Shecky Greene: What was that thing you told me yesterday that I said?
Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, about Martha Raye's Five O'Clock Club? You had mentioned a few years back that it was always full of amyl nitrate dopers.
Shecky Greene: I can't imagine where you got that.
Kliph Nesteroff: It's not true?
Shecky Greene: Oh, sure it's true.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: I wouldn't have said that if it wasn't true.
Kliph Nesteroff: What was that venue like? You seem to indicate that it was a wild, happening place.
Shecky Greene: I was very immature at that time. I went down there [to Miami] and Martha Raye was a big star, supposedly. This guy named the club after her, which was successful for a while. I went in. She would always use a comic. I went in and I really didn't know what was happening. They had strange people hanging out at the bar. Then all of a sudden I smell this stuff. They were all hitting on amyl nitrate. The whole club. People would come in, legitimate people would all come in, they would sit, and the place would smell like stockings. You know? Stink of stockings. Errol Flynn came in. He was high on amyl nitrate. Movie stars came in, they were popping the amyl nitrate, you know. But that was my experience with the Five O'Clock Club.
Kliph Nesteroff: You started at the Tommy Terrace Saloon in Milwaukee....
Shecky Greene: I guess that's one of the places. Tom Terrace at Sixth and Wells. What the hell did we call it? You got the name of it there?
Kliph Nesteroff: Just the Terrace Saloon is what I have down here.
Shecky Greene: Yeah, the Terrace Club. Anyway, he was a legitimate guy. Tom. A Greek with an accent that had the same strippers that had worked for the last fifteen, twenty years. They didn't strip! They didn't take anything off. They'd walk out and say, "Hi, Charlie! How's your wife? Sam? The children okay?" And then one grind, one bump and that was it. That was their act.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: He wouldn't let me say one dirty word. I couldn't say "hell" or "goddamn" on the stage. "Leesen, I want to tell you sumpthing. Don't say no bad werrds."
Kliph Nesteroff: That doesn't exactly seem like a showbiz hub - Milwaukee.
Shecky Greene: Well, you know, there was another place there - a top club for Milwaukee called The Tick Tock. I went over there from the Terrace Club to The Tick Tock and worked. I worked with Sophie Tucker. You know who Sophie Tucker was?
Kliph Nesteroff: Of course. Of course, yes.
Shecky Greene: Yeah. It was very interesting because he brought me in there with Sophie Tucker. He once made a statement, the guy who owned the place, an Italian, that he didn't need Jews or Italians in his nightclub. From that time on he was empty. In order to get the Jews and Italians back in he brought in Sophie Tucker and then he hired me with Sophie Tucker. And then Sophie was breaking in her fiftieth anniversary material. They were going to give her an award from the Washington chapter of the B'Nai Brith in Milwaukee. She started with her act and she was kind of nervous because it was new material. They said, "Wait, Mr. Weinstein is going to give you a plaque from the B'Nai Brith." So she says, "Okay, come up. Bring the goddman thing up." Then the little guy went to make a speech, she grabbed the mic and told him to sit down and she told him off! And then we didn't get the Jews again after that.
Kliph Nesteroff: From there you started playing the Prevue Lounge in New Orleans where an unknown Al Hirt was bandleader.
Shecky Greene: Well, Al Hirt wasn't unknown in New Orleans. He was known to those people. Al Hirt had six jobs to support eight kids. Al Hirt had a radio show, he was teaching trumpet, he had all kinds of things going on. I had all kinds of great musicians. Pete Fountain played in there - in New Orleans I had the best musicians. I never had my own music. These guys would just make it up behind me. When I first went into the Five O'Clock Club, the guy said, "Where's your music?" I said, "I don't have music." I call up Al. I said, "Al, the guy wants music." Al said, "I wanna tell yuh watcha wanna do. Tella mothafucka, that you sing this in C, you sing this in B, you sing that in B Flat and you sing that in C, that's it."
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: But I tell ya, in New Orleans everybody had the name "motherfucker." That was their first name. Their first name was "motherfucker."
Kliph Nesteroff: You teamed up with pianist Herbie Dell eventually.
Shecky Greene: That was my piano player, yeah. My conductor. Herbie was with me for years and years and years. Herbie and his wife are now in a home. I wish to God that I could support him, but I can't.
Kliph Nesteroff: How did you first team up with him?
Shecky Greene: Well, Herbie and I were good friends. I met him in Los Angeles. Little jobs, I'd just take him on a couple little jobs and a couple jobs more. When I went to Vegas and I was working with somebody else, I said, "Just let me bring him in and I'll work with him all the time."
Kliph Nesteroff: I watched a segment from The Hollywood Palace in which he was onstage with you.
Shecky Greene: Yes, which one was that? The Perry Como thing?
Kliph Nesteroff: It wasn't the Perry Como one. It was the one hosted by Donald O'Connor.
Shecky Greene: Donald? No. I had one hosted by Groucho Marx.
Kliph Nesteroff: Right, there is a Groucho Marx one, a Perry Como Christmas one, and one hosted by Donald O'Connor.
Shecky Greene: Where the hell did you get all of those things?
Kliph Nesteroff: The internet.
Shecky Greene: Oh, can I get the Donald O'Connor one on the internet?
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, certainly. I'll forward it to you.
Shecky Greene: That's great. I never felt I really ever came across on television. First of all, I've got to explain this. I never really wanted this business. But I never knew what business I wanted. I had all kinds of problems with being bipolar... which they didn't point out until later. When the doctors finally run out of what to tell you, they tell you you're bipolar.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: One doctor said I'm bipolar, north polar and south polar. That's how bad I had it. And I went through terrible depressions. I always got terrible depressions, so I never really worked on anything. The wonderful thing was the lounge made it so it was perfect for me. Every night was a different show. Every night was improv. And same thing when I worked little clubs. I could work that way. When I finally got back into main rooms, you more or less had to have an act and that wasn't who I was. I wasn't an A-B-C-D comic. "Hello, ladies and gentleman," and the next line. I once worked The Latin Quarter in New York, which was strictly a tourist joint ... That was an A-B-C-D type of an audience. Because they got off the bus, you come in, you did your act, that's it. I said, "This is not for me." After about three days I quit the job. At that time to get to [play] The Latin Quarter or The Copacabana was really something.
