Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Interview with Chris Bearde



Comedy writer Chris Bearde has had a fascinating career. Starting in the trenches of Australian television in the late fifties, he was often asked by touring American comedians why a man of his ability had not moved to Hollywood. Bearde soon left the penal colony, but instead of Hollywood, he would hone his skills working for Canadian television. He toiled on countless programs, most of which remain elusive to contemporary fans. From the pilot of The Tommy Hunter Show to Canada's first satirical television show Nightcap, Bearde established himself as a unique talent. So much so, that the William Morris Agency sent its people to Toronto to bring the affable writer to Hollywood. He established himself as a tireless worker on an endless stream of comedy variety projects from Laugh-In and  The Gong Show to The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and extravaganzas featuring anyone from Bob Hope to Elvis.



Chris Bearde: Where do you hang out?

Kliph Nesteroff: Currently I am in Vancouver.

Chris Bearde: Is that your hometown?

Kliph Nesteroff: No, but I'm Canadian. I can't yet legally work in America, although I write primarily for American outfits. You know, I've been a fan of yours for a longtime. As I mentioned to you on Twitter, I own more than one copy of Canada Observed [the 1966 comedy LP written by Chris Bearde].

Chris Bearde: My God. You know, it brought back such memories when you said that. Another thing that happened was this young kid from a Toronto University, a few years ago, as his treatise studied Nightcap - went to the CBC and looked up everything that was ever written about it. There was a lot of the old tapes left and that sort of thing. He did this hundred page history of the show. It was really unbelievable that he got so much. 


This show was a precursor to Saturday Night Live. Guys like Lorne Michaels were writing stuff on Nightcap in the mid-sixties, before anything like that happened in the United States. It was a very meaningful part of my life and that album, Canada Observed, came out of it. It was the cast.



Kliph Nesteroff: It's interesting that the record isn't billed as the Nightcap album.

Chris Bearde: I don't know why they didn't do that, but whoever they were that did it...

Kliph Nesteroff: It seemed like such a popular show that the album would have sold better had they...

Chris Bearde: Yes, it was popular. I've got some tapes. What happened at Nightcap was they put it on the air at 1130pm. Typical CBC, it was just one of those throwaway things that they did. They gave us an old studio on Yonge Street and we were all young people. The first few weeks there were ten people in the audience. But whatever it was, the people were out there watching it. I remember I was on the show as well as being part of the writing staff. I said [on-air] one day, "If you want to come see the show, there are plenty of seats here in the studio." And I cut to the audience daringly and showed five people sitting in the audience. The next week, we had this one old security guard and he was overwhelmed because, every kid in Toronto who was going to college had made this show their own. Nobody had too much of a lock on getting an audience. Nobody gave a shit. 



Next [week] we had about two hundred people in the audience. For the next five years it was like a madhouse every week trying to fit everyone into the studio. It became a cause célèbre in Canada. It was only a local Toronto show to begin with, then Montreal wanted it. It was the very first Canadian show that sort of got syndicated within a government station. Everyone wanted it and they had no way of doing that. In those days, with the CBC, it was either a network show or a local show. There wasn't any sending of a tape to another city sort of thing. It really was the start of syndication. After going to the States and getting involved in all those network shows, Allan Blye and I were the first people that actually took American shows back to Canada and made deals with a Canadian network. CTV Network; we'd use their studios for free and then give them the rights to the shows in Canada and then sold the shows in the United States and made a profit. I think we were the first people that actually did that. We were the first people that took an American show up to Canada. We did Razzle Dazzle, which was a Saturday Morning kids show. We did a show in 1970 with Ray Stevens. We took Ray Stevens up to Toronto and did a show up there. All very successful too.



Kliph Nesteroff: When you and Allan Blye parted ways as writing partners, he continued that sort of thing with Bob Einstein didn't he?

