Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Even in his later years, hunched over a cane, age did not appear to de-fang him. Don Rickles was still quick with his quips, even if the quips came quickly to him because he shot them out every day for six decades, quick with his many facial expressions of disgust and disappointment.

His reactions to audience reactions often brought his jokes from the barely memorable to the legendary. Rarely has a performer conveyed so much with the mere flicker of a expression change.

Don Rickles died today. The stand-up comic was 90, a month shy of his 91st birthday, but he was rarely shy. (I’ll be here all night folks, thanks.)

His stand-up act, till his last days, was remarkable, for someone past age 90 or not even 19, really: it was always unscripted. Yes, he knew what “insults” he was most likely going to deploy “against” audience members, and he knew that somehow he was going to convey that he was on the audience member’s side and not punching down at them. That was the extent of the notes he carried on stage with him. It was a tightrope act.

“If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny. There is a difference between an actual insult” and doing that, he often stated.
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Farewell, ‘Prof.’ Irwin Corey

“However.” Sometimes he spoke the word as an exclamation, sometimes as a half-question. He never connected it to anything that preceded it. It was not a reply, or it was a reply to everything the world had offered him up to the moment he encountered the audience on the other side of the footlights.

“Professor” Irwin Corey would shamble up to the microphone in an over sized suit, his shoelace necktie askew, his hair combed by a blender, and his first word to the audience in his role as “The World’s Foremost Authority” (topic always TBA) was always: “However.” What followed was always a stream of words that bore a relationship to English sentences that could be diagrammed, but the relationship appeared to be closer to a divorce than a marriage.

However one remembers “Professor” Irwin Corey, who died on Monday at the age of 102 and a half, one should remember that he and his act were embraced by activists, by anti-authoritarians, and by those who always take sides against pompous twits and those blowhards who love bureaucracy.
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Peter Cook: An Appreciation

John Cleese has said that for him it often took hours of “grinding” work to write several minutes of comedy, but that Peter Cook could write three minutes of top-quality material in just over three minutes. It appeared to come to him that easily early in his career.

But Cook did work hard. As a writer and performer, Cook worked hard at avoiding politeness for politeness’ sake if a laugh was available instead. When the Prime Minister of England, Harold Macmillan, wanted to attend a performance of the hot new West End show, Beyond the Fringe, either no one told him that one part of the show was the performance of a monologue by Peter Cook as Macmillan and that Cook made Macmillan sound like a sluggish dolt, or it was expected that Cook would simply skip that section of the performance in deference to the nation’s leader. He didn’t.

In the monologue, Cook’s Prime Minister Macmillan reports on a visit with President Kennedy: “We talked of many things, including Great Britain’s position in the world as some kind of honest broker. I agreed with him when he said no nation could be more honest, and he agreed with me when I said no nation could be broker.”
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It’s Garry Shandling’s Tribute

“I had a vivid near-death experience that involved a voice asking, ‘Do you want to continue leading Garry Shandling’s life?’ Without thinking, I said, ‘Yes.’ Since then, I’ve been stuck living in the physical world while knowing, without a doubt, that there’s something much more meaningful within it all. That realization is what drives my life and work.”—Garry Shandling

The news broke about two hours ago that Garry Shandling died this morning. It was first reported by a gossip website and then confirmed by the Los Angeles PD.
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A Pelican’s Life

For reasons that bore me, I am one of those (un)lucky, (un)happy few whose brain does not retain jokes. Neither knock-knock groaners nor shaggy-dog tales stick in this cranium; there are not many punchlines that are still connected to the matching set-up in my thinker.

In itself, this is sort of a joke, as I have written and performed radio comedy on and off for as long as I have been an adult. A quarter of a freaking century.

Each Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. (alert: this is tonight), the Magnificent Glass Pelican half-hour is broadcast on 88.7 FM WFNP (“The Edge”) in the Rosendale-New Paltz, New York, area. The Pelican is a live half-hour radio comedy show that my friends and I have written, produced, and acted in since 1990. Lately, it has been an improvised half-hour, produced by us and scripted live on-air. We have an unwritten rule that no rules should be written.
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An Actor’s Life?

I am a self-conscious actor, yet I sometimes work at it half-heartedly. Now and again. Half-hearted and hesitant—I blush easily, which makes radio the perfect venue for the experiment (and if you write for that type of character, a blushing, stammering sort, I’m your man).
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Insert Important Words Here to Attract Attention

“Son. May I call you that? No? Complete stranger, they say ‘you must give it away to keep it,’ and while I do not know what they mean by ‘it’ or even who ‘they’ might be, I just know that they keep telling me this. Again and again and again. But what do I have to give away? Pray tell, what? My wisdom, that’s what. My easy-won wisdom. And my encouragement.

“They also tell me that life should be worn like a loose Garmin, which I do not pretend to understand. Is it loose on the dashboard? That might be dangerous. You have to keep your GPS on a mount of some kind. You should wear your life like a fully charged GPS or phone—don’t want to get too hung up on terms and technology, because it is the philosophy I am getting at here that is important—wear your life like a portable device that you keep charged up and then hide in the glove compartment when you leave your car in a public parking lot. So don’t wear it at all. Carry your life like an electronic device that requires a two-year contract for you to use it, one that you would consider purchasing a protection plan for, but you ultimately do not, and you chance it.
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Two Awards, Plus a Film Plug

About two years ago, before this blog was launched, an online publication presented without any introduction a short film that I could not stop watching. It was an insomniac night and I no longer remember the name of the publication that made the insomnia worthwhile. (Buzzfeed, perhaps?) I think the only thing the publication said about it was that it was “narrated by Siri,” the iPhone voice, and that it was weird.
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