Anyone who spends a lot of time around comics (specifically the older guys, the veterans, the ones who've really lived a life) will tell you there's nothing better than sitting at a table with them when the stories start flying. Even if you've heard the stories a dozen times, it's great hearing a brilliant anecdote from someone who knows how to tell it -- from someone who's lived it.
No one has yet made the great movie about that era in comedy when the clubs were owned by gangsters, when women were broads and everybody drank and no one was watching their cholesterol. Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose came close. As a framing device for his film, Woody put a handful of comics at a back table at the Carnegie Deli in New York and let the stories fly. The primary story of two-bit talent manager Danny Rose was told in flashback with voice -over by comedian Sandy Baron. The other comics at the table were Corbett Monica, Jackie Gayle, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Howard Storm and Woody's own manager (my boss), Jack Rollins.
While I worked at Rollins & Joffe, the guys and I would often talk about trying to produce a ''real'' Broadway Danny Rose table scene as a television special. Nothing scripted -- just pick the right guys, put them at a table, put out some food, maybe get a moderator to keep it moving and let them go. Just put it on videotape.
Although I had left Rollins & Joffe in 1984 to work on my own projects full time, they called me back in '86 to finally produce our ''deli'' special which we called But Seriously, Folks.
One concern we had (justified or not) was that more than three comedians might instigate a competitive comic gang-bang, with everybody fighting to get in their own bits in the thirty minutes we were allotted. The three comics we chose were Shecky Green, Jan Murray and Corbett Monica. As a moderator, we used TV producer/director Garry Marshall. It was directed by Howard Storm (a sitcom director who was also one of Woody's ''Danny Rose'' table comics). I produced and edited.
I think the show was a mixed success. We were guilty of one fatal mistake: A couple of nights before the taping, we got the comics together to discuss the minimal logistics of what we were going to do. Well, we should have realized that you put those guys together in a room and the stories are going to start flying. Despite our admittedly half-hearted attempts to put the brakes on the levity, the guys kept topping each other. By the time we taped, two days later, they were now repeating stories they had just told each other two nights ago, and some of the crucial spontaneity was lost. We all bemoaned the fact that we didn't have cameras running in the room where we held the original meeting.
But Seriously Folks aired on Cinemax in 1986 and came in somewhat under the radar. I don't even remember seeing any reviews of the show, and I have no still photos from the shoot. I do, however, have a copy of the show, and I've transcribed one of my favorite anecdotes. It's Shecky Green telling about the night Ed Sullivan banned him from ever appearing on his show again.
Shecky Green: Sullivan, if you remember had a lot of difficulty with introductions. I was on the show about twelve times and he actually forgot my name. (Sullivan impression): ''Tonight on our show, from Las Vegas, Riviera Hotel, a young fat, fat young...young... fat...''
I go into a Chinese restaurant the following day, and the guy says, ''Oh, Mr. Fat Yung!''
Garry Marshall: But that was the place where the comics could work.
Shecky: Yeah, I did a thing one time... If you remember, the Sullivan show was live...
Jan Murray: He was dead.
Shecky: Right. But now he cuts me down from eight minutes to fit the schedule. He says, ''Shecky, we don't have time to (unintelligible Sullivan mumble)... two minutes.'' I said, ''You mean, you're cutting me down from eight minutes?'' He says ''Well, I just said (unintelligible Sullivan mumble).''
So, in two minutes I really didn't know what to do, so I do a routine where I turn the microphone stand upside down and I talk to miners.
Marshall: Miners? You mean like coal miners?
Shecky: Yeah, coal miners. And at the very time I did this, what I didn't know was that they were having a mine disaster in Nova Scotia. At the very time that I'm on the show. And I walk off... Now, they're getting the reports from Nova Scotia. And he says to me, ''You are the sickest sonofabitch I've ever known in my life.'' Now, I started laughing because if you picture Ed Sullivan swearing... ''You dirty sonafabitch you!''... which is better than "fat young, young fat.''
Now, he tells me, ''You're going to lose me Canada.'' He says, ''You're sicker than Lenny Bruce and I want to tell you, you'll never be on this show again.'' Now, I've got a contract for another twelve shows. But I say, ''Okay.''
So now years later, I'm working with Frank Sinatra... excuse me (Shecky gets on one knee and genuflects) I'm working with Frank Sinatra... Frank Sinatra, who saved my life! In 1967 in front of the Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida, five guys were beating me up and I hear Frank say, ''that's enough.''
So back to Sullivan. Anyway, I'm working with Sinatra and I'm getting into the elevator and Sylvia, his wife, and Ed are standing there, and he sees me and he says, ''Sylvia, close the door. Quick! Close the door.'' He doesn't want me in. And as the elevator doors are closing, I hear him say, ''Sylvia, why do we hate Shecky Green?'' She says, ''That thing with the mine.'' He says, ''Oh.'' And the doors close on me and that was it.