Last week's column got more response than any other one to date--so I'm continuing the theme! I've asked three more notorious New York names to chat about what tickles their proverbial funny bones.
WHO AND WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
(Tartagliona, the Queen Mother, in The Green Bird)
I've always been very into verbal humor--that's what makes me laugh. To that end, Maggie Smith and Elaine Stritch are two of the most verbally commanding creatures. When I was growing up in England, I thought Elaine Stritch was the quintessential, droll New York gal. Then I got to know her! One night she and I were in a cab absolutely bedecked with Christmas festivities and the driver was playing very ethnic East Indian music. He turned around and said, "I only hope that the music I am playing in my taxi is as lovely to your American ears as it is to my Indian ears." Elaine said, "Hey! You drive the cab, we'll tell the jokes!" The quintessential English sense of humor belongs to Maggie Smith. Her comedy is absurd and pushes all my buttons. It can be mean, but never mean spirited.
Another genius is Dame Edna. The first night I saw his show, he turned a potentially disastrous situation into something stunning. He had a dialogue going with a woman in the audience sitting in front of me who was wearing dark glasses. He asked her to come up on stage at a later point, and realized as she was being led up on to the stage, that the woman was blind. The entire audience sat there aghast--she had a walking stick! He turned round and said, "You know something, dear, by the end of the show you might not need that cane, because I have been known to cure people with disabilities. In fact, the cleaning people tell me that after my show, they find prosthetic limbs hurled under the seats--nobody needs them!" Then he turned to the audience and said, "Well it had to happen, didn't it?"
Another person who made me scream with laughter this past Broadway season was Linda Lavin in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Nobody connects articulate rage in comedy like she does. It's the most mesmerizing rage, and she, like Maggie Smith, can use her voice to deliver a line and absolutely nail it. She was hilarious at the Drama Desk Awards too, when she was presenting. There was all kinds of craziness happening on stage, and she just said, "Something is going to happen here--to me!" We all screamed! I've been so lucky--when I was working on Frasier, every bon mot you are given makes you feel that Christmas has come 'round again. It's like beautiful music.
I used to open for Joan Rivers in a little club in Beverly Hills. I watched her form her material there, and I was amazed at how incredibly bright she was, and how none of her schtick happened by accident. She worked so hard! It was so thrilling to watch that mind of hers. I remember her line about giving birth to her daughter. She said it was a real Jewish childbirth--at the first pain she was knocked out, and didn't wake up until Mr. Phyllis had done her hair. That's the kind of humor I really respond to.
True theatrical stories really make me laugh, too. I remember having an opening night at a club here in town called Freddie's. David Merrick, who had just had a stroke, came to see my show. He hadn't been out since the stroke, so I met him at the door and walked him into this little dark club. All of a sudden, David began mumbling and shoving and leaning forward--we had no idea what was happening. Well, it seemed that he had seen a penny on the floor and decided to pick it up and put it in his pocket--David Merrick!
(The Man Who Came to Dinner)
Joan Crawford makes me howl! I guess it's the fact that even the most mundane, prosaic situation, object or person is treated with epic grandeur. I admire that. Joan takes dry cleaning very seriously. She wrote three pages on it in one of her books. That's a lot about dry cleaning. But I admire her thoroughness. Also in the book, she mentions the importance and sanctity of each and every one of her marriages, even when they have been "hell on earth." Now that's funny!
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