I was glad to see some old friends…and some even older ones…and some truly ancient ones…at the Friars Club "book warming" for Drew Friedman's latest. It ended a few hours ago at the famous old venue where my comic friends such as Henny Youngman and Soupy Sales would regularly sit around, joking and kvetching. As they got older, perhaps it was more kvetching than joking, but with Jewish humor, that's practically the same thing.
The place was packed, but Stewie Stone pointed at Drew and said, "If you told 'em there was a buffet today, an early bird dinner, there would be twice as many people here!"
Stewie has the honor of gracing the cover of "Even More Old Jewish Comedians," the third and final volume of Friedman's series. Drew countered, "Thanks for dressing so nicely…How could I not put Stewie Stone on the cover of my new book? With that face? I know what sells!" Then, getting the inevitable out of the way, he reminded us, "This is the very building, upstairs, where Milton Berle only took out enough to win…"
Stewie agreed that dick jokes are an obsession with comics. And schvantz-showing is another pastime: "Comics love to be naked in the steam room. When I was young, I was proud of my body, I used to walk around naked. Now I'm not proud of my body. I go to the steam room I wear galoshes, an overcoat, a muffler. I look down: I have no pecker, I have a turtle, that's what I have. I have to put a piece of lettuce there for the head to come out."
Coming out for the event…Gilbert Gottfried. Back in April, I'd Tweeted: "Aflac no longer wanted their duck voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. So they fired him and hired a sound-alike. What the flac?" Followed by: "Aflac's enjoying a tsunami of publicity, bringing out their new duck voice guy to unanimous cries of: "Who's the bland-faced no-talent?"
Having not actually seen Gilbert in person since then, I belatedly mentioned how the whole thing still bothers me; that his firing was had nothing to do with "outrage" at all. Gilbert and his entourage (ok, somebody was standing next to him) agreed that Aflac was just out for publicity (with that dubious nationwide search for a new duck voice) and also looking for an excuse to hire somebody for half his salary.
I'd first photographed Gilbert at the "Just for Laughs" festival in Montreal, back in 1988, for a piece in RAVE magazine. As for Eddie Lawrence, my photo shoot with him was for one of my first books, "The Stars of Stand-Up."
I was delighted to see him at Drew's event, 92 and still as funny as ever. His lovely wife was with him, and I'm still enjoying her amusing assessment that I look like I could be the son of Clive Revill.
I supplied the photos of both Eddie Lawrence and Victor Borge for Drew to work with, and that gave me an extra insight and appreciation into his genius. I saw in the finished pages, how his intuition guided him in just what elements of caricature, nuance, acid and putty would truly accentuate the heart, soul and comic mind of these men.
Turning the pages of a Drew Friedman book is always a suspenseful undertaking, as you never know what funny facets of a face he'll put before you…what surprise of vision and what comic darkness and white light of genius will combine to make your recognition humor turn into something deeper.
Speaking of great artists (and Eddie Lawrence is one…having studied with Leger, and still maintaining a studio downtown), the great Mad Magazine artist Al Jaffee was in attendance. I greatly enjoyed his lecture at Barnes & Noble some time ago, and you can view a bit of what I recorded on YouTube...a few minutes where he discusses the origin of his "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" pages.
Larry Storch, Bobby Ramsen and Abe Vigoda, all came up to the podium to joke around.
Larry told one of his favorites: "A guy goes to the doctor and he says, "Doctor…Every time I sneeze, I have this orgasm." The doctor says, "My God, what are you taking for it?" The guy says "Pepper!"
It was great to see Eddie Lawrence get up there. The Old Philosopher offered weird one-liners, the kind that were a part of his classic comedy singles and albums. He talked about how "Uncle Herman wolfed down a bag of figs at the dog races, and finished ahead of the iron rabbit." Other relatives had similar problems: "Grandpa's in bed with a terrible headache. He challenged an owl to a staring contest.,..Uncle Fred the flagpole sitter got a wild hawk up his pants." And he had to commiserate with one hapless soul: "You tried one of those All You Can Eat $4.95 buffets and almost choked to death on a buffalo nostril?"
While we all felt a bit of nostalgia for the typical "Old Jewish Comedian" of the Catskills…a look through Drew Friedman's book shows the vast array of comedians who happen to be Jewish, but have made us laugh in a wide variety of ways…the malaprops of Norm Crosby, the offbeat subtlety of Steve Landesberg, the satire of Stan Freberg and the political humor of Mort Sahl…the richly bawdy style of Pearl Williams and the dry wit of Henry Morgan…the outrageous Irwin Corey and the semi-logical David Brenner…the aggravated Robert Klein and the puckish Howard Morris. Physically, these guys aren't all that stereotypical either, but Drew nailed them all, from the evocative plump faces of Walter Matthau and Lou Jacobi to the slight and slack punim of Ben Blue and the scary slim Richard Belzer.
The crowd bought up the stacks of all three volumes, and got autographs from Drew, Stewie and Eddie Lawrence. Many ambushed Storch with F-Troop comic books and other memorabilia. I asked my pal Drew to autograph "The Fun Never Stops," as it's one of the few Friedman tomes that I don't have a signed copy of...and the one that includes the full front cover portrait of Shemp —- which accompanied a somewhat bizarre piece I once wrote, a fantasy entitled "I Look Like Shemp." (Obviously only a fantasy...as tonight has proven, I look more like the son of Clive Revill.) But really, no Drew Friedman event is without somebody mentioning Shemp. Or Joe Franklin. Or schmucks.
OK, since it's the "too Jewish" comedians that have really made this series such a success, let's close with a "too Jewish" joke. It was told last night by Bobby Ramsen, and it's about old (very old…VERY old) Mrs. Feinstein and her husband, who have come to the doctor for a check-up:
"During the examination, and in conversation, the doctor says to Mrs. Feinstein, "Let me ask you something, Mrs. Feinstein…. He says, "Do you have intercourse?" And she had a blank look on her face. She said "Wait a second." She stuck her head out of the examination room and into the waiting room. She said, "Sam, do we have intercourse?" And Sam said, "No, we have Blue Cross!"
BELOW: Stewie Stone, Bobby Ramsen, Drew Friedman (left) and his brother Kipp, and the life of the party, Abe Vigoda