Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Dick Cavett Anecdote

The Dick Cavett Show - Interviewing Janis Joplin

This is a rare Portland Freelancer TV recommendation: The TCM channel is showing 9 Dick Cavett interviews without commercials and they last over an hour. Tonight was Robert Mitchum and it was great television. The guy drank scotch throughout and talked of long ago times when he was on a prison chain gang. After the interview they show one of each guest's classic movies. The next time it airs will be Thursday with Alfred Hitchcock. This inspired me to roll out the Dick Cavett anecdote:

I was working as a banquet waiter and Dick Cavett was the speaker at an event. I was a huge fan of his old talk show, because he had incredible guests, and was so intelligent. He could be witty and dry to a fault but every now and then you got to see him come up with comedy on the spot that was flat-out brilliant. He was a joke writer originally and though I wasn't even aware that I'd be one, I was drawn to that field. Dick Cavett was so bright and well-respected that guests would really bring their A game just to deal with him. Comedians like Woody Allen, Groucho, and Mel Brooks - all upcoming on this TCM series. His original talk show was incredible times for late night TV. In fact, there was a stretch after I had graduated from high school early and had not yet received permission to go hitchhiking around America, when it was just me and my Mom on this farm in New England, and we watched Dick Cavett every night. But I digress.

So Dick Cavett was speaking at this banquet here in Portland and he didn't want to eat at the function - he just wanted to come down and do the speech, and that's it. It made sense in a show biz way, but as I knew from his book, he's also a reclusive type and sadly has some serious depression issues. Anyway, I was chosen to go up to his suite and bring him a banquet entree. He was a tiny person but he had that huge, distinctive voice. I told him how much my Mom and I loved his old show and he said, "Oh, you're the ones." I could see the entire comedian protocol - I was the audience and he was entertaining, but he was also kind and seemed genuine. I didn't sense any star trip at all and that's always nice. I went in the main part of the room and set everything up, and he began to discuss how much he hated going to these events, and dreaded them. He kept saying how he was grateful I had brought the dinner because he couldn't stand banquets, and didn't want anything to do with the one that night. This is the setup, folks. See, I also sensed that he wanted something funny to happen, just to burn off some kind of nervous energy he had. He did seem uncomfortable like he could use some kind of fun moment just for a laugh.
It's no mystery. Comedy is a way to keep things from getting awkward. It's partly an invention so shy people can be in social situations.

There was a large TV in the corner that had been quietly on with some show like COPS. Suddenly, it got really loud as these officers began arresting this man in a business suit. Cavett was still talking about banquets, and how much he didn't want to go down to this one, but he turned to the TV and said, "What's going on here?" I felt the comedy force so I just said, "Oh my God, that's the banquet manager", and ran out of the room. I could still hear him laughing as I went down the hall.

Epilogue: It had gone so well as a comedic moment, that I actually thought he might mention it in his speech. He didn't - for one thing he had a zillion anecdotes that were amazing, but that was the time I met Dick Cavett and made him laugh.

7 Comments:

At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing.

I have been anxiously awaiting each Dick Cavett show. I've yet to be disappointed - - enjoyed each one immensely. What took "them" so long to replay them??

 
At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Worldwide Pablo said...

That is a great story, Bill. Dick Cavett is one of WWP's heroes. Thanks for sharing.

[As an aside, we note with sorrow, the passing of Dick's wife, Carrie Nye, earlier this year.]

 
At 6:50 AM, Blogger TR said...

I remember watching Dick Cavetts talk show the summer I turned 15, it was on in the morning, and I remember he sent Bob and Ray to cover the Chicago Democratic Convention. I only saw one bit (where they discover their hotel room has been bugged by Mayor Daley)and then the next day after the riots began Cavett came on to say there would be no more comedic bits about the convention because it was no longer funny. Cavett was one of my first hero's.

 
At 7:46 AM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

The political stuff was legendary on that show. Remember the big time politician who stormed off? He was a segregationist. Damn it. Governor Maddox?

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger TR said...

I wonder if Maddox gave Cavett one of his complimentary ax handles? Watching Cavett fade in to obscurity to someone like Carson was so depressing for me he wasn't a clown like Johnny Carson (no put down of Carson you have to remember how Carsons star was rising as Cavetts was sinking and to me this seemed unfair), but a serious dry wit that is so rare in American culture. Like a lot of great geniuses he was out of sync with his own time and by the time the world catches up with them it's usually too late because they are dead.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

I do think he had a few years where he was right on time, and that picture with Janis Joplin is from that era. He was right in New York during some of the coolest years in American history, and for a while there he was as hip as his rock-star guests.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger TR said...

You're right. It was such a short time but he made the best of it.

 

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