Newswire: NY Times Looks Back On Comics Who Died Young, Missed One Big Part Of The Story

Newswire  8.17.15

Jason Zinoman’s piece in today’s New York Times was a nice homage to some past and present friends and other folks, too.

NY Times Remembers Charlie Barnett and Others

Charlie Barnett
Charlie Barnett

He does a nice job of reminding us of Charlie Barnett for example, however he misses a key episode of the story which I will share again, here.

First, let me say Charlie was a guy I knew and liked.  Not only was he the king of Washington Square Park street perfomrers, but he did a ton of indoor gigs too and one of those was working with me one night way back when, at Rick Messina’s Rainy Night House in Queens.  After the gig, I gave Charlie a ride home as we were both heading to the Comic Strip, but along the way he asked me to take a detour into a neighborhood up in Washington Heights or Spanish Harlem, I honestly do not remember exactly where he led me.  When we got to where we were going, Charlie told me to parallel park and then  — and this is the part that always stuck with me — he made it very clear I should keep my hands in my pockets while he was away, so that nobody would see that I was White. Forget the obvious, that my head was a dead give away, nonetheless, that is what he told me to do.  He then disappeared for I don’t know how long, leaving me there on some street in a neighborhood he didn’t think I was quite safe in, while he went off to buy some drugs.  I know he came back, because I remember getting back to the club and walking in together and I am still around to relate the story.  But that is not the episode that Charlie is best remembered for by anyone, including me.

Back in 1981 or 82? Charlie Barnett was selected to be the newest black cast member of SNL. It was obviously an opportunity that may or may not have catapulted him into the big time but it would have certainly raised his profile, if he had been able to hold onto the gig.  The problem, as I remember the story, was that Charlie was functionally illiterate and when rehearsals began for the new season, it became painfully clear that Charlie would be unable to keep up with last minute script changes or more importantly be able to read unrehearsed lines straight from the cue cards. That is why Charlie lost his gig and was replaced by another black kid, this one from Long Island, by the name of Eddie Murphy.  Eddie himself would soon be catapulted to the forefront on a night when the show ran short and Producer Jean Doumanian needed someone to fill the last few minutes of air time with comedy.  Eddie took the stage and did some of his stand-up unrehearsed, killed… and the rest as they say is history. A history that might never have been written if Charlie Barnett was able to read the cue cards.

Beyond Charlie, the Times piece also mentions my old friend Rick Aviles, who, while definitely an accomplished street performer did have a great act as Colin is quoted as saying and did work all over the country in clubs and other venues. Not mentioned in the piece is that Rick was also an accomplished actor having played significant parts in ‘Ghost’ and ‘Water World’ among others.

Rick Aviles
Rick Aviles

The piece also mentions Ronnie Shakes, yet another great comic who died young. Ronnie had done the Tonight Show seven times before his very premature death, well deserved credits, well worth mentioning again.  One comic not mentioned by the piece who I would nominate for recognition was Dennis Wolfberg who was also did the Tonight Show, wasa killer on stage and was starting to get more character acting roles at the time of his untimely death from melanoma in the mid to late 90s.

All in all it is a great piece that also puts the spotlight on Barry Crimmins, Bob Shaw, Marsha Warfield, Elayne Boosler and San Francisco’s Steven Pearl, all still alive, well and working.  Good for them. And good on Jason Zinnoman for covering them.

 

Corrections: The original version of this tale said SNL uses prompters. It actually uses cue cards.  (Thank you, Wayne Federman)  The original version also credited Lorne Michaels as being the producer. Jean Doumanian was Producer in 1981, not Lorne Michaels (Thank you, Joe Rocha).

Addition: The original version of this piece speculated that Ronnie Shakes had at least one, if not more, appearances on the Tonight Show. The total was actually seven. (Thank you, Jerry Stanley)

Scampaign 2016. Trump Files For Moral Bankruptcy

Trump Politico
POLITICO:  Donald Trump: Megyn Kelly should apologize to me

Scampaign 8.10.15

So Donald Trump doesn’t have the time for “Political Correctness?”  Fine.  Can’t he at the very least spare a second or two not be an absolute douche?

I guess I would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt over an issue like  The NFL’s Washington “Red Slurs,” but when it comes to the accepted norms of basic human interaction , is it too much to ask the guy not be an absolute and total Dick, every time he opens his trap?

He’s like an overgrown  8 year old, spoiled  and enabled by adults who didn’t love him enough.  ‘I’ve been pretty nice to you but I won’t be now because you’re mean.  You were mean to me. Waa. Waa. Waaaaaa.’

He’s very very rich.  I know this to because he keeps telling me.  He has his own Boeing jet and penthouses all over the world.  He’s married to his third super model in less than thirty years.  He’s got chauffeurs and “people” everywhere he goes.  How is it THIS GUY can’t carve out just a few moments once in a blue fracking moon not to be a total douche bag?

I doubt very strongly that he could ever get elected President of the United States but he easily wins the race  for President of DoucheLand.

Or is that “The Doucheland?.”