Kliph Nesteroff: I understand that when you played The Copacabana, Jules Podell cut your microphone.
Shecky Greene: I was on exactly thirty seconds.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: He cut the microphone and had the band start to play. I refused to leave. Nat King Cole was coming down the [aisle] in the dark and he was singing, "The breeeeeeezzzeee and I, were say-ying with uh sigh..." and I was still onstage and I wouldn't let him come on the stage. I said, "Did you see what the fuck he did to me!? This man?" Then he started over again, "The breeeeeeezzzeee and I, were say-ying with uh sigh.... that yooooooo..." I said, "Did you see what he did to me!?" Every time he started, I kept on saying, "You see what he did to me?" His manager came down. Carlos. The man was about six-four, three hundred pounds. Picked me up, literally picked me up and took me away. Nat King Cole finally got onstage. Opening night. He finally finished, "The breeeeeeezzzeee and I." (laughs) There was a helluva breeze that night.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) That was the only time that you did The Copa? Just that thirty seconds?
Shecky Greene: Now I'm going to tell you the story... you're the only one I have ever told this story to. The Copacabana, that man was a cocksucker. I couldn't quit and he was told not to fire me. He was told by Frank Costello and a man in Chicago - I don't want to mention any names. He couldn't fire me. I couldn't quit. So I had to stay there three weeks and I drank for three weeks. Every night Charlie Applewhite would come in, who was at that time on The Milton Berle Show. With his Texas accent, "Shecky, Goddamnit! Give it to him! Give it to him!" Now we're past that job - years go by. The Copacabana was ready to close and I get a call from Jules Podell. Jules Podell pleaded with me. You hear what I tell you? Pleaded with me to come work The Copacabana. I said, "Mr. Podell, after what you did to me..." I'll never forget that as long as I live. He said, "Shecky, I need you." You know? Now if you knew what kind of a guy Jules... for him to bow down and say, "I need you." I never went back. It was finished by then. The Copa.
Kliph Nesteroff: But the reason he cut your microphone in the first place?
Shecky Greene: What happened was, my first joke - was a terrible joke. It was just awful. He didn't like it. When he didn't like something, he pounded the table with his ring. He would say, "Get him off!" I kept hearing his ring and I said,"What is that? Is that the Bells of St. Mary?" Anyway, the band played and Doug Cowdy was the guy that turned the lights out. A guy that stuttered. I walked over to him and I said, "Whaddya do that for?" He said, "Du-du-duh-na-na-na-nu unduh," and I could hear the ring. He fell in love with my wife, by the way. They drank every night. They went upstairs to drink.
Kliph Nesteroff: A bunch of people fell in love with your wife! Didn't Mickey Rooney marry one of your ex-wives?
Shecky Greene: No, he didn't marry her. He lived with her for a long time. She's got his Oscar... Where the hell did you find out all this shit!?
Kliph Nesteroff: I do my research.
Shecky Greene: My God, you do your research!
Kliph Nesteroff: In April 1956 you appeared on a short lived television show called The Comedy Hour, The NBC Comedy Hour. Apparently it didn't do so well? Jonathan Winters was on it a lot...
Shecky Greene: Yes, let me tell you what that was. Whatsisname... Weaver.
Kliph Nesteroff: Pat Weaver.
Shecky Greene: Pat Weaver who was President of NBC, had this wonderful vision of comedy, which they've got now. Now it's over. It's too much shit with comedy. He had this wonderful vision so he signed a lot of comics. Now where did he sign me? He signed me out of The Copacabana. Think about it. The worst fuckin' job I've ever had in my life. I was the worst possible thing you could ever possibly... he signed me [based on the gig at] The Copacabana. Frank Loesser, who wrote many Broadway shows, found me and wanted me for Most Happy Fella - that was also out of The Copacabana. Can you imagine if I had been good at The Copacabana, what would have been offered to me? We went with The Comedy Hour. He had Jonathan Winters on there. Jonathan Winters and I were aboard ship together for two years. He was a marine, I was in the navy. Jonathan Winters tells everyone he was in those steamboxes from The Bridge of the River Kwai. Anyway, The Comedy Hour, they brought in a bunch of directors that were movie directors. Just gave 'em jobs. They didn't want any fucking part of television. So there was really no feeling for that show.
Kliph Nesteroff: I heard it was a huge bomb, but when you look at the list of people involved, it's very impressive.
Shecky Greene: And yet, it really wasn't a bomb, it just didn't take off. You had the [manic Colgate] Comedy Hour and people were so used to that, they weren't adapted to this kind of [slower paced] thing. I was signed by NBC and they offered me different kinds of pilots which I turned down. One that Phil Harris turned down called Curly, I turned down. They wanted me to do it, but I wouldn't do it because it was for Phil Harris.
Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, Curly was his nickname, for goodness sake. I also heard that around that time, 1958, you were engaged in a drawn out battle with your manager Al Borde.
Shecky Greene: No, it wasn't a long... where the hell do you hear all this shit? No, I had a manager by the name of Al Borde who signed me and never really knew what the hell I did. He signed me and because I started to get lucky, he signed another fifty comics. But he was sort of a nice alcoholic. Al Borde, when I signed with him I was making no money or anything and Al Borde couldn't do anything. So I said to Al Borde, "I want to leave." I had just signed with NBC and I got that without him. I said, "Al, you're in Chicago. I'm in Los Angeles. Let's break this thing up." Then he was going to sue me for millions and millions and millions of dollars. I think I had fifty-two dollars in the bank. So I contacted a lawyer, a very dear friend of mine in Chicago, and I told him. He knew Al Borde and we made a settlement over a period of years. I paid him ten thousand dollars. We remained close friends. But every time he saw me, he'd have two drinks and then say, "You know you owe me ellevenuh milleeen dollars!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: I didn't want a manager. I really didn't want the fucking business. Every job that came saved me from quitting. A job started at fifty, next one was seventy-five, then it went to one-fifty, then it went to five hundred... I kept on going like that and couldn't quit. I kept on lying to myself, "I'm going to go back to college." I see these people like Joan Rivers and she [drives] herself to get on and do this. Thank God she's established now and she can do whatever she wants. That drive: "I just gotta gotta do it." I never had that shit. I just went and had my little nervous breakdowns with my depression, you know? I once went to a psychiatrist, a guy by the name of Leonard Curlin in Beverly Hills. I went to him and I was really in bad shape. Leonard Curlin was a psychiatrist, a lawyer and an engineer. He had degrees in all of those things, that's how brilliant he was. I had two sessions and then he said, "Can I go watch you work?" Kliph, this is my right hand to God, a true story. He came to Vegas and he fell in love with me. He said, "I can't believe it! Why aren't you the individual that you are onstage, offstage?" I said, "Because I have control of the people when I'm on that stage. I'm not that guy." He said, "You mind if I stay over for tomorrow?" So I got him a room and he stayed over. The guy actually became, forget doctor it was too late - he became a fan ... we're talking about the early sixties.
