In the end, it’s always about a girl.
Perhaps had I fallen for a dental hygienist, I’d be pulling teeth instead of delivering punchlines today. But I had a crush on Vanda Michaels, a young, developing stand-up comedienne. Night after night I’d see her and the other unknowns, like Suzy Essman and Joy Behar, take to the stage.
I’d always liked comedy… Buddy Hackett on the Tonight Show, Franklin Ajaye on Merv Griffin, and loved Carlin, Pryor and especially Cosby.
But I never thought about performing it, until the day Vanda told me I was funny and should try it. So I did. And I didn’t suck. So I did it again, and again, all at these little holes in the wall, until one day I got the guts to audition at the Improv on 44th St near 9th Av.
At the time, the summer of 82′ there were 3 major clubs in NYC. These clubs were comedy nirvana. The crème de la crème worked there: The Comic Strip was home of Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld and a few years later Chris Rock; Catch a Rising Star home to Bill Maher, Richard Belzer and Larry David; and the Improv was home to, among others, Dom Irrera, Carol Leifer and Larry Miller. Robert Klein developed there. These were the clubs where the Tonight Show, and Letterman and HBO looked for comics.
All I wanted to do was play The Improv even once. I lined up early that day and was lucky enough to get a number. 11. Or 12, I don’t remember, it was a long time ago. But I did get my three minutes, nothing great. But when this flash of light signaled it was time for me to get the hell off, I talked about how everybody could see the light. The crowd laughed, I riffed, the crowd laughed harder. It was just one of those magical moments.
Afterwards the bartender summoned me to meet Silver Friedman, the owner of the club and the Simon Cowell of all who chose to audition. Maybe it was that I dressed up (most of the comics wore just jeans and t-shirts) or the bit about the lights, or whatever it was that made her think I was not just some guy who had only been on stage a half a dozen times, she invited me to become an Improv regular.
Hallelujah. Then I got to spend several years going on at midnight, one, one thirty in the morning… It was comedy boot camp. But I not only got to perform, but also learn by watching not just the prime time comics like John Mendoza or George Wallace, but also see how stars like Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield and David Brenner, just to name a few, controlled a room.
Soon I was the prime-time comic. And got to do road gigs, and colleges. And stand-up shows like Comedy Tonight and Evening at the Improv. Even got cast in the Stevie Wonder ‘Part Time Lover’ video. Check out on You-Tube if you don’t believe me. I have hair. LOL
And almost eight years after meeting Vanda Michaels, (who soon after I started comedy moved in with Bill Maher), I got my real chance at the big time: The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
Now, finally, my mom could tell people what I did for a living.