Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Married to Laughter

Monday, January 27th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Married to Laughter” by Jerry Stiller, published in 2000. This is Stiller’s autobiography.

Born in 1927, the author grew up in Brooklyn’s East New York and Williamsburg neighborhoods in New York City. “During the Depression, many husbands left their homes and moved into the bathhouses, establishments normally occupied by alcoholics and womanizers drying out after a night in the bars.” Stiller’s father went to stay at a bathhouse when his parents weren’t getting along. For a while, his father was an unemployed cab driver who had to feed a wife and three kids. During a physical fight over money, the author’s mother told the author to call the police. “Jews did not call the police– Jews fighting among themselves. The police would only watch and laugh. Encourage us to kill ourselves.”

 As a youngster, Stiller wrote to the radio station to get his family free tickets to witness the recording of Eddie Cantor’s radio show at Rockefeller Center in New York City. The author was then inspired to become a comedian.

“Off-Broadway theater was a new concept in 1947. It wasn’t Broadway. But it was theater.” After his discharge from the army, Stiller tried to become a stage actor. He ended up attending college on the GI Bill, the original reason he’d joined the army.

Stiller had this to say about the TV show “Seinfeld” on which he played George Costanza’s father: “The show was successful because it never apologized for the behavior of its characters. Nor do most people in real life apologize when they step over the line. The show mirrored not just Jewish behavior, but everyone’s.”

Read the book to learn about Stiller’s adventures in the army, how he developed his craft with a professor’s help, and about his life with Anne Meara– his partner in comedy and in life.

Bonus Post

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

This blogger enjoyed the short ebook, “The Good Life According to Hemingway” by A.E. Hotchner, published in 2010; a compilation of Hemingway’s utterances.

He claimed that there are no new literary themes. The same themes have been repeated since time immemorial: “…love, lack of it, death and its occasional temporary avoidance which we describe as life, the immortality or lack of immortality of the soul, money, honor and politics.”

On going to the zoo: “I don’t like to see the people making fun of the animals, when it should be the other way around.”

All By My Selves

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “All By My Selves” by Jeff Dunham, published in 2010. This is the autobiography of a politically incorrect, professional ventriloquist. He developed his career-passion as a child when, by chance, he was given a dummy as a gift.

Dunham auditioned to be a guest for The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” nine times before he was finally accepted in April 1990. His striving to become famous took a toll on his family, but when he “made it” he was afforded an “entourage of management, agents and publicists.”

Read the book to learn of Dunham’s experiences as a professional ventriloquist, that include but are not limited to:  his decades-long struggles to achieve an act of sufficient quality to appear on television (prior to the advent of social media), his learning the hard way what not to do before performing, and being stiffed on compensation by night clubs.

Maybe You Never Cry Again

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

The Book of the Week is “Maybe You Never Cry Again” by Bernie Mac with Pablo F. Fenjves, published in 2003. This is the autobiography of a man who heeded his mother’s wisdom in achieving his life’s dream of becoming a famous comedian.

Foremost, Mac’s mother taught him to be self-reliant. One of her sayings was, “If you want a helping hand, look at the end of your arm.”

Mac listed the four kinds of standup comedians:  mediocre joke tellers, political commentators, observers of human nature, and tellers of personal stories. He exemplified the fourth kind, making audiences of mostly his own ethnicity laugh by comparing his African American experience to that of Caucasians without mincing words. “The most personal is the most universal.”

For example, he told the reader that, as an adult, he became as excited as a kid in a candy store when he flew in a plane for the first time. He said, “White people wouldn’t understand that feeling. White people get on planes all the time. They born on planes. Same thing with photographs. White people, they got pictures of themselves every minute of their lives. Here’s little Libby…Black people, they lucky to have one or two pictures of themselves.”

Read how Mac put his mother’s teachings to use to get through the trials and tribulations he suffered on the way to stardom.

Backing Into Forward

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

The Book of the Week is “Backing Into Forward” by Jules Feiffer, published in 2010. Feiffer ran with a creative crowd who lived through the historically tumultuous 20th Century years of poverty, anti-Fascist and anti-Communist hysteria and wars.

As a kid, Feiffer had a passion for comic strips. He did an easy stint in the military and kicked off his career in the 1940′s working as an unpaid intern of sorts, at Will Eisner’s illustration studio.  He later graduated to submitting cartoons to the radical newspaper, The Village Voice, which, when founded in the 1950′s, did not pay its contributors. After two years of boosting readership, he finally started to get paid.

After achieving fame, Feiffer also delivered college lectures, although he himself never attended college. Nevertheless, he had political smarts, and told the students that policies in Washington were made by an old boy network that would never admit wrongdoing in crises that were handled poorly. And there were many crises in the 1960′s and 1970′s. To add insult to injury, the shameless perpetrators would simply switch government positions, except for a few who resigned to escape further embarrassment at getting caught.

Read the book to learn of Feiffer’s family life, and adult adventures creating comics and writing plays and children’s books.

Growing Up Laughing

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

The Book of the Week is “Growing Up Laughing” by Marlo Thomas, published in 2010. This book is part memoir, part snippets of conversations with comedians of different generations, and lots of jokes.