Kliph Nesteroff: That's when you first became aware of some mental health issues that you felt you had to address?
Shecky Greene: Oh, yeah I was... I had... I come from that background. My uncle, my aunt, it was something in the genes. Something you can't fight. Like a wave comes over you and you go, "Uh oh, here it comes."
Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.
Shecky Greene: When you're at the beach, and a wave comes in, like that. Here it comes. You know?
Kliph Nesteroff: Sadly I know only too well. In 1958 you started playing the lounge at The Riviera - shows starting at one thirty am. George Gobel started showing up at your shows and became a big fan...
Shecky Greene: No, no, no, George Gobel and I were friendly way before that. That had nothing to do with it. Let me tell you what happened. I got into Vegas 1954. Okay? I worked The Last Froniter Hotel. Okay? The Riviera was just opening. They signed me for The Riviera. Same guy booked The Riviera and The Frontier. Okay?
Kliph Nesteroff: Yup.
Shecky Greene: Okay. When I said, "Where's my job?" They said, "We don't have room for you." I said, "Put me in the lounge." The lounge was built exactly like the room I worked in New Orleans. It looked just like the Prevue Lounge. They said, "No, we've never had a comic in the lounge." I said, "I'll do it." That's how I established that thing. Louis [Prima] and Keeley [Smith] were popular in The Sahara [Lounge] and then I became very big with The Riviera.
The Tropicana was closed and the people from The Tropicana called me and offered me a job. They said, "We'll give you five points [as an investment in the hotel]." I said, "Well, I don't know." I went to look at the stage. There was a man named Cal Howizon who put up the money for all these people that went broke. Well, not broke but all these wealthy guys that fell in the shithouse at The Tropicana. So, Cal Howizon gave them some money and I said to him, "We'll do this in the lounge." He said, "No, we won't do it in the lounge. We're not [changing the format]." He was the kind of guy who had come from Colorado, a small town. He owned a couple of nightclubs in Vegas and he owned a couple of horses. He was a very nice man, but he also didn't know diddly shit about show business.
So, I started to walk out. I walked back and I said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll put a board over the bar." That took off. The Tropicana took off. I kept The Tropicana open by myself before they had a show in there. Then we started to do big business. I mean, you couldn't get into the lounge after a while. Then after five or six years, he signed The Mary Kaye Trio. The Mary Kaye Trio was getting nine thousand and I was getting sixty-five hundred. I went to him and I said, "You're paying them ten thousand? I made your hotel, you're only giving me sixty-five hundred?" "There's three of them and there's only one of you." That's the way he thought. I said, "There's just the three of them now, because I'm leaving." I went back to The Riviera for eighty-five hundred and two points.
Kliph Nesteroff: Is it true that your stint at The Riviera really took off after Earl Wilson mentioned it in his column?
Shecky Greene: No. No, Earl Wilson didn't mean shit in Vegas. I don't think the people there even knew who Earl Wilson was.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was that not how you ended up getting signed for twelve Ed Sullivan spots?
Shecky Greene: No, I don't know. That really isn't true. I think Sullivan used to come to Vegas. And the people that I knew - knew him very well. I had my friend go down, he wasn't a manager or anything, to meet with Sullivan at the Desert Inn. This guy was scared shitless. He said, "You mean you want me to talk to Ed Sullivan?" So Sullivan signed me for twelve shots, which is a story to write a book about. I talked about a mine disaster when they actually had a mine disaster.
Kliph Nesteroff: That's a famous story, yeah.
Shecky Greene: When I [told a mine disaster joke] it was actually happening live. I didn't know a mine disaster was actually happening. Sullivan said [to me backstage], "You dirty son of a bitch! You lost me Canada! You fucking lost me Canada!" So next time I went on his show I did a German accent and I lost him Germany. Next time I said, "Who do you want to lose this month?" (laughs)
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) I was reading through the TV listings and looking at who else was on the same episode of Ed Sullivan in which you first appeared. It included the comedy team of Wayne and Shuster. Do you recall?
Shecky Greene: Yeah, Wayne and Shuster I remember. I kept on pushing Wayne and Shuster. I thought they were great but the American public never took to them.
Kliph Nesteroff: Which is kind of crazy considering that they appeared on Ed Sullivan more than any other act in the show's history. Sixty-seven appearances!
Shecky Greene: Because he loved them. He loved them. You want to know something? I thought they were that good. Those kids were the forerunners of what came out of Canada with those shows like Saturday Night Live.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, Frank Shuster of Wayne and Shuster... his daughter is Rosie Shuster who was one of the chief writers during Saturday Night Live's inception and she was married to Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. Lorne Michaels was Frank Shuster's son-in-law.
Shecky Greene: Ohhhhh, I never knew that! Oh my gosh. So, what I said was true! I didn't even realize that.
Kliph Nesteroff: And not only that, Frank Shuster's uncle was Joe Shuster - co-creator of Superman.
Shecky Greene: Now you see, now I understand that Lorne Michaels thing. That's where Lorne Michaels got that whole idea. Do you know then - that I met Lorne Michaels [through Frank Shuster], way back then? Isn't that amazing? I did. Huh. I never put two and two together. I would get six anyway, because I am very bad at math. But isn't that amazing?