Chris Bearde: He did do that. I did it a couple more times too. I went up with a show called The Sex and Violence Family Hour where I found Jim Carrey. The first show he ever did in his life was for us. It was a Playboy [Channel] special. I brought Murray Langston who's Canadian back for that. That went on in Canada for a longtime. They took a 90 minute movie that I made and they split it up in to half hours and they played it for a year, over and over and over again. I think it was Global network that did that. But yes, both of us went back both separately and together and did that.

Kliph Nesteroff: I am amazed at the amount of talent on Nightcap - all went on to much bigger things. Yourself and of course Billy Van and Alan Hamel. But also Terry Kyne...


Chris Bearde: I used him. He did The Gong Show for us back in the seventies. He's had a long, long career here.

Kliph Nesteroff: I enjoyed a bunch of the Nightcap clips on YouTube. It's a shame that it isn't more accessible today.


Chris Bearde: Yes, it is, but who knows if people today would like it. It's kind of corny looking now. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things. I don't know whether or not you've seen it - the take off on The Ballad of the Green Berets...




Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I have seen that. It's great.

Chris Bearde: Isn't that a great clip? It stands up today. We're still involved in satire. I have a blog - you should go read it. Every day I have a new one.


Kliph Nesteroff: So, I am writing this article about [comedy writer] Paul Keyes and his relationship with Richard Nixon and Nixon, sort of in the shadows, having a relationship with Laugh-In. Before I get into the details of what I have unearthed in my research, I just wanted to ask you what your sense was of the relationship between Laugh-In head writer Paul Keyes and Richard Nixon.



Chris Bearde: He was his speechwriter. He wrote his speeches. And any comedy that was in Nixon's speeches, Paul was involved in. That is basically what he always was. George Schlatter and his [left-wing] side of things, a little bit you know the details of, that's why the show was successful. It had a little left and a little right. But Paul was definitely the guy who took Nixon's speeches and turned them from dry, cold political stuff into sort of human-comedy oriented sentences. Sometimes. Not all the time. He definitely, more than anyone, had Nixon's ear because he was ... Nixon was one of the first guys that understood that television was going to get him in the place ... He lost big time to Kennedy because of television and he never forgot that. Nixon was not a stupid man. He may have been a crooked man, but he was not a stupid man. And Paul was a very bright guy. Very cool. I got along with him very well. 



It's strange, because people knew my politics pretty well, but I was sort of, more in the middle than most of them in those days. I got to work with a lot of the big Republican people. I did a lot of Bob Hope specials as well and he knew exactly who I was. In those days I had long hippie hair and was known as the guy who didn't shirk at smoking a joint and things like that. But in comedy it is strange because I used to say to Bob, "Why did you choose me to do these shows after spending all those years with all those old guys?" He said, "Because you're funny." That was his reason, and that's the reason I got on so well with Paul I think. He was a guy that wanted to make people laugh more than anything politically, non-politically. That was his whole scene.

Kliph Nesteroff: In the process of my research I found it interesting that most people's assessment was that Paul Keyes simply contributed jokes to the Nixon campaign and little else. In reality, he was very much involved in the whole campaign, especially when it came to grooming Nixon's image.
 



Chris Bearde: Absolutely. The image was that he made him human. That was the whole point of Paul's involvement and whether or not that was straight comedy lines or whole entire, "No, don't do that - do this, Richard." He was involved. I don't know the details of this, but that's what he would have been definitely involved in. The thing about Paul, he was a very human guy. He wasn't an automatic guy. He was very human and very religious. I think he was pretty religious as well. But I know for a fact he was a very charming and warm guy and Nixon was not those things. I think that's why this was a good combination. He brought a warmth, whatever you could say about Nixon, any kind of warmth - that came from the Paul Keyes side of things.

Kliph Nesteroff: Other than Paul Keyes and maybe Dan Rowan, who would some of the other right wing writers on Laugh-In have been?


