Comedians like to hang out. For hours, doing nothing but talking at around towards over with and through each other–they won’t ever shut the fuck up–and so they need somewhere to do it. Back in New York, all the comics had hung out in a Broadway diner called Lindy’s, which had a booking agent’s office right upstairs, but there was nowhere to kibbitz in Los Angeles in 1947, so Milton Berle started the Friar’s Club. It was a private club. You had to be funny. The Friars had a building on Santa Monica Boulevard with a card room, and a bar, and a shvitz: everything you need. To pay the rent, they had roasts.
You know how it goes: dais, lectern, chicken and asparagus. Roastee sits in the center while a succession of ugly men in tuxedos say mean things about them. These were not the sanitized clip shows that they sell as the “Dean Martin Roasts” or the teevee shows on Comedy Central: these were vulgar, drunken affairs that often got personal and vicious; they were the highlight of the social season.
In 1958, the Friar’s Club roasted Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez–a two-fer–and one of the comics on the stage was a man named Harry Einstein, a dialect comic who performed under the name Nick Parkyakarkus. (For the Younger Enthusiasts: “dialect comic” means “Jew pretending to be a non-black ethnic.” It’s not quite blackface, but it’s no longer anywhere near acceptable. For additional information, please google “My name Jose Jimenez.”) Harry got up, told his jokes, and with the laughter still ringing in the Friar’s Club ballroom, he sat back down and WHAM head down into his chicken and asparagus. Another big laugh. Milton Berle–the same one who’d founded the place a decade before–called out, “Is there a doctor in the house?” Huge laugh. Harry didn’t get up. The room grew quiet.
Harry Einstein killed, and then he died. Comedians still revere the moment, and tell the story whenever they’re hanging out. Comedians like to hang out.
Musicians do, too, and all of Col. Bruce Hampton’s friends came to see him last night. Musicians don’t talk, they jam; there was a show. A celebration, the Colonel’s 70th birthday. The whole jam band scene was there: Tedeschi & Trucks, and Fishman, and John Popper, and a bunch of others. The show went well, and the crowd demanded an encore. Bruce chose Turn on Your Lovelight, which starts
Without a warning,
You broke my heart.
and continues in that vein for two more verses. The room was stomping and on its feet, and a young man named Brandon Niederauer (one of those teen guitar prodigies that pops up every few years) was taking a solo when Col. Bruce Hampton went to his knees and draped an arm over the monitor, and then all the way to the stage floor. The band kept going. Bruce was a cut-up, and you never knew what kind of antics he was going to pull. But he didn’t get up. The room grew quiet.
Col. Bruce Hampton rocked, and then he rolled. Thank you, Colonel.