Kliph Nesteroff: But you got to know Wayne and Shuster a little bit?
Shecky Greene: I never got to know them at all! I got a picture of me with Tom Hanks. He never said hello to me! John Candy talked to me, but Tom Hanks who put a grapefruit in my face didn't even talk to me!
Kliph Nesteroff: What do you mean put a grapefruit in... Oh, in the movie Splash...
Shecky Greene: In Splash. There was supposed to be a big scene where I have a fight with him and then he takes a grapefruit like Jimmy Cagney and puts it in my face. Which he did.
Kliph Nesteroff: Going back to that incident about Ed Sullivan yelling at you for telling jokes about a mine disaster... is there also a story about him bumping into you in an elevator years later and bringing up the subject?
Shecky Greene: No, that was... yes. What happened was, I was working with Sinatra at The Fountainbleau. [Sullivan] and his wife were there in the afternoon. Now we all get in the same elevator. I didn't want to bother with him, you know what I mean? They walked away, and he said to his wife as they were leaving, "Sylvia, why do we hate Shecky Greene?" She had to remind him. As the elevator doors are closing she says, "The mine disaster." Now I go downstairs later and I'm facing them again. I said, "Why didn't you ask me, Ed?"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) What a strange man.
Shecky Greene: Kliph, let me tell ya, I had more things with Sullivan than Carter had pills. I did a thing on Sullivan. We had big fights and then he'd call me back to do the show and everything. He went to Europe and he came back for his 11th anniversary and I was on his 11th anniversary show. He said, "Shecky, Shicky, what're we going to do today on our show?" I said, "Ed, listen. Why don't you introduce me as a comic that you found in Germany, from Heidelberg. All right?" "What a good idea. You're from Heidelberg." I said, "Yeah. You just got back from Europe. And you found this comedian in Heidelberg ... I'll take it from there." So he says, "Tonight on our shoooow! Sylvia and I were in Europe and I found this comedian in Heidelberg. Here he is now Sheckles..." And I came on and I said [in a German accent], "Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Sullivan has been on television for eleven years and there is a reason for that. There's nothing to hate. He doesn't sing. He doesn't dance. He doesn't tell jokes. He doesn't do anything and that's why he's been on television for eleven years."
Well, when I walked off, it was like the same as the Springhill Mine disaster. "You dirty son of a bitch... I've got more talent in my little finger than..." "You really believe this," I said. "You fuckin' nut!" Years later I'm watching reruns of his show and Jack Benny is on. Jack Benny was a big fan of mine and we were very close friends. On this show Sullivan is talking to him and Benny says, "Now, Ed. Let's face facts. The reason why you've been on television all these years... you don't sing, you don't dance..." He told exactly the same fuckin' thing and Sullivan is laughing his ass off. So you tell me about this fuckin' world.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Ah, man. You were quoted once, speaking of people having explosions with Ed Sullivan, you were quoted as saying, "When I met Jackie Mason it almost made me an anti-Semite."
Shecky Greene: Oh, I probably did say that. I probably did become an anti-Semite! No, I probably did. I think I went to my Temple and beat up my Rabbi after that.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: No, I dislike... I think he's brilliant, let me tell you that, but I think he's a piece of shit. As a human being there's no quality there.
Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of people have said that. Was there something specific that made you conclude...
Shecky Greene: You know what? He's just a user. A user, an abuser... Nick Vanoff, who really put him on Broadway... Nick Vanoff who had The Hollywood Palace was probably the nicest human being that God ever put on this earth and he stuck it to him. He stuck it to Nick. I put Jackie on my stage. One day he said to me, "I want to tell you something, you want to listen to me? I know you're working this place, can I get up on the stage? I want to break in material for The Ed Sullivan Show, okay?" So I got him up on my stage at [The Crescendo]. I said, "Go ahead. Break it in." I thought it would be good because I had all B'nai Brith people there. He wouldn't get off the stage! And then he said, "I wanna tell you, this dummy allowed me to get up on the stage. He don't understand I'm trying to do this - I'm trying to do that." A piece of shit.
Kliph Nesteroff: He always claimed that when there was that famous incident with the fingers and Ed Sullivan that Sullivan helped instigate a blacklist against him and that it ruined his career. In doing my research that seems to not be the case. He was only off the program for ten months, and in the interim he appeared on The Dean Martin Show, The Hollywood Palace and every other big show. He worked constantly for the next decade and was on TV all the time.
Shecky Greene: Kliph, it was the biggest thing that could have happened for him! If he had no talent maybe he just would have been forgotten. But he is brilliant, he's talented, and it's a wonderful character. See the problem with me is I do too many things. Do you know what I'm getting at? I do impressions, I do this, I do that, I'm a Walter Mitty type. So there's no one thing that says: That's Shecky Greene. When you see Rickles you say, "Okay. That's Rickles.' That's Jackie Mason." Generally in comedy, the people most successful are people that have one dimension, that one personality. Does that make sense to you?
Kliph Nesteroff: Of course, totally. Once you hit on that persona or that one character that people can identify with...
Shecky Greene: That's right. The Jack Bennys and... so consequently, this sounds like an arrogant fucking thing to say, but my reality, I've got a lot of talent. But it's maybe too much fucking talent because nobody can identify, "He does this. He does that." If anybody has a routine in our business... People remember Dick Shawn had Massa Richard, Buddy Hackett had the Chinese waiter, Danny Thomas had "the jack story," you know what I mean? I had one I'd do, "Cock on the Moon," so the people could relate to this one piece of material that I do. Or [the] Madame Butterfly [bit]. But if they say, "What does Shecky do?" You'd go, "Well, uh... he, uh... tells jokes? He does this impression... erm..." You know what I'm getting at? If I was a manager I'd grab a kid that I could identify with one individual personality.
Kliph Nesteroff: But as a performer if you had hit on one specific thing, it would probably drive you crazy inside.
Shecky Greene: Oh, I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. The wonderful thing for me is I become these [different personas] and I get lost in that. I can get on stage and do Buddy Hackett and people think its Buddy Hackett's act. It's not. It's things I'm making up. So I enjoy doing that. I enjoy becoming somebody else. Like I said, Walter Mitty.