Chris Bearde: I think there was a guy named Hugh Wedlock who was partners with Allan Manings which was very strange because Allan was to the left wing of Stalin! He was an American guy who went to Canada. I came in a little later. I was not involved in the special. Only the series. There was this English guy named Digby Wolfe whom I had worked with in Australia. That's how I got to be on Laugh-In because Digby had taken a lot of my material and sold it to George. So, that's how I got to be there and Allan was already there. I made a calculated decision when I got there. If you know Nightcap... it was pretty left wing. We were hitting on everything in sight there, but we were pretty fair. I had not really got my political chops in shape when I first went to Laugh-In



So, I'd look around and see that there were these two factions of people. They were all very funny and all got on great together. It wasn't like there were any big arguments going on that I could tell. I made a calculated decision. I wanted to get along with everybody because I wanted to get my material on the show. There were thirteen other writers involved! "Well, how do I get my stuff on? I am going to be very nice to Paul Keyes and I'm going to be very nice to George Schlatter and I'm going to be as funny as I can be to both of them and hopefully that'll be enough to get my material on more than anybody else." So I forged a very nice, very good strong relationship with Paul Keyes. I don't know if you've ever been told this story or if it has ever been told, but this is a classic Laugh-In story. It's the story about Paul and George and me and a bunch of the other writers being in the room when Nixon called.  


You'd get called to the inner sanctum, which was George's office, when there were writers' meetings going on. Sometimes they'd call on you, sometimes they'd call on other people, but you'd feel pretty good when it was you that was sitting at the table. Anyway, I was chosen this particular day to be in the room. Paul and George and me were in the room when Nixon called. Nixon had just been elected and Paul was instrumental in that. It was a hugely successful time for all of us ... us having a show that looked like it helped elect him - we were the hottest show in town. It was an amazing time. We were all sitting there going through the show and there was a phone call. 


It was for Paul Keyes. Paul said, "Hello, blah, blah blah. George? It's the President-elect. He wants to speak to you." George thought it was a joke. He picked up the phone and said, "Yeah, and I'm Petula Clark. Who the hell is this?" Nixon said, "This is the President-elect of the United States, Richard Nixon" and George [dismissed him] - gave the phone back to Paul. Paul said, "George, it is Nixon." So, George picked up the phone and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry Mr. Nixon. Everyone is always playing jokes on me. I want to thank you so much for doing Laugh-In." And Nixon said, "Yes, George, l thank you. I do appreciate it. You helped us and we helped each other and it was fantastic." So, Nixon said to George, "I just wanted to ask you a question. I know that you have a nickname, don't you?" George's nickname was Crazy Fucking George. Everyone called him that. I still have that on my e-mail to him. So George says, "Yeah." Nixon asked, "What does CFG stand for?" And George said, "Mr. President, it stands for Crazy Funny George." And Nixon says, "No, it doesn't. Don't bullshit me. It's Crazy Fucking George and don't ever speak to me again," and he slammed the phone down. That's a true story.  


My recollections of Paul were very, very good. I could see his appreciation of all the people that worked on the show. He was very appreciative of the talent. Allan [Blye] had been working on The Smothers Brothers [Comedy Hour]. He had tried to get me over there to co-produce the Smothers Brothers and George would not let me out of my contract. By now, George realized that I was the guy that could talk to the right wing guys and the left wing guys and I could get through a bunch of stuff that was okay, but was probably better by somebody that seemed to be in the middle. Seemed to be. Allan got to work with Andy Willams. Andy had said, "I want you to produce my new television series," and Allan said, "Well you know, Chris and I are partners and I would like to bring him over to co-produce." So, I met Andy and we got on great and I did a special with him. I got offered the producing job for Andy Williams. 


