“That’s funny.” by
50
(74 Stories)

Prompted By Comedy

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I have previously written about the origins and development of my younger brother Hugh Fink, a very successful standup comic who has subsequently become a producer and writer (with an Emmy to show from his time at Saturday Night Live).  I wrote that in response to the Retrospect prompt, “comic relief.” Family loyalty prohibits me from writing about any other comic as my favorite for the current prompt, so I shall take the current prompt in a bit of a different direction.

I had one opportunity to spend a few days with my brother and some other road comics. The scene was southern California in the late 1980s. Hugh was working constantly--a lot of college campuses as well as comedy clubs.

Here is the previous piece of writing. Click on the title below the box if you want to read it now. Otherwise, continue with the current tale below the box.

And now for an unexpected interruption of logical sequence

I had one opportunity to spend a few days with my brother and some other road comics. The scene was southern California in the late 1980s or very early 1990s. Hugh was working constantly–a lot of college campuses as well as comedy clubs. He invited me to travel with him for a few days as we headed north out of LA to San Luis Obispo and two other other small to medium-sized cities.  The small tour was organized by Bob Zany, who would become successful enough a few years later to establish his own string of comedy clubs . It was convenient to have a name like Zany when you were in the comedy biz. He was able to use his own name–changed to the plural spelling. There were quite a few Zanies Comedy Clubs.

In elementary school I had a friend named Karen Cure whose father was a doctor. Imagine the opportunities, if he had been as entrepreneurial as Zany.  My more recent primary physician, Dr. Payne, was never even tempted, so far as I know, to open up a string of “Payne Clinics.”

Hugh and Bob and one other comic were performing together for the days we were on the road. Bob would kick off each set and warm up the crowd. Hugh was the headliner. The other guy performed in between. The comics did not travel together and each arranged his own lodging. They only saw each other about an hour before each show.

Not only was this during the period before Zany reached great career success and opened his own clubs. It was also before he dropped the extra 50 or 60 pounds he was carrying and transformed his looks and his stage persona entirely.  Back then, he would usually appear on stage in a ratty, stretched-out, faded velour shirt (the better to mournfully plead with the crowd “they told me it was velour night; didn’t they tell the rest of you?”). Much of his routine then revolved around his being overweight and pretty much of a loser.  When he heard a smattering of laughter or applause after a joke, he would interrupt his own act, looking almost startled, to say in a  soft, appreciative tone, “Thank you.” An uncomfortable pause. “I’m not used to that.”

He wasn’t just playing the part of a failure. During one of the nights I watched the three comics perform, he really was a failure. The crowd didn’t go for his “sad, look-at-me-in my-stupid-velour-shirt” act. The response of the hecklers in the audience to his attempts to deprecate himself regarding his weight were to pile on: “Yeah, you are fat! Why don’t you lose some weight?” And worse: “Why don’t you lose your whole act?”   He got so upset and frustrated at one point that he lashed out at the crowd. “Do you know I get paid more in one night up on this stage than most of you make in a month?”  Whoa, that did not endear him to these small-town Southern Californians, out for a few drinks and a few laughs. They booed and jeered. It was painful to watch.

 

Fortunately, after that kind of meltdown, the other comics would have seemed brilliant no matter what they said, My brother played classical music on a violin as a pivotal portion of his act in those days. There could scarcely have been a bigger contrast in comedy styles between Zany as “sad sack” and Hugh as accomplished, snappily dressed violinist . (Part of the joke was that audiences assumed he couldn’t really play the instrument. He would hold it and strum it a bit and talk, like Henny Youngman. Until, without warning, he would launch into two or three very solid and astonishing minutes of a Vivaldi concerto.)

Ventura Harbor

Hugh’s act went well every night that I had the pleasure of joining him on that road trip. And we had some fun adventures during our off hours. Visiting the harbor at Ventura and having lunch looking over the water is a great memory. I also recall eating some really good barbecued sweetbreads at a funky smokehouse in San Luis Obispo.

The most insightful moment came one night after Zany was off stage, and I got to observe Hugh and Bob listening to the other comic. We were all seated together at a table. They listened attentively, never missing a beat in following the other man’s performance. The audience was giving him a good amount of laughter and even occasional hand claps. But neither Hugn or Bob ever laughed. They would smile or half-smile a reasonable amount. And if the guy said something truly hilarious, they would turn to each other, meet each other’s glance. You would see each of them give an approving nod of the head. And one of them, or occasionally both of them, would murmur, “That’s funny.”

Profile photo of Dale Borman Fink Dale Borman Fink
Dale Borman Fink retired in 2020 from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA, where he taught courses related to research methods, early childhood education, special education, and children’s literature. Prior to that he was involved in childcare, after-school care, and support for the families of children with disabilities. Among his books are Making a Place for Kids with Disabilities (2000) Control the Climate, Not the Children: Discipline in School Age Care (1995), and a children’s book, Mr. Silver and Mrs. Gold (1980). In 2018, he edited a volume of his father's recollections, called SHOPKEEPER'S SON.

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Dale, for introducing us to your Emmy award-winning brother Hugh, and for the off-stage peek at two comedians judging their competition!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for posting this. Your brother has had an interesting life so different from what I know. It must be great to have been able to share in parts of it, and you do a wonderful job describing the comedy scene.

  3. Your brother looks like a comic, Dale. He has a puckish look about him!

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