Kliph Nesteroff: There is a story... now, you and Buddy Hackett were quite close as I understand.
Shecky Greene: Close and not close. We had a love - hate relationship. I don't think there was any hate with him.
Kliph Nesteroff: There is a story that you punched him out. You knocked him unconscious way out in the desert one early morning...
Shecky Greene: My God... My God. My God, where do you hear all of this shit? Buddy Hackett... went looking for me one night. Buddy Hackett found me in a bar and Buddy Hackett came in with just a nightshirt. A portfolio under his arm. Buddy Hackett had a gun in the portfolio. Buddy Hackett said to me, "You know why I wanna talk to you? You fired Fred Thompson." I fired a guy that worked for him also. The guy was my gardener. He was a valet to him, but a gardener to me. Every time he'd garden the lawn he would cut in to the wire fence and it would curl up. So finally I said to him, "I've replaced twelve wire fences. Fred, I can't have you anymore." So I fired him. Buddy Hackett came in and he said, "Let me tell you something. That man needs new teeth." I said, "Well, fuckin' go buy him some new teeth!" He said, "No, you
The two of us are drinking and gambling ... every time I would win, and I didn't know that I had won, because I was drunk. He wold take the money and put it in the portfolio. After a while he went to check out the money. We made a lot of money. Which I didn't know. I thought we lost it all. We're walking across the street. I had a guy, George, who I hired to take care of me when I got drunk. Except George got drunk before me. So now we're walking across the street. As I'm walking, he stands in the middle of the street and he [refers to me as] Mr. Magoo's dumb nephew. Buddy Hackett says, "You know something? You're a Waldo!" I said, "What?" He's in the middle of the fuckin' street! I'm on the curb already. I said, "I'm a what?" He said, "Not only that. I'm gonna tell you something. You're a double Waldo!" So now I walk back and I said, "I'm a fuckin' double Waldo!?" He's got the gun. I punch him in the fucking stomach! Now, as I'm walking away, Kliph, he comes running and jumps on my back. Which is the second time he's done that in my life. I flip him over my back. I put my foot on his throat. I said, "If you get up, Buddy - I'm going to kill you."
I reach down I take the gun and his car keys and throw them into the desert. I said, "Now don't get up." In the meantime, my guy George who's half-gone, I said, "George. Start the car." He said, "[inaudible drunken slurring]." So we drove away and that was it. About three hours later - and I didn't know who I was, my phone rings. "Hi, Sheck." I said, "Who's this?" "It's Buddy. You know, if someone was with us this morning they would think we didn't like each other." I said, "Buddy? Where are you?" He said, "I'm in the desert. I'm looking for my car keys. A gun? I can get another gun. But I need my car keys." We met for lunch, we kissed, and that was it.
Kliph Nesteroff: Ah, man. I miss Buddy Hackett!
Shecky Greene: I miss Buddy Hackett. But Buddy did some terrible fucking things - and to me. But you wanna know something? I did love him. I really fuckin' loved him. I used to do a joke about how one day we were going to lunch. It was Sammy Davis with his one eye, I had a bad knee - just had my knee operated on, and Buddy Hackett talking out of the side of his mouth. People thought it was a telethon (laughs).
Kliph Nesteroff: Another crazy Vegas story that I heard was that you and Riviera boss Ed Torres did not get along and that it was his birthday. You were on stage when they wheeled out a giant birthday cake with his name on it, and you dove from the stage and did a big belly flop into the cake.
Shecky Greene: No, I don't think that's true. No. I wish that did happen, but it didn't. But we didn't like each other. Believe me, that didn't happen. I used to use a joke. I used to say, "One of the owners is a Sephardic Jew. One of the owners, Ed Torres is a Sephardic Jew and if you don't pay your gambling debts, he'll send two little Sepharts after you. But don't worry. You can hear them coming [fart sound]." Well, he hated that fucking joke. One day the cops came in and were taking me out. I was drunk. They shackled me up. And he said to me, "Where are the Sepharts now?!" We had more fuckin' things happen... and in Vegas, the hotels had different factions together. This guy hated this guy and this guy hated that guy. It was a wonderful time.
Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of getting arrested, I heard that you were cast in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, rehearsed with them all week long, but never ended up taping the show because you got carted away.
Shecky Greene: No, that's not true. Let me tell you exactly what happened. I was going to do The Dick Van Dyke Show and play Shecky Greene! Dick and I were good friends. I was going to do it, so I went to rehearsal the first day. I was married to a woman - I can't even explain it. I was a drunk. I was sitting at the dinner table and she hit me with a thing over my head and gave me a concussion. I had to go to the hospital with a concussion. I ended up at the Hilton Hotel. I had to stay there for three days without moving. I wasn't rested, I had to stay in the hotel, and I had to cancel the show. That's what happened. Richard Deacon who was on the show came to my room. He said, "Listen, do you want me to stay with you?" I said, "No, no, no. Don't stay with me." (laughs)
Kliph Nesteroff: Eventually you did end up playing yourself, not on the same show, but on the same lot. You appeared as Shecky Greene on an episode of The Joey Bishop Show.
Shecky Greene: I played Shecky Greene as a butcher.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: I was a butcher and he was going to get me a shot on his [fictional] television show. I actually wrote the show. I never got credit for it, but [Ray] Singer and [Dick] Chevillat put down that they wrote the show (laughs). Yeah, I wrote the whole goddamn show. He was another character, Joey.
Kliph Nesteroff: Corbett Monica was in the same episode.
Shecky Greene: I started Corbett Monica in show business. I put him in show business. He was a dance teacher in St. Louis. Corbett Monica was a very nice boy. Very nice boy.
Kliph Nesteroff: What were your experiences with Joey Bishop like?