But I was still under contract to George and Laugh-In. We were all handled by William Morris so they said, "You've got to speak to George and get out of your contract because he can't hold you back." I went in to see Paul and let him know what was happening and he said, "Well, George doesn't want to let you go." I said, "Paul, I can't give up [the chance] to be a producer." He said, "Well, I can't make you producer of Laugh-In because I am producer of Laugh-In. I can make you head writer, but I can't make you a producer." I said, "Well, I have to go do this." He said, "Well, it's kind of a big move. You don't know whether this Andy show is going to be successful or not." I said, I know but it's such a great opportunity." He said, "I'll tell you one thing. I'm going to predict this. This show, with you not being here, is never going to be as smooth as it is now because of your influence on everybody." And it wasn't just between Paul and George - it was with everybody. 


I was just one of those happy-go-lucky fools that got in the middle of everything. And you know what? What Paul said was exactly true. I don't know if it happened the next year or the year after, but the left and right stopped talking to each other. They totally stopped talking to each other and sent memos to each other across the studio for the last three years of the show. The people at home didn't know it or see it or get affected by it, but there was animosity personified there. I am sure Paul and George always spoke, but the animosity between Dan and George became very harsh. Because I left I don't know the details of that, but I heard this straight out of the mouth of Paul Keyes who said, "You were a key element to keeping everyone on an even keel." I didn't even know that. I was just an innocent in paradise. I couldn't believe what he was telling me. It was just by osmosis I guess. It was a very strange thing so... nobody has ever asked me these questions before! You're the first.


Kliph Nesteroff: Was Digby Wolfe ever brought in to work on the show or did he just sell them material?

Chris Bearde: He was called a comedy consultant. He was never actually a writer. He didn't come and write with us. Most of us didn't think that he ever wrote that much.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever hear what Dick Martin had to say about Digby Wolfe?

Chris Bearde: No, I never did.

Kliph Nesteroff: This is what he had to say. "George Schlatter wanted Digby Wolfe for head writer. We said, 'No, no, no, no. No way.' We knew him. We once hired him for a hundred dollars a week to write political humor for us, for nightclubs, but we couldn't use any of it. Because it wasn't funny. Digby Wolfe was out right away ... We brought in Paul Keyes from The Dean Martin Show ... we insisted that he be the head writer." 

  

Chris Bearde: Oh, well there you are. I don't have to say anything. Bob Hope told me, "Try and not to say anything bad about anybody on the way up because you might meet them on the way down." I mean, Digby was a big, big TV star in Australia and I was his writer. I traveled all over the country with him in Australia. When I left and went to Canada, he left and went to the United States. Obviously, he did a few things like that for a few years, and got to be friends with George Schlatter. I could tell you this, he could not have been head writer of Laugh-In, because he was an ideas guy. He could come up with a couple of ideas, but he couldn't sit down and write a page of jokes. To me, that's what a writer it is. Digby could not do any of that. He could come up to George and say, "Why don't we have a guy in a green coat standing in the corner and someone throws a pie at him?" He could say that. But that is not a joke and it doesn't have a beginning, a middle and an end. It doesn't count as a professional piece of material. 


Kliph Nesteroff: Were you around when Nixon taped his cameo?

Chris Bearde: No, I was not. I mean, I was there in town, but they kept the writers away from the studio. They just stuck us in a motel. We were treated very fairly by George, but we were never invited much to the show. We were writers - background.

Kliph Nesteroff: There's always a lot of comparison between The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Laugh-In even though they really weren't that similar. By the time Nixon was elected, Paul Keyes was encouraging Richard Nixon to go after The Smothers Brothers. Did you ever catch wind of that?



Chris Bearde: No, I didn't. The reason The Smothers Brothers went off the air and Laugh-In lasted longer was because... and I think Paul had something to do with this too. Paul always realized that you could be political up to a point, but you had to be funny and not be preachy. What happened with The Smothers Brothers is that they - and this was against what the writers and everyone at CBS wanted them to do - they felt the power that they had and they wanted to use it - they got preachy. The public didn't want preachy. Paul and George did it with tits and ass. And the tits and ass covered the [politics]. Nightcap was like that. Nightcap was a tits and ass show that had comedy in it. That's why I was called on to come down there. I had found a way ...   