Hyp Hyp Hypocrisy. Iran, Israel and Military Aide To The Ayatollah

Hyp Hyp Hypocisy 8.10.15

Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane is sworn in on Capitol Hill before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, Dec. 8, 1986. McFarlane testifies before the committee that President Reagan gave his approval for an "indirect" shipment of arms to Iran in the summer of 1985. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane is sworn in on Capitol Hill before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, Dec. 8, 1986. McFarlane testifies before the committee that President Reagan gave his approval for an “indirect” shipment of arms to Iran in the summer of 1985. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

I got to spend some time yesterday with some dear old friends who I love and respect tremendously and was mildly surprised to find how deeply they are opposed to the nuclear deal with Iran.

In short, the threat they perceive to Israel is at the root of all this, yet it seems they, Sheldon Aldeson and the extreme right wing of the American electorate fail to recall that Israel itself has provided arms and comfort to the original Ayatollah, who was much more doctrinaire than today’s team. And they did it in concert with the Godfather of the Right, Ronald Reagan.

The very people complaining about “dealing with the Ayatollah” these days, are the direct decedents of the guy who made secret deals with the Iranians designed to A) lift his own profile while humiliating an outgoing president and then B) arm that very enemy in a twisted effort to get around Congressional bans on selling weapons to Iran and arming thug armies in Central America.

Irrefutable evidence proves Ronald Reagan, through William Casey, cozied up to the Iranians at least once and very strong evidence points to his having cozied up to them twice and under even more heinous circumstance.  Some will reflexively call the later assertion — that Casey and George H. W. Bush made a deal with Iran to continue holding 52 Americans hostage until after their administration took office, a conspiracy theory.  I see it through my own prism, which I call: “Coincidence Theory.”

Carter negotiated endlessly for the better part of a year including all night leading up to his own departure from office, and yet our most bitter enemy at the time (we can argue if the USSR was as bitter) holds onto the hostages until 20 minutes after Reagan took the oath of office.  Then the hostages get released and Israel transfers arms to the Ayatollah.  Coincidence? Of course it was.  So let it go becasue we are looking forward, not back.

And for those with absolutely no memory or knowledge of the Iran Contra scandal, let’s just restate some known history:  Oliver North and Robert McFarlane traveled secretly to Iran with a key shaped cake  (signifying  the opening of a new friendship) and a bible for the Ayatollah.  Shortly thereafter a chain of events unfolded in which Israel delivered weapons to the Ayatollah while the Ayatollah transferred small arms and other weaponry to the “Freedom Fighters” in El Salvador and Honduras.
Ronald Reagan first denied all this at a press conference and then retracted the denial to admit that indeed arms transfers had taken place. The official White House position in those days was that they “do not negotiate with terrorists” however the deals with Iran at the time helped gain the release of Americans being held hostage in Lebanon.  Hyp, Hyp, Hypocrisy!!

http://www.mia.org.il/archive/861106lat.html

There have also been recent reports that Israel continues to supply military aide to Iran even as Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns to derail the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capability. Hyp Hyp Hypocrisy, squared!!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/10649567/US-investigates-illegal-military-equipment-shipments-from-Israel-to-Iran.html

And finally, in a footnote to the Iran Contra affair,  the decedents of those right wing supported “Freedom Fighters” in Central America back in the 1980’s  now lord over the most violent and corrupt governments on earth while those they sought to defeat in Nicaragua are now governing a peaceful and prosperous nation.  …. I know. Facts Are Stupid Things.

Scampaign 2016. The First Debate. 8/6/15

Who do I owe for this photo?
Who do I owe for this photo?

It’s silly season in presidential politics right now, with a cricus clown leading the pack and people asking seriously if it’s for real?  No. It’s not.  We haven’t even bused voters in for the Iowa Straw Poll yet.  Michele Bachman won that one last cycle and took the lead. Then Herman Cain stepped up for a few.  Then New Gingrich was the guy and Rick Santorum actually won Iowa and then guess what? The guy everyone knew was going to get the gig all along, got the gig.  Past performance is not always a guarantee of future pain, but in this case…

And while I am talking to myself I might as well chime in on Scampagin 2016. “Scampaign,” btw,  is an unregistered trademark of Comedy USA, which is actually trademarked itself on the Secondary Registry of  Federal Trademarks. That and a ton of legal bills would enable me to prevent others from using that name commercially. At the moment, I’m not interested in big legal bills. And I own all the web URLs.

Back to the first “Debate”.

In a nutshell, the media is telling me to think Carly Fiorina was the superstar of the bringer show while either Trump, Rubio, Carson. Kasich, Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Christy or Don Rickles stood a little taller than the rest at the late show. Or that nobody did.

Here’s what I heard from Carly Fiorina: On my first day, I will start a war and make sure Bibi Netanyahu knows this president will be his bitch. Corporations are my kinda of people and remember folks: it’s government largess that’s depriving you of a future, not the rate of our executive pay compared to everyone else’s.  And then of course she added “Rah, USA, Rah” “Conservative, Rah, USA ,Rah.”