Shecky Greene: Uhhhhhhh... heh, heh, heh. Let's say that I never took Joey Bishop seriously. Joey Bishop was a strange man. We were very good friends, if you could be friends... Joey Bishop was a... you know there are certain people in our business that have very little talent, but they're good politicians. One of 'em is Tom Dreessen. I really don't know Tom Dreessen that well and I don't think I've seen enough to truly say this statement, it's just what I surmise. Tom Dreesen is a tremendous Irish politician. Joey was a Jewish politician. I saw Joey kill audiences. I don't know why. I mean it was just shit that he did. But there was a certain command that he had and it was wonderful. Tom has got the same thing. That's a wonderful quality that somebody's got. But Joey Bishop got so far without any fuckin' talent, it's unbelievable.
I went to Joey Bishop's house in Newport. I got over there and a little girl answers the door. Nora. Nice lookin' girl. I said, "Is Joey here?" She said, "Well, he's sitting in the lounge." He was a vegetable. I went into the room. He was a vegetable. He was just staring out the window. I said, "Joey! Shecky!" He said, "I want to ask you who's this guy? Who's this guy?" I said, "Joey! It's Shecky." "Somebody says it's Shecky? Who's this guy? I want to know who this guy is!" I did all of my act for him to see if he remembered me. This is just before he died. Whatever year that was. I sang opera, I did the impression of Buddy, and I couldn't even make him blink. I started crying my eyes out. When you've known people for a long time and you see them in that situation - it breaks your heart. I saw that he had copies of all of his shows. So I said, "Nora, when I leave, put my tape on and tell him." She put the tape on and she called an hour later. She said, "Shecky, he said 'That's Shecky Greene on the tape." I called him and he said, "Joey! I was just there!" He said, "No, no, you weren't here." He was out of it. He had a disease. He was gone.
Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about your comedy record. 6-5-4-3-2-1 A Funny Thing Happened. On Majestic Records. Do you remember doing this album?
Shecky Greene: Yeah...
Kliph Nesteroff: That seems like a pretty obscure record label. How did that come about?
Shecky Greene: That was an individual guy. That was a guy, a friend of mine, who was also in the recording business. He wanted to do it and I said, "No, no, no, no, no." And we finally did it, y'know? We never sold any of those. You know why? There was no publicity and there was no promotion of the thing. It didn't bother me.
Kliph Nesteroff: I listened to it recently and I really, really enjoyed it. I thought that it held up quite well.
Shecky Greene: The material that I do or who I am could go for another thousand years. Nothing is dated. You know? If I talk about opera - opera is going to go on for another thousand years. So there's nothing dated, [as long as I don't] get on the stage and talk about what was in the newspaper. A lot of the kids today that do social commentary and talk about the President... like Bill Maher, whom I hate. He's a brilliant boy and everything else... I just hate him. He's got an attitude. I'd like to put a gun between his eyes because I had a personal thing with him. The personal thing I had with him - we did a charity. I said, "You're Irish and Jewish?" And he got crazy. He said, "I didn't know I was a Jew until I was thirteen!" Well, when you say that to me - I am a Jew on Jew. Slowly I turn. Step by step (laughs). Inch by inch. I said, "You little prick." Well, he got very, very big and God bless him because he's bright, but I'm gonna tell you what. To me he will always be a prick. He may always be a brilliant talent and everything else, but he's a little prick. I mean, he wasn't a Jew until he was thirteen. But this kid, [Jon] Stewart. Stewart really has comedy in him. Bill Maher has to a certain extent, but Stewart really is a comic. The brilliance of the political thing and everything else.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, Maher's comedy seems to come from attitude whereas Stewart seems to exude more natural funniness. His comedy is just more... naturally... funny.
Shecky Greene: Yes. Also, Stewart has a nicer way about him. Maher has an arrogance, but when he starts using "fuck" in front of the women... I can't understand that ... I recoil from that.
Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of raunchy type things, you did another comedy record that was on the notorious Laff Records label. I don't know if it was authorized or not, but there's the album Shecky Greene: A Day at the Races.
Shecky Greene: I went to sue them. It wasn't authorized at all. The thing you're talking about, raunchy... that guy went to jail. Whatever his name was.
Kliph Nesteroff: The guy from Laff Records?
Shecky Greene: Yeah. He was the guy who, for years and years, stole money from the Black performers. He made millions and millions from the Black artists. But did you hear that record?
Kliph Nesteroff: No, I don't have a copy of it, I just saw that it existed. That's funny because I did not know the story behind it. I just kind of guessed that it probably was not a legitimate, sanctioned release...
Shecky Greene: Yeah, no it wasn't. I sued them. I sued them. I didn't win anything with the lawsuit. I even bought back a lot of the records that he had, but he still sold it.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was it a recording of your act from the sixties? Where did they even get it?
Shecky Greene: He took a lot of it... I recorded for Columbia and Columbia never released anything. So he bought those tapes from Columbia, but they were not sanctioned to sell those tapes!
Kliph Nesteroff: I spoke recently with Bill Dana, who you probably know...
Shecky Greene: Yeah, very well.
Kliph Nesteroff: He had all those great selling comedy records and they were mostly on Kapp Records, but he had a pair on the Roulette label. I asked him why he had two on Roulette, pressed by Morris Levy. Turns out Roulette just recorded audio of Bill Dana straight off The Steve Allen Show and then released it as a record totally unauthorized. When Bill Dana and his agent stepped in to try and have those taken off the market, Moe Levy and his boys laid it on heavy and started phoning them in the middle of the night saying, "If you know what's good for you, you'll lay off."
Shecky Greene: That's the guy I'm talking about! Morris Levy!
Kliph Nesteroff: Wait, was there a Shecky Greene record on Roulette?
Shecky Greene: No, no, no, they put it out on the Laff Records. But that's the guy who went to jail. That's the same guy. He was with the killers and all kinds of shit, connected with those people.
Kliph Nesteroff: He also ran a nightclub in New York, I believe, called The Roundtable? Jackie Kannon played there at The Rat Fink Room...
Shecky Greene: Yes, yes. Jackie Kannon who died. He was from Detroit. Nice boy. But he also had a hoodlum complex. He would have been good for The Sopranos, Jackie Kannon.
Kliph Nesteroff: I listened to some of the Jackie Kannon comedy album that's on Roulette and it's surprisingly dirty. It's from the mid sixties, not the late sixties, and there are plenty of four-letter words right on the record.