Laugh-In had girls in bikinis doing sex jokesNightcap had a lot of influence. Bob Blackburn and Dennis Braithwaite and Roy Shielding were the columnists in Toronto. When I went to Laugh-In they said, "Well, what are they doing? They're doing Chris' show with [just] more music and a bigger budget." I didn't even feel that except when people said it in the press. "Well, maybe it is." I was such an innocent in paradise in those days. I was just happy to be working.



Kliph Nesteroff: I just want to read you a brief memo that Richard Nixon wrote in to his henchman John Ehrlichman from March 1969. "You will recall that on several occasions I have suggested the 5 O'Clock group might direct some of its activities toward the letter to the editor and call to television commentators and programs. I feel that such action might produce more in the way of hard achievement than discussions on the grand strategy as to when RN should appear and how many press conferences he should have, etc. I realize that some of the latter can be helpful and, of course, is necessary to maintain the morale of the group. In this connection, Paul Keyes has often spoken about the necessity to monitor television programs on which there are deliberately negative comments which deserve some reaction on the part of our friends. One of the programs Paul suggested we watch was the Smothers Brothers. Sunday night they had one sequence in which one said to the other that he found it difficult to find anything to laugh about - Vietnam, the cities, etc. but 'Richard Nixon's solving those problems... that's really funny.'The line didn't get a particularly good reaction from the television audience but beyond that it is the kind of line that should, particularly at this time, receive some calls and letters strenuously objecting to that kind of attack. I think it is not too late to have a few letters go to the producers of the program objecting to that kind of comment."


Chris Bearde: Wow. That's almost like censorship, right? 



Kliph Nesteroff: This is the piece of hard evidence that I've come across that indicates that Paul Keyes would have been encouraging Nixon to go after TV shows that were making critical comments about the administration.



Chris Bearde: I would say that was exactly the kind of thing Paul would do. Absolutely, that's him. In television, as in politics, all's fair in love and war. Coming from where he was coming from and being who he was, he did not even think that that was a bad thing to do. I doubt if Paul would be trying to knock The Smothers Brothers off the air with a line like that because he, being a smart man, would know that any publicity was good publicity. He was trying to make a battleground and fight from that battleground. I think that it is not illogical to think that Paul Keyes would have said that. 

 

Kliph Nesteroff: You also provided some material for stand-up comics when you were starting out. I read that you had contributed material for Jackie Mason... Shelley Berman... Phil Foster? Is that accurate?

Chris Bearde: Definitely.

Kliph Nesteroff: What kind of stuff were you...


Chris Bearde: One-liners, mostly. I was always going down to New York and hanging with these guys. Phil Foster had come down to Australia and had seen me. He was instigational in bringing me to the United States. He was one of those guys that composed one of those letters that said I was unique in my field and all that sort of thing, to get you in legally. When I was up in Toronto, doing my shows up there, I would come down to New York and hang with him at the Stage Delicatessen with all the comics and sell him one-line jokes. Whoever was there, they'd say, "Have you got any jokes?" I'm a jokesmeister, so I used to sell them jokes.


Kliph Nesteroff: How old were you at that point?


Chris Bearde: Twenties. Mid-twenties, maybe twenty-five. Unbelievable! Honestly, my life has been unbelievable. I mean, a twenty-five year old guy sitting down in the Stage Delicatessen with Phil Foster and Milt Kamen and Woody Allen and Jackie Mason and Jack E. Leonard. I can't remember [all of them], but basically all the guys that were on The Tonight Show and all the other shows. I'd just be selling them one-line jokes. They gave me handouts. They'd buy me dinner. I never got a lot of money out of them. I was twenty-six or twenty-seven and out of my mind being allowed to sit in the Stage Delicatessen with all of the top comics in the world. Who had that opportunity!? That was Phil Foster. He made that happen.


Kliph Nesteroff: Milt Kamen is a very funny guy that everybody kind of forgets about.