Jeb? A bit goofy? No? Of course all his stats on Florida’s economic success drew the line at the moment he left the building, conveniently ignoring a total economic collapse in his aftermath. Seems to be a family trait? No?

Trump? He’s the candidate for people who found George W Bush “too intellectual”.
He’s just a mean spirited crabby face . He’s Incredibly thin skinned. And remember: he made his fortune building skyscrapers in New York City with concrete.  And who was selling concrete in those days? I’m not saying he knew Tony Soprano. But if Tony Soprano was real, Trump would have.

Rand Paul? His strategy was clearly to attack Trump or anyone else getting attention and win the spotlight in the process. Bad news Rand. I believe I am the only one who noticed. I also write blogs for nobody. And do you use Jerry Curl?

Mike Huckabee? If you like his show on Fox …he’ll be right back.

Marco Rubio? His Mother and Father both worked on the work farm, every day, every night and every sentient moment of his childhood and life. It’s the story of a small town boy….zzzzzzzzzz.  Got it.

Chris Christy? The press conference format was the perfect set up for him. It’s where he excels in his day job and did so last night, too.  If you didn’t know New Jersey placed 44 out of the 50 States in job growth on his watch, he would have you believing he was number two with a bullet. He is right about part of that equation.

Dr. Ben Carson. Brain Surgeon. Black. Conservative. Pulled himself up by his bootstraps. If he could do it, you don’t need any help. He is also the next in a growing line of Black conservatives who have run for president behind Alan Keyes and Herman Cain. This development enables me to repeat a favorite old joke through yet another Scampaign cycle: Ben Carson: A black man running for the Republican Presidential Nomination. That means he’s got about as much chance … as a black man running for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Ba da boom. I am back!!

Finally, what was with the live mic post show comments from the GOP American Idol judges/panelists?

Hey Bret Baier, on my set, the wife said you looked orange.  Megyn Kelly, you are what makes Fox News, Fox News and Chris Wallace, are you really going to vote for any one of those people?  Of course you are.

More soon.
Or not.

Covering Comedy

Sam Kinison on the cover of the first edition of ComedyUSA
Sam Kinison on the cover of the first edition of ComedyUSA

On April 1, 1986, I launched Comedy USA magazine with a party and live show at The Comic Strip in New York.  It was a magazine dedicated to rising stand up comedy stars and everything about their business. The conceit that made this publication different was that the people who produced it were also professionals working in comedy. Nothing bothered me more in those days than reading articles about stand-ups in local papers where almost without exception, jokes would be mangled and misquoted by reporters covering comedy as part of an entertainment beat rather than as a passion for the craft.

PremierParty1986

The idea was to give the magazine away to the growing hordes of fans filling comedy clubs from coast to coast, making money through advertising dedicated to those very same fans.  That was not my original idea. I was actually thinking much smaller. I was just going to start making phone calls to people in the business to confirm and get details on rumors I was hearing every night in the clubs and just kinda sorta become the comedy industry journalist. Eventually, with the entry of competition from bigger, more experienced publishers with deep pockets, I wound up reverting to my original plan in a last ditch effort to keep the enterprise afloat. And that’s how the original Comedy USA Newswire was born.

For those still around who remember that publication, it was low on style but long on original content. With the Newswire, I had created the “Variety” of comedy. It was unquestionably a “niche” but there was a dedicated community that seemed to enjoy it and get use out of it and I guess I could have kept on doing it had I not decided to focus on performing. At the time it was the wise decision that paid off almost immediately.  No sooner did I stop reporting on everyone else’s business in comedy than I started to generate some of my own.   I  finished in the top five of the San Francisco comedy competition two years in a row, decided to move to The Bay Area and wound up with an afternoon drive FM talk radio gig just months after getting settled.

But I digress.

CUSANewswire-MaxAlexander
Cover of an old ComedyUSA Newswire. Here’s a little inside dope: Max allowed me to put his ad up there to attract other advertisers. It worked.

 

The focus here is the Comedy USA Newswire and it’s progeny: The Comedy USA Industry Guides.
As I scan the comedy landscape in 2015, I’ve made a few observations. Almost everyone has a podcast. There are several online publications dedicated to comedians and the comedy business. There are aggregator websites uniting podcasts into networks. And there is a huge appetite for not only stand-up comedy but also for improv and sketch comedy, which admittedly I personally know very little about.  What I don’t see as I scan comedy on the internet is the structure I created in the late 1980’s that united the clubs all across the country in one annual directory as it also did with comedians and comedy professionals from coast to coast and around the world.

93 Industry Guide Cover

And so as I approach April 1, 2015, I am setting out on a journey to either rebuild that infrastructure, culminating eventually with the launch of a new ComedyUSA for the 21st century. Or I will fail by researching the project to death, talking with people who’s opinions I value and documenting those discussions here.

I believe I just read in Wikipedia that it was a Chinese Philosopher named Lao-Tsu, who once said:  “the longest journey starts with a single step.”  And it was Jackie Gleason, a comedy giant who said: “And Away We Go!”