourists, passing by my Dr. Phil phone-box. But, it’s Sarah’s husband (the person I called that night) I’d like to introduce you to. The man who gave me my comedy mojo back.
If there ever was an artist in the field of comedy promotion, Peter Grahame would win hands down, for production acuity (running a tight but friendly ship) combined with curated talent vetting with keen, subtle and effective promotion. The loyalty of the Downstairs at the Kings Head audiences are as fervent as the comedians who work there. Peter himself is the ultimate comedy auteur amateur, in the original Latin meaning of the word: a lover of comedy. And, he’s funny as fuck. He loves a good gag and he treats everybody with respect, even the occasional drunken front row heckler. Peter keeps a keen eye on everybody’s behavior and once quiet negotiation won’t even work, I’ve personally witnessed gentle Peter Grahame bodily remove troublemakers without creating a whiff of disturbance, as if he were trained by MI5. Downstairs at the Kings Head is the place where comedians like to hang out, maybe get a midnight curry after the show with a few of the boys down the street in Crouch End, “N8” (postal code & nickname). Just a knickers throw from Muswell Hill, birthplace of The Kinks and around the corner from the deconsecrated church bitched up as Eurythmic’s Dave Stewart’s recording studio (now owned by David Gray), Crouch End is the hipper and smarter version of any other media village in London, including Soho and Chelsea. Located literally downstairs at The Kings Head Pub (not to be confused with The Kings Head Theatre in Islington -- home of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’s, the late Douglas Adams – The Kings Head Theatre boasts very young and good-looking Clive Owen and Hugh Grant as alumni), “Downstairs at the Kings Head” is the oldest continuous comedy club in London (perhaps England) and boasts a steeped history born of Eddie Izzard, Russell Brand and Bob Dylan. Peter also runs a great jazz night there and often has an 18-piece jazz jam called Gillespiana, which when heard in the intimate atmosphere of Downstairs, has all the energetic realism of travelling back in time, to the spilled beer smell of the Swinging Sixties. And on the last Friday of every month, Club Senseless. Run by Ronnie Golden (aka Tony De Meur, the former front man for 1980’s hitmaker The Fabulous Poodles), himself a wonderful solo comedian and singer/songwriter musician, Club Senseless is one third music concert, comedy show and dance party. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine called Ronnie and the Rex, "The best party band in England," a title well-deserved if only for their ability to turn every night into New Years Eve.
The secret to Peter’s success are two things. The showroom’s very low ceiling (makes for extreme natural audio visual focus – both from the stage and back again from the audience’s laughter) and a mad Welshman named Huw (pronounced like “Hugh”) Thomas, the longtime original guitar bearing Medieval partner, patron saint and spirit of the club.
The alchemic mixture of creative comedians, fully vetted musicians and a bunker-like atmosphere make Downstairs at the Kings Head, as British comedian Sean Lock said, “In my view the best comedy club ever”. With stand-up comedy as his main course, and story-telling, jazz and even magician nights as side-dishes, you always know what you’re gonna find at Peter’s club. Variety and quality. Along with being a busy father, master chef (and rumoured secret lover of Lionel Blair) Peter Grahame, who lives in the pastoral village of Braughing (sounds like “Laughing”- postal code “HA”), writes and produces the local “Panto” every other year, and yet still finds time to run the best comedy scene I’ve ever seen, experienced, and having been invited to play and hang out on a regular basis. Peter Grahame is the Brian Epstein of London Comedy and if he likes you; you’ve got a pretty good chance of being accepted by the London Comedy Industry as a real and viable player, not to mention the pure joy of playing the smartest, most finely tuned comedy-literate audiences in the entire solar system. Peter is co-founder of the Cat’s Laugh Comedy Festival in Kilkenny, Ireland and was my show runner for High On Laughter III, the one at the London Palladium, in which I had Jerry Lewis making it all about himself. He’s a very busy, yet relaxed man. I don’t know how he does it; It’s astonishing. I was able to grab Peter between road trips to stock up on cheap wine in France, and his daily ballet lesson, where he was able to take a casual break, as we met over pints at his village “local” (The Axe and Compass pub) and talk with Enjoy the Veal.