Shecky Greene: You know, it's a wonderful thing if you analyze it. That's around the time that Lenny started to get big. When Lenny started to do that, they all started to do that. George Carlin switched his demeanor and everything else to become the seven words and whatever he did. I was in Vegas when they fired him because he did the words. George was brilliant. So was Lenny. But Lenny started all of those kids doing that. Richard Pryor - all of them became Lenny afficianados. I did a thing ... the guy who had Richard Pryor for the first time on film was a guy named Bill Sargeant out of New Orleans. Bill Sargeant got kind of big in Hollywood. He was so full of shit, but he really was good at what he did.
Anyway, he wanted to prove to Pryor that he could do [a stand-up concert] film. I did a thing at The Beverly Hills Hotel. He brought in all the [movie] theater [executives] and I did a show [and they filmed it]. They saw it, these people, and that's how [they were convinced to do a concert film] of Richard Pryor. The first time. They gave me ten thousand dollars. After Richard Pryor saw this, they realized they could sell all the theaters on the idea. All of those guys that started with the word "fuck" and all of that came after the Lenny Bruce thing.
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, but when it comes right down to it... I know people say that Lenny was the first in terms of the language, but it really isn't true. He was the first one to be persecuted for the language. Before him there were lots of guys BS Pully or Dave Starr with four letter word, dirty acts...
Shecky Greene: Way, way before him, yes, [but] BS Pully with all the dirt and everything never really said too many "fucks." The word "fuck" wasn't used on stage much. There were innuendo and a lot of that, but I don't really remember anyone using the word "fuck" a lot... [but] yeah, that's a very good analysis.
Kliph Nesteroff: Lenny Bruce was the first to really attack religion and the church and things like that and then they persecuted him for obscenity - busted him based on the so-called dirty words. But there's another guy from the forties, Dave Starr...
Shecky Greene: Dave Starr, yeah...
Kliph Nesteroff: Dave Starr was known for being just filthy and using that kind of language. He never got arrested for it, so clearly Lenny was harassed for his subject matter - not his language. The language was the excuse. And Redd Foxx. Redd Foxx could be quite blue long before Lenny Bruce...
Shecky Greene: Quite blue? Heh, heh, heh. How many other colors do you want to use? You know what? I went to court with Lenny many, many times. One time we were at the Geary Theater in San Francisco and he was reading out of the book Tropic of Cancer. They jumped up to arrest him. He was quoting from a book! The police went to arrest him! The assistant district attorney, guy by the name of Schwartz, jumps up. He says, "You can't arrest him. He's just reading a book!" Jesus Christ.
Kliph Nesteroff: There are several other stunts that have been attributed to you. I don't know what is true and what is not. I had read that, during your crazy days, you had pushed a piano off the fifteenth floor of The Fountainbleau Hotel.
Shecky Greene: Well, if you could show me any human being that could push a piano off the fifteenth floor at The Fountainbleau... I could understand the second floor. No that never happened. There are stories about me... you know what I do now? I just say, "I guess that happened. Yes, that happened."
Kliph Nesteroff: Of course there is the famous, famous story. The 79th Causeway in Miami. Early morning. Sinatra's boys. I read that they cracked your skull and in a different story I read that they broke your ribs.
Shecky Greene: Well, that didn't happen at the 79th Street Causeway... they got a lot of stories mixed up there. Nobody every broke my ribs, but let me tell you. At the 79th Street Causeway. Frank Sinatra, Shecky Greene and a group are going into The Stream Bar to see Willie, um, the saxaphone player. The rest of the group was walking in front of us. We went up to the second tier, Frank and I. Frank Sinatra who was not really himself and Terry who was one of the guys that worked at the place [static][dialtone].
Kliph Nesteroff: Hello?
Kliph Nesteroff: Hello?
Shecky Greene: My phone doesn't want me to tell you these stories!
Kliph Nesteroff: The Mob has got it tapped!
Shecky Greene: Where was I? 79th Street and Collins Avenue. Anyway, we went in. I told you the people were in front [static][dialtone].
Kliph Nesteroff: Hello?
Shecky Greene: Okay, uh, anyway we're going to The Stream Bar on 79th Street. His group goes in front of Frank and I. Frank and I are on the second tier and this guy Terry, one of "the boys" goes to put a chair there. Sinatra throws the chair down. Terry says, "Whadja do that for, Cheech?" Cheech is Frank in Italian. If you say Chooch - that's no good. So now, Sinatra says, "What're you gonna do about it?" He says, "I'm not going to do anything!" Sinatra goes to push him. This guy - he's got an arm that was made in Gary, Indiana. He shoots out a punch and I catch it with my hand. It blows up. Generally when you're hit it takes a few minutes before [you puff up], but this hand blew up like a catcher's mitt. If it would have hit Sinatra... Sinatra [would have been] dead. So now Sinatra leaves and he's walking down Collins Avenue and we're all following in cars. It looks like the New York Marathon. I said, "Someone put a number on his back!" He was walking right down the middle of the street.
We followed him back to the hotel and all hell broke loose. I don't even wanna go through what went on but he was going to cancel [the filming of] the movie [Tony Rome], he was gonna cancel this, you know, because this thing happened. Through the time that I worked with him he used to say, "You're gonna get it." I used to say, "Frank, what am I gonna get? Are you gonna give it to me? What is this thing?" I was very bad in those days. As bad as he was - I was just as bad with the drinking. I never wanted to be with him. He used to say, "Don't you want to be with me?" I said, "No, I don't want to be with you. I'm sick and tired of Italian food. Seven days out of seven days we have Italian food. I want one Jewish meal, I want one Goddamn Jewish meal. I'm in Miami!" So he says, "You're gonna get it."
So one day I come in drunk out of my mind. It's about three o'clock in the morning. In the hotel five guys jump on me. The one guy was Frechette who comes from a very noted family in Chicago. One of the top guys in Chicago. He loved to use... in fact, I stopped him fifteen times, with the blackjack. He always went to hit people with blackjacks. So he kept on hitting me on the top of the head and the blood kept pouring down. So that's what happened with that. Now, they were going to cancel me from the film [Tony Rome], but in the film there was a part where I have an automobile accident where I'm really hurt like that.
