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"The Comedian"

I worked in a show club in Detroit with The Dawn Breakers quartet. 
The emcee was a very funny comedian named Frankie Rapp. 
He did an impression of a gay lighthouse. 
I saw him in a Jerry Lewis movie once. 

There was a classy female singer on the show 
who was Frankie’s ex-wife. 
She told me she didn’t like old comedians. 
She’d been married to two of them. 
After comedians make us laugh we expect them to be jolly in real life. 
They can be quite different from their onstage persona. 

Mickey Rooney is one of our finest comedic actors, 
but backstage we found him grouchy, unfriendly, and rude. 
Lou Costello got 60% and Bud Abbott got 40% of their income. 
When asked if he thought he needed Abbott, he said this: 
“I could have him painted on the curtain.” 
Misty and I have known hilarious comics 
who were serious depressives. 
We got involved with one who was a tyrant. 

I was producing a Starday Records artist named Rusty Diamond, 
who had a knack for getting rich backers. 
Rusty wanted to put together a Vegas type stage show. 
I knew he wasn’t ready for that, 
so I suggested we hire a comedy coach named Danny Rogers. 

Rusty’s backer was paying for the coaching sessions, 
and the rent on a rehearsal hall. 
Danny could be funny, lovable, humble, devious, and cruel. 
He could be different people at different moments. 
He did so many characters, I didn’t know which was the real him. 
I think it was the mean one. 

He’d been fired from Milton Berle’s Vegas show 
for being too funny. 
He told me “Berle was right. It was his show.” 

The potential comedy group consisted of 
Misty and me, Paul McLaughlin our sax player, 
and Rusty was to be the star. 
Rogers began calling Paul “the hick” and riding him mercilessly. 
I was the designated straight man, Misty was “the chick”, 
and it never became clear what Rusty was supposed to do. 

It did become clear that Rusty was not going to be the star. 
Danny was getting paid to train him, but Rusty was on his way out. 
It was morphing into The Danny Rogers Group. 
He was a terrific comedian, and I was to be his Dean Martin. 
He didn’t even want Paul in the act. 
That’s why he made his life miserable. 
But we made sure Paul stayed. 

To be fair, Danny did teach us a lot about stagecraft and comedy. 
He taught us some hilarious routines, 
but he yelled at us all the time, which took the fun out of it. 
Rusty’s backers pulled the plug and he left the group, 
Paul “the hick” was miserable, 
and Misty and I were imagining fun ways to kill Danny Rogers. 

Misty bought an expensive new dress 
and Danny commanded her to “Never wear that again.” 

Then he booked our act into a famous showplace in the Caribbean. 
We all knew at that moment 
that we were not going to be on any island with Danny Rogers. 
We were actually afraid to tell him. 
He had become the cruel warden. 
But we did tell him, and he wasn’t happy 
First he became the poor soul who’s been hurt, 
to make us feel guilty. 
He was good! 
Finally he got mad, did a troll dance, and left. 

Maybe I made up the troll dance. 

In the 1970’s, after we’d had several hit records, 
I was calling old names in our address book, for some dumb reason. 
I got Rogers on the phone, 
and asked if he remembered us, and he said this: 
“Yeah. Too bad you never made it.” 

Copyright © Feb. 15, 2006, Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

 

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