SAG: Hi Peter. How are you?
PG: I’m fine. Where are the girls?
SAG: How did Downstairs at the Kings Head start?
PG: October 1981. A friend of mine, Huw Thomas, who had been performing on the folk circuit in the 60s and 70s, had appeared a few times at the Gong nights in the early days of the Comedy Store in London. Compered by Alexei Sayle, they were notoriously raucous – with the audience deciding the length of your set. He wanted to create a space for the nascent “Alternative Comedy” scene that was a little more welcoming and supportive. Both of us lived in Crouch End at that point and the then landlord of the King’s Head Pub offered us the downstairs room (then a shabby restaurant space). We did a few one-off shows before Huw realized that he was not a born administrator – so I took on that role and he became resident MC. Over the first year we transmuted into regular shows every Sunday. 5 years later we were running seven nights a week with a variety of shows from comedy to music to magic to spoken word, etc. I still don’t know what went right.
SAG: Tell our readers a little about your family showbiz history.
PG: My father is a jazz musician, my mother a dancer. They met doing the (live) Benny Hill show in the late 50s at the Bristol Hippodrome. If my mother’s age is what she tells people now, that would have made her about 8 years old at the time. My father’s parents ran a Pierrot show around the South west of England during summer months and my mother’s father was a comic between the wars. I have two sisters, one of whom is a fine saxophonist, currently with Jools Holland. I was for many years a professional musician and composer, and have also worked as an actor and circus tumbler. I hope to break even one day.
SAG: "Downstairs" is the oldest comedy club in London and certainly one of the most respected and the favourite of many. Why do you think so many comedians love the room and the audiences keep coming back?
PG: The audience, over the years, has become comedy literate. They are very tolerant of the new. The room takes 120 people and works in spite of its odd layout. The low ceiling always benefits comedy. I always seek to put on a varied bill and keep the prices low. I stay in my sound room and don’t frighten the public.
SAG: Tell Enjoy the Veal how the potluck (or new act) night works and what do you look for in a new comedian?
PG: We see up to 16 new acts every Thursday night – each doing 5 minutes. I keep notes on every performance on these nights, just for myself. I tend not to listen to material as much as I watch how people work the room. Many performers do not understand the medium of stand-up as opposed to theatrical presentation. I also look for substantial bribes. And cock.
SAG: Who are some of the "greats" who have passed through the club? (I understand its right near a famous recording studio?)
PG: Nearly everyone who is now an established comic in the UK has passed through our doors on the way up. We see them again on the way down. We also have music nights and have had a lot of famous musos in the same way. The recording studio you mention used to be owned by Dave Stewart (now David Gray). Many of the guys recording there would pop in and have a play on Wednesday nights. You want some random names? Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili, Rich Hall, Lee Evans, Russell Brand, Bill Wyman, Jon Stewart, Harry Dean Stanton, Steven Alan Green, Dave Chappelle, Barry Cryer, Spunky the Clown and Fisty the glove puppet.
SAG: What's the one mistake American comedians make when they play the UK?
PG: Lie about how popular they are in the States. Attempt an UK accent. They’re awkward when I suggest sexual favours, and ask for a receipt when bribing me. That’s four.
SAG: How has London comedy evolved over the last 20 years?
PG: It’s come full circle. It started as the antithesis of lame misogyny and racism. When the old guard comics felt challenged by the newer generation and started being edged out of primetime TV slots, many complained that the new guard swore too much and didn’t play golf. I knew we were back to square one when I overheard two well-known current comics discussing their swing in the dressing room. Rape gags are back, as is borderline racism. I don’t tolerate either in my club – so we’re back to being left-field.
SAG: What makes a good performer?
SAG: What's the strangest, oddest or most memorable night and why?
PG: The night the dinosaurs ruined the bar. Boy, can they drink. Those tiny coloured sweets in foil wrappers were nice too.
SAG: How does running music nights affect the comedy?
PG: Not at all. They’re separate animals. One you pay attention to, don’t talk and hope for a few laughs. The other is Comedy.