Chris Bearde: Yeah! And Jack E. Leonard, too, the insult comic.


 
Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, Jack E. Leonard is hysterical.

Chris Bearde: He was. I'm glad you remember all of these people. Today you talk to people, they don't even remember who the hell they are.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, one of my specialties is writing articles about guys that are overlooked like that. Milt Kamen I haven't written about, but I am in contact with his nephew.

Chris Bearde: Those guys... in those days they were monologue guys. They performed monologues. They'd take a subject and do [a long routine]. It was much cleaner in those days too. I'm not saying it's bad or good now, that's just the way it was then. Bob Newhart and his whole thing with the telephone and Shelley Berman and even Don Knotts. All those guys came from stand-up. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about your interactions with Jack E. Leonard?




Chris Bearde: No. I just remember him being there. You see, when you'd sit in with them, they'd all be sitting around a big table. They're all smoking cigars and eating bratwurst and farting their brains out at three o'clock in the morning. Your jaw just dropped open. You can't even imagine the whole situation. Just incredible. I mostly just remember them trying to top each other with jokes. They just sat there and told jokes and reminisced. It was like those guys in Broadway Danny Rose. Broadway Danny Rose was exactly what was going on there.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's also my understanding that, early on, you had worked for Frank Fontaine. Do you remember in what capacity?


Chris Bearde: Oh, yes. He came down to Australia. This was before anybody in Australia knew who he was and it was before he had done The Jackie Gleason Show that particular time. In Australia Digby was hosting this show called Revue '61. We were being sent all these acts and it was the biggest variety show Australia had ever had. MCA was producing it.  They came down and I had my own kids show and I was writing commercials and sketches. There were only four of us in the whole of Australia that were comedy writers in those days. When MCA came down they invited me to come to this meeting. They said, "We hear you're a comedy writer." I said, "Yes, I am a comedy writer" and I would do anything to work with these American guys. They created this show and they brought in a Canadian guy named Peter Macfarlane to produce it and that's how I got to go to Canada - through him. He was just very enamored of my material. During that time, Frank Fontaine was one of the guests that MCA brought down from the United States. I think they were using the tape of his appearance in Australia to push Frank for various different things in the States because at that time he was one of the stand-up comics. 


Phil Foster was another guy they brought down. They brought in a lot of stand-up comics to do the show I was working on. That's how I got interest from everybody. They'd say, "What are you doing here? You've got to come over to the States, man." And they followed through! Not Frank so much, but Phil Foster was on my tail. "You gotta get out of there, we've gotta bring you here." He really helped me.

Kliph Nesteroff: Phil Foster is another underrated guy today.

Chris Bearde: Very underrated. One of the great New York/Brooklyn Jewish comedians of all time.

Kliph Nesteroff: Just a great sardonic, dour kind of delivery...



Chris Bearde: Very sardonic and very ethnic. He went on to do Happy Days for all those years.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have watched him as the sidekick on the ill-fated Jerry Lewis talk show. I don't know if you remember that debacle; the big budget talk show that only lasted thirteen weeks. When it was headed toward cancellation, Phil Foster was on and he'd make these hysterical, dour, put down comments about the show and he was just so funny.

Chris Bearde: He was my mentor. A really fantastic guy. I really loved him a lot and he did a lot to help me get into the United States. 

Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of these other forgotten Canadian shows that I think you worked on: Carnival, The Umbrella, Parade, Front and Centre...


