I often think about comedy, and about the funniest people I've run across in my life. I guess they have inspired me to become involved in humor. There are a few and they are varied, but they had one thing in common: their humor was unique, and they made us laugh. By "us" I mean "me."
My first comedy mentor was a local TV host named Bobby Harrimer. Every afternoon, around 5pm, he ushered us into "The Big Movie" on our local channel 10, where we watched such film classics as "The Incredible Two Headed Man Who Wouldn't Die" and "Some Guy has Hitler's Brain, We Think."
The movies could give us all quite a scare, but Bobby's catchphrase always made us smile: "Wowsie Wowser! This world is a Kwayzeeee Place!" I can always remember his eyes bugging out comically, mostly because of his thyroid disorder, and his limbs flailing akimbo, probably because of some other comical illness we didn't know about.
Bobby would often dress like characters from the movies he showed. For example, during monster movies he would dress like Frankenstein or Dracula, and during courtroom dramas he would wear judge's robes or dress like a court stenographer. I did think his use of the humorous
catchphrase was a bit inappropriate on the day John F Kennedy was shot, but who am I to judge? "Funny is funny" as someone said, probably.
Next on the list was my great uncle, Anthony. Sporting the colorful nickname "Uncle," he was known for his pithy and humorous commentaries on American politics and society. Whenever the conversation turned to religion, the old rascal would pull out a dollar and quip "There's your
religion: money!" Then he would wittily cough and gag, and we would laugh hysterically, mostly out of uncomfortable nervousness, which is still a kind of laughter.
Uncle was well known throughout the neighborhood for showing the kids his "scrapbooks" filled with pictures from World War II which were actually pasted over old seed catalogs, followed by a lengthy explanation about Superman, or "Supermen" as he used the term, which strangely always ended up having little to do with the comic book character. I still laugh when I remember seeing him sitting in his favorite chair, reading by the light of the streetlamp, which he did to save money which he would no doubt use for some madcap adventure like putting it in the bank or maybe buying day old bread and creamed corn.
Next was Eddie Derontick, the funniest boy in 5th grade. Eddie was the class clown, and he always lived up to this nickname. One day, during a particularly boring dodge ball game, Eddie got the crazy idea to remove all his clothes and play the game naked. He ran around screaming "I'm the goofiest kid in the world" much to the delight of the students and frustration of the teachers at the school. Eddie was reprimanded, but even stuffy old Principal Prendergast had to stifle a laugh, as Eddie was just that kind of kid. It was during our little graduation ceremony that Eddie gave his best performance, taking the rolled up "diploma" and holding it to his crotch, turning to the parents at the gathering and yelling "It takes two hands to handle a Whopper!" We all laughed, and the fact that Eddie was 16 at the time seemed to make it even funnier. Most kids would have been depressed at having to repeat every single grade of grammar school, but not Eddie. He was the eternal optimist. I saw him later working at a "Lube and Run" and he was still the same crazy, happy go lucky guy, though he did seem to bump his head a lot.
Next on the list is Carol Downet, one of the first female stand up comics. I remember watching her on the old variety shows and howling at her delivery of such gems as "My husband is so dumb, he went to work on Labor Day" and "My cooking is so bad, my kid deliberately broke his leg so he could eat at the hospital." She was a regular on the old "Shecky Jackie Goodtime Summerfun Half a Comedy Hour" which was a summer replacement show for the old sitcom "My Mother the Air Conditioner." I remember some of Carol's wacky characters, like her "Dime Store Clerk Lady" who would quip "The boss is so dumb, he came to work on Labor Day." and her "Nurse Ivy Drip" with her "My husband drank bleach so he could eat hospital food instead of mine." Carol was a comedy pioneer, funny when women weren't really supposed to be, and breaking new ground in comedy, tackling such issues as messy husbands and kids who did poorly in school and were picky eaters. Carol seemed to drop out of sight for a while, but later could be enjoyed selling her personal line of spatulas on the Home Shopping Network. She still made me laugh. She seemed drunk too.
Those of us in comedy hold our comedy mentors in high regards. From Bobby Harrimer to Carol Downet to the other two, these people shaped my sense of humor and my comedy future. You may want to ask yourself "Who are my comedy teachers?" Ask it when you're not too busy, though, not while you're driving or something.