SAG: Where's the loo?
PG: We can’t pump shit against gravity. It’s upstairs.
SAG: What about my act?
PG: Good point.
SAG: Any advice for visiting American comedians?
PG: Seriously? We book a long way ahead in the UK. Plan early. Don’t feel you have to change your act. We are inured to US culture and will understand the references. Enjoy. The UK Comedy scene is still vibrant. And don’t try the veal.
“DING, DING, DING! DING! DING!” We hear the closing bell. Time to drink up. I strolled with Peter back along “The Street” and stood with him outside his house. Peter pointed up to the full moon, which illuminated the village church and graveyard in an eerie neon yellow.
“You know, Steven. That church has been here over 800 years. And, when you think about it, America is a very young country, still trying to find its feet.”
“Yeah, Peter, that is pretty amazing,” I replied as best as I could through my four or five pints of Guinness.
Peter finished his thought.
“Try and not to be so American.”
Inexplicably, he turned about face, entered and locked his front door, leaving me outside freezing my ass off.
“PETER! I THOUGHT I WAS STAYING OVER AGAIN! WHAT AM I GONNA DO!”
After a beat, the second story bedroom light shut. “For fuck sake!...Oh well…” I picked up my overnight bag, strapped my guitar on my back and started to make the long way back to the Bishop Stafford train station by foot, hoping by time I got there, it was not too late to get the last trains back home to my flat in Notting Hill.
Suddenly, the door to Peter’s house opens. It’s Sarah.
“Steven, what are you doing here? It’s freezing! Do you want to come in and have a nice cuppa tea? Maybe stay in the guest bedroom for the night?”
I barely noticed Peter spying down on me from that second story window, grinning the hidden laugh of the devilish prankster he was born to be.
I was home.
Enjoy the veal!
Steven Alan Green
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
Okay, here's my grand bargain. We Democrats will acknowledge that Gitmo, Homeland Security and Bush/Cheney saved us from dozens of Terrorist attacks, that we never heard of, simply because they didn't happen --- IF the loud-mouths in the GOP will acknowledge that President Obama saved this country from falling off a financial cliff 3 years ago. And for killing Osama Bin Laden. I'm just sayin'....
TODAY'S MANTRA: "I will not let social networking get the better of me....I will not let social networking get the better of me....I will not let social networking get the better of me...." Okay, now to Tweet that.
Uh, I'll have the Meat Romney, over a side of Condoleezza Rice.
e.e. cummings was not much of a Capitalist.
Eastwood shoulda been the headliner.
The Republicans keep saying they "want their country back". Oh, I see.... They think it's THEIR country!
Do you think after Polonius said, "Neither a borrower or a lender be", Hamlet said, "Hey, mate, you gonna use that?"
THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:
Next Sunday Andy dick will be hosting Crazee Cindy's Comedy Show in The Comedy Store Main Room Sept 9th 8pm
Beth Lapides's Uncabaret - Great show line-up this week: Brian Finkelstein, Jackie Kashian, Lianna Carrera, & The Fuxedos. Uncabaret
Starting September 9th: The Improv is proud to present Rick Overton & Friends to perform EVERY Sunday in the main room! First show is SEPTEMBER 9th with Rick Overton, Frank Conniff, David Feldman and Jimmy Dore! Hosted by Chris Pina. The following week (9/16) they have Dana Gould! 8pm.
And, this Saturday, September 8 @ 7:30pm, I'll be doing my first music gig in 30 years. (of course I'll be doing some comedy and story-telling too!). Gig is @ The Unurban Cafe, @ Pico Blvd. & 32nd. Unurban Cafe I think its free to get in (and probably free to get out). Come down, order a cappuccino, hang out and listen to 4 other singer/songwriters and me. Mr. Comedian. Should be fun!
THIS WEEK'S PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS:
ODDZ ‘N ENZ:
To hire your humble comedy writer (Steven Alan Green Writing Services: Writing Wrongs for Over 50 Years!) or to complain about anything: email@example.com To submit a piece on comedy or show listings, same email. Thanks, Sag
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