Chris Bearde: Front and Centre. That was the first show I ever did in Toronto for the CBC. It got unbelievable reviews and it was the show that caused CBC to ask "What else would you like to do?" and Terry [Kyne] said he wanted to do a late night show and offered the writing gig to me. Front and Centre was the show that introduced Gordie Tapp. I also did the pilot for The Tommy Hunter ShowI don't know, but ACTRA probably owes me like eight million dollars for that because I never ever got any money past the pilot. It suddenly got very hard in Canada after Front and Centre. Nightcap came and that kept me going for four or five years. Out of that came ancillary things like the first Juliette special that treated her differently than anybody else and this wonderful show with Sandra O'Neil called Sandy. It got unbelievable reviews. Then I started getting noticed in the States because of all the reviews and William Morris came up and signed my ass. That's how it all came about. But Front and Centre was the first show I did for the CBC. Before that I was the original writer on the first CTV variety show ever on the air. It was called Network and it was the most stupid show I have ever worked on in my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Chris Bearde: It was, because of this guy Maclean. Do you remember this guy? A big wig in Toronto. He went from the CBC to CTV and he sold them this show called Network. They hired me to write it and they brought in Bill Brady, I think he was a DJ in Toronto and they tried to make an All-Canadian CTV network prime time television show out of it and Maclean looked at it and he said, "Ah, I'm not interested in it anymore" so he left! So they stuck it with a couple of people and I was suddenly involved in this thing I had no understanding of because it was a brand new Canadian network. I remember we had to take feeds from places like Edmonton and Moosejaw and the most ridiculous remotes... it was the most ridiculous show. And I thought, "I've come all this way from Australia where I had great success and now I'm doing this show that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in my life." I thought I was going to come to Canada and it was going to be something special and big. Instead it was this stupid show. After thirteen weeks on the air they canceled it because it was so ridiculous. I was in a strange country without a gig. But then here comes good old CBC and it rescued my ass.


Kliph Nesteroff: I think maybe the guy in question was Bob MacLean.

Chris Bearde: Bob MacLean! That's right, Bob MacLean.

Kliph Nesteroff: He went on to be a game show host in Canada, on Definition and some others before Jim Perry replaced him.


Chris Bearde: Did he? I didn't know that. Well, he just gave up on this show before it went on and I was just this Australian kid right off the boat, "Well, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing here. What is this?" (laughs). You know Canada, in those days it was an okay place, but... the thing about Nightcap which was so great was it just took Canada apart. Nobody had ever done that before. It was being seen from an outsider's perspective. 


It just got 'em good. I was happy to be there and I'm still happy to have had that experience in that show. It was a very wonderful thing in a country that didn't know much about satire. All they had was Wayne and Shuster. Suddenly we were doing things like showing John Diefenbaker with palsy and falling off the stage. And that fighting soldiers [Ballad of the Green Berets bit]. Honestly, the mail we got from the United States on that was the most incredible hate mail you've ever seen. But what could they do? We were in fucking Canada (laughs). 


Kliph Nesteroff: What was it like working with some of those cast members? People like Alan Hamel.

Chris Bearde: Well, Alan was a CBC announcer and he did a kids show - Razzle Dazzle. People loved to do Nightcap because we just let people go and do their thing. It was like Saturday Night Live. Everybody got to do what they do. He was able to do comedy and sing and do all the things that CBC would never allow anybody to do if they were a newsreader. He came into his own on that show and then he came down to the States and married um...


Kliph Nesteroff: Suzanne Sommers.



Chris Bearde: Yeah and became her manager and never worked again (laughs). And Billy Van. He was so talented. He came down and worked with us on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour for the whole time it was on and he did every show we ever did. And Ted Ziegler and Peter Cullen and a bunch of Canadians. When we came back to do our shows in Canada we'd just bring Murray Langston and Ted Ziegler and stick them in the show and they all counted as Canadian content, so we were in a very good position.

Kliph Nesteroff: Billy Van was incredibly talented and people do remember him. He has a cult following today.

Chris Bearde: He had a lot of people who loved him in Canada. He was a singer and a very funny comic and he did that show for Riff Markowitz.



Kliph Nesteroff: Where he played a vampire. Winding up here - I am curious about some of these more obscure shows that nobody talks about. What was Romp? You worked on a show called Romp?

