Dream Series: The Legends of Comedy
Perhaps it was having a joke on the Tonight Show last night, but I had one of my ongoing series of nightlong dreams involving a legendary comedian.
This started years ago with Mel Brooks. At one point in the dream, I was sitting on a stone fence one block from where I lived on SE 23rd Street, shooting the breeze with Mel Brooks. Usually other stuff occurs, we go to a restaurant or walk around, but we’re always talking and Mel sounds exactly like he does in real life, even with jokes thrown in by my subconscious. By the way, in the dreams, I’m always old friends with them, and they’re usually not contemporaries. They usually made an impression on me when I was very young.
Last night it was Joan Rivers. Okay, I know, she’s become something else with the plastic surgery and the fashion celebrity critiques – believe me, I’m not into that stuff either. The Joan Rivers I revered has nothing to do with the Home Shopping network. I was hanging out with the breakthrough comedian Joan Rivers, although she was just as old as she is now, and please Joan, enough with the plastic surgery. If you smile and your ass cheeks separate, it's time to stop.
But read her material from when she wowed Carson back in the day. Joan Rivers is a comedy monster. I distinctly remember hearing her putting down her breasts: “My husband asked if I needed help with my buttons and I said, “I’m already naked.” That type of joke blew my mind as a kid. It introduced me to that self-derogatory thing that my real tribe didn’t seem to allow: The concept of laughing at yourself. It was a revelation. It was more than a relief; it was like the gift of mental health: Laugh at your predicament. Of course! See, my people weren't into that. This was like exhaling a big anxious breath. This was uptight muscles in my soul unclinching. In the dream I had known Joan 28 years and we were discussing comedy.
You know how some people hear the blues of Muddy Waters, etc… and it instantly becomes the sacred music of their lives? I’m more of a British Invasion guy: the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, etc…but many of these British rockers heard that authentic sound of Howling Wolf and the Chicago Blues scene, and immediately fell in love.
Well, I have that with the Jewish comedians of the East Coast, specifically New York City. You know, that Brooklyn delivery. These are my heroes and the rhythms in their humor sound like heaven to me. Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, and going back. Long before, Joan Rivers became what she is now, she was with that group, so last night was cool.
Every now and then I get to meet one of the great Jewish comedians in real life: I’ve met Robert Klein, Richard Lewis, and Rob Reiner. Rob was here campaigning at the Union Hall down on 11th and Madison. I shook hands with him on the way in, and it was a true honor. Just think: Carl Reiner’s son, and of course Meathead. He really delivered inside, throwing his arms around. He said the Republican idea of diversity on a political ticket is that the candidates are from different oil companies. Ba-boom.
I actually got to do a project for Sam Denoff once. Check out his biography sometime: One tidbit – He was a writer and producer for the Dick Van Dyke show. They sent me this sketch idea to write and I had it back to them within literally just a few hours. We all got on a conference call and Sam said, in classic East Coast Jewish comedy rhythm, “I like you Bill, you write funny and you write fast. Now I hope you don’t mind if I rewrite it. I rewrite everything. I rewrite parking tickets.” Ba-dum. I jumped in, fitting in with the groove as best I could. In this case, my Legends of Comedy series was really happening and I was living the dream.