Marlo’s famous father, Danny, ran with a crowd of live entertainers, which included, but was not limited to George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Don Rickles, the Marx Brothers, Joey Bishop and Sid Caesar. Danny was mistaken for Jewish due to his nose and the company he kept, but he was actually of Lebanese, Catholic extraction.

In this book, Marlo chats with various personalities– Lily Tomlin, Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld and Stephen Colbert among them– about how they started their comedy careers, and why their acts are funny.

Marlo is probably most famous for starring in the sitcom “That Girl” and co-creating– along with a group of other celebrities– the book, movie and record, “Free to Be You and Me,” a hodgepodge of songs and skits for kids.

Too Fat to Fish

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

The Book of the Week is “Too Fat to Fish” by Artie Lange, published in 2009. This is Lange’s autobiography. He discusses his father’s untimely death, his mother’s saintliness, bouts of cocaine addiction, being a dockworker, career as a television and radio comedian, and the title of his book, among other topics.

He claims his mother, who embodies the idiosyncratic stereotype of an “Italian mama,” was cleaning the house at the crack of dawn on a Saturday, when his friend called regarding a fishing trip that day. His mother got on the phone and aggressively gave the friend an earful about how Lange, who was 23 at the time, was “too fat to fish” and would fall off the boat and drown. She thus would not let him go. Having a bad hangover, he was secretly glad that her concern for him, even if a bit overprotective, gave him an excuse to go back to sleep.

Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

The Book of the Week is “Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s” edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, published in 1960.  This compilation of Vanity Fair magazine articles showcases two decades of literary luminaries; some of whom were discovered by Frank Crowninshield, the magazine’s editor.  Currently, those names, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Amy Lowell, Robert C. Benchley and many others, are fading in the public’s memory.  However, they were witty, humorous and entertaining for their era.  A perusal of this book today indicates that certain aspects of American life never change.  Wodehouse wrote of monies going to the government in an article on family involvement in completing tax returns (which during WWI, were due in March), “…I can only hope that they will not spend it on foolishness and nut sundaes and the movies– but apparently, they needed a few billion dollars, and you and I had to pay for it.”

Sesame Street Unpaved

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

The Book of the Week is “Sesame Street Unpaved” by David Borgenicht, published in 1998.  This book commemorates (almost) thirty years of the scripts, stories, secrets and songs of “Sesame Street,” an award-winning American educational television show for very young children.  It went on the air November 10, 1969.  It features dialogues between human and combination-marionette/puppet characters, animated segments and music/video snippets.

There have been countless humorous features, such as the recurring early-episode bits when Big Bird kept flubbing the name of human store owner Mr. Hooper, calling him Mr. Looper, Mr. Blooper, Mr. Duper, Mr. Snooper, Mr. Pooper, Mr. Scooper, etc.  In one of many memorable skits involving puppets Ernie and Bert, the latter asks the former whether he’s aware that he has a banana in his ear.  Ernie asks him to repeat that.  Bert starts yelling.  Ernie yells back, “I’m sorry– You’ll have to speak a little louder, Bert!  I can’t hear you!  I have a banana in my ear!”

“Kermit the Frog” came into being around 1955, and in previous shows, his appearance evolved through the years.  For the sake of neatness, the puppet character “Cookie Monster” usually ate painted rice cakes rather than real cookies on-screen.  Another early, (but short-lived) popular character included Roosevelt Franklin.  A purple puppet featured in a classroom, he was booted off the air because some of the show’s creators felt he portrayed a “negative cultural stereotype” in that he was a smart-alecky, paper-throwing disruptive kid, and he appeared to be African American.

A host of celebrities have also visited the show, and have usually sung songs.  When Ralph Nader visited, he insisted on correcting a grammatical error in the song “People in Your Neighborhood” by changing a line to “…the people WHOM you meet each day.”

On one occasion, the Boston Pops accompanied the show’s cast in playing the song, “Rubber Duckie” but a union rule considered squeezing a rubber duckie (so it would squeak) to be an instrument additional to that each musician was already playing– requiring that extra wages be paid.  The rule was skirted by having only the percussionists play rubber duckies.

Sesame Street has garnered wide international appeal through the decades, airing in Kuwait, Turkey and Mexico, among many other nations.

Square Dancing In the Ice Age

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The Book of the Week is “Square Dancing In the Ice Age” by Abbie Hoffman, published in 1982.

This book is a compilation of essays from the most famous American Hippie of the 1960′s.  Hoffman’s name was best known because he engineered attention-getting stunts and advised his followers to engage in acts of protest that would infuriate law enforcement.  He also revealed the secrets to obtaining free merchandise and the details behind irreverent behavior.

In one essay, he pointed out instances of code language for cocaine in movies, such as the words “snow” and “blow.”  He also wrote that frequent visits to the dentist among people in Hollywood indicated that they were cocaine addicts.  They would have the drug rubbed in their gums for a faster high.

In another essay, Hoffman gloated about a prank he and his girlfriend pulled on 54 prestigious restaurants in Europe for six months between 1977 and 1978; some several times.  He wrote a well-crafted referral letter, forging the signature of Playboy Magazine’s Articles Editor, while purporting to be a restaurant critic for the magazine.  He showed the letter to the head chef in each restaurant, and was treated to thousands of dollars of fancy food, free of charge.  In the book, he reprinted the letter, a list of the ten restaurants he thought best, and Playboy’s reaction upon learning of the ruse. Read the book to find these out.