Chris Bearde: Romp!? How do you know... what are you doing... where are you getting this stuff from? This was my first sojourn into the United States. Well, the first one was Where the Girls Are with Noel Harrison. I was working up in Canada.  Brian Epstein was going to be the host of the show. I was speaking to him on the phone and setting everything up with him and then he died. That's when he died. He O.D.'d [right before] he was going to come do our show. They found my script on his bed.


Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, wow.




Chris Bearde: I said I hope he didn't die of bad script. Anyway, they replaced him with Noel Harrison and we had The Doors and The Jefferson Airplane and a bunch of really big names. Bob Jarvis was directing and I was writing. Noel and I, we got to talking and he said, "Jesus Christ, what are you doing up here, Chris? I want you to come down to the States." He was going to do this show Where the Girls Are down in L.A. and he was very big at that time with the Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and he had had a hit song. He brought me down there. William Morris made the deal and I was working with this guy named Al Burton who went on to do Charles in Charge and became a big time producer. 



The show was a success. It was like a Magical Mystery Tour when I went to the States. Everything I did turned to gold. Then the second show was a show called Romp. It was a show with a bunch of people, but I can't remember who was in it. Don Adams or somebody. This company with Al Burton did a Miss Teen America special so this was sort of a teen oriented comedy.  I think Liberace was on it. This one-off special. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a list here that says Joey Bishop, Steve Allen, Sammy Davis Jr, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Richard Dreyfuss...


Chris Bearde: Richard Dreyfuss (laughs). He and Rob Reiner were best friends. They were two kids just out of college. Richard, I think, was a writer on the show. He and Rob Reiner wrote the show. Reiner had been on The Smothers Brothers or he was just going over to The Smothers Brothers as a writer.

Kliph Nesteroff: Where the Girls Are featured Professor Irwin Corey...

Chris Beard: Yes, he's a really funny guy, Irwin Corey. Was it the show that Cher made her first appearance on? I think it was.



Kliph Nesteroff: Cher, The Association, The Byrds, Barbara McNair...

Chris Bearde: Yes. The Byrds and David Crosby, my God. Those were classic shows. I'd love to see them. I don't even know if they exist.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Professor Irwin Corey like back then? Do you remember?

Chris Bearde: (laughs) These guys when they're not doing their act, they're just very decent people. I love comics. They really appreciate their writers. They will sit with you for hours because you are their meat. I always got on well with everybody. I used Irwin Corey on The Andy Williams Show

 
He'd come on half-way through and review the first half of the show. We had him in a cage and he'd come flying down to the middle of the set. And Andy would say, "So, Irwin, how'd you like the show so far?" And he'd say, "Well the singin! I didn't like the singin! But when you got the schnatz! I'd look at 'em Paul and I'd say nye! You can't logitz because the hoyvem." You know, he just made up language.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) He's great. He's still alive and he still does stand-up in Manhattan. He's 96 years old.

Chris Bearde: Jonathan Winters also. He's a really good buddy of mine, all through the years. We'll do charity things together and he's eighty-five living in Santa Barbara. He's a great old guy.



Kliph Nesteroff: How's his health?

Chris Bearde: It's pretty damn good. His wife just died. He outlived his wife.

Kliph Nesteroff: I spend a lot of time on the phone with these kinds of guys, trying to get their life story down before, you know, God forbid...

Chris Bearde: Well, I have had the most wonderful life experiences with all the comics from Henny Youngman to Bob Hope and just about anyone you can name.

1 comment:

Rhys said...

Very interesting. I found this doing a Google search on Terry Kyne, who is still flourishing in Laguna Beach, California, and who happens to be my godfather.

I turn 50 in July, and I recall house parties my father (a CBC film editor) and mother held in the '60s where various CBC "celebrities" would show up, including a pre-"Hilarious House of Frightenstein" Billy Van...we also knew Warren Van Evera, his older brother.

Of course, at the time, I had little idea that people having at the fondue pot were locally famous...

Good interview with Chris Bearde...it's possible he was at our house, too!