Kliph Nesteroff: Right, with the bandages on the head.
Shecky Greene: So you can see that in the film. But he and I had a relationship second to none. All I needed was Buddy Hackett! "You know somethin, Sheck? I think you better get outta here cause he's gonna have you killed!"
Kliph Nesteroff: But despite this crazy incident, you two still remained friends.
Shecky Greene: He loved me, believe it or not. He loved me and... I just respected him. I didn't love him. I far from loved him. But I fuckin respected him for what he was. I mean I, truthfully, myself, I was insane. He said to me one day, "Without a doubt, you're the sickest fucking human being I've ever met." He's telling me. So I took him by the head and put him in front of the mirror. I said, "There's one sicker!" He didn't say a fuckin' word.
Kliph Nesteroff: Your bouts with alcohol are famous. I was watching an episode of The Dean Martin Show where you did a bit about taking benzedrine and dexadrine and pills. Did you ever...
Shecky Greene: I never talked about pills on The Dean Martin Show. Never.
Kliph Nesteroff: You tell a joke about weight loss pills and how the doctor prescribed you dexadrine and benzadrine and you took all of them in one day...
Shecky Greene: No, I don't think that was me.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) I can send you the clip!
Shecky Greene: You can send me the clip, but I don't think I ever did that. No. I may have done a joke similar to that, but I don't remember the dexadrine and the benzadrine. No. You may have called the wrong guy, you know that?
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: You better check your goddamn record!
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Isn't this Jack Carter?
Shecky Greene: Jack Carter! "Whaddaya talking about? You wanna take me for lunch? Take me for lunch!" I'm gonna tell you, that is probably one of the funniest human beings in the world - and a nice man. Crazy, but nice.
Kliph Nesteroff: Crazy, how so?
Shecky Greene: Well, he's just crazy! Say the two of you order a steak. Yours comes and his comes. He'll look and he'll say, "Yours is bigger than mine!" "No, not really, Jack." "I'm telling you your steak is bigger than mine! Why did they give me this small steak?! Hold it. Waiter! Why did you give me the small steak!?" "Jack. Here. Take my steak." "No! I don't want your steak! They gave me the small steak!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: He walked into a restaurant one day and the maitre'd said, "Mr. Carter, what would like to order that you're going to send back?" (laughs)
Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of people don't remember Jack Carter today.
Shecky Greene: They don't remember, but he was big in his day. He had a show for DuMont at the same time that Gleason had a show. He's brilliant as he memorizes lyrics, he was in shows, he was a great talent! A great, great talent!
Kliph Nesteroff: He used to everywhere. He was one every show and he was on television all the time.
Shecky Greene: Yes, well, he was out of New York and everything else and he was a big talent! He wasn't just a piece of shit talent, he was a big talent.
Kliph Nesteroff: You did a great impression of Danny Thomas in your act. Did you know Danny well?
Shecky Greene: Very well. Danny and I were very close friends and Danny was a wonderful man. I said this to somebody the other day. I can't remember if i said it to you or somebody else, but people say to me "egomaniac." You have to have, in order to be in front of the public, there has to be a certain amount of ego to get you to do these things. Danny Thomas had that. Danny Thomas, other than the nose, was a very handsome man. Had they cut his nose he would have looked like Cary Grant. But if they would have cut his nose he wouldn't have had a career. "We're strong for Tol-EEE-dohhhhh!" But Danny and I were good friends and he was a nice man.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack E. Leonard?
Shecky Greene: Ohhhhhh, I loved Jack E. Leonard. We were close friends. Jack E. Leonard was also from Chicago. Near the end he came to Vegas. He married a woman and moved to Vegas. He called me every morning and I'd go down and have coffee with him. He was going through hell. He should never have married this girl. It was terrible, terrible thing.
Kliph Nesteroff: I think she's still alive. There's a Jack E. Leonard website and it says she is writing a book about him.
Shecky Greene: What could she write a book about him? She knew nothing about him! What book could she write! These fucking people are nuts, you know! People are fucking nuts!
Kliph Nesteroff: What were his feelings toward Don Rickles when he came on the scene?
Shecky Greene: Let me tell you, he loved Rickles in the beginning. Then he began to realize that people were comparing them. In reality, there was nothing to it. Rickles was not like Jack E. Leonard and Jack E. Leonard was not like Rickles. Just the insult type of thing. I'm not putting down Don, because we're good friends, but it used to bother Jack E. and it used to bother me that it bothered Jack! I said to Jack, "He's nothing like you! What is it that's driving you crazy?" The thing that was driving him crazy was that Rickles got his start in the lounge and there just weren't enough places for them to both work. Consequently, Rickles was getting popular and that did bother him. He'd say, "Shecky, he's doing me! He's doing me!" I'd say, "Jack, he's not doing you. Your doing you and he's doing him!" I watched the demise of Jack E. Leonard. When he moved out of New York and he couldn't go to Danny's Hideaway, where he went all the time, that killed him. There was nothing like that in Vegas for him. He thought he'd come to Vegas and Vegas was going to be a big thing for him. It wasn't. And marrying that woman was a big mistake. But I loved him.
Kliph Nesteroff: When Don Rickles' success started to usurp his own that deflated him.
Shecky Greene: Sure! Rickles has got a wonderful character and it's what he looks like. Don Rickles - you want to love him because he looks like he has Downs Syndrome. Take a look at him! Am I right or wrong?
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Joe E. Lewis.
Shecky Greene: Joe E. Lewis was one of the great people of the world. "Behind every successful man is a beautiful behind!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) How about Gene Baylos?
Shecky Greene: Oh, I loved Gene. Poor Gene. Near the end he didn't know what napkin to steal. He got so bad that he would go down to The Friar's Club and he'd fill his pockets with butter packets to take home - forgetting about the butter melting and it was ninety degrees outside. Why don't you write about that kind of stuff! What happens to us comedians in later years and how we wind up crawling on the fucking floor!
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Shecky Greene: Well, now you know everything that I know. You've racked my brain.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I appreciate it. I realize it has been a long interview.
Shecky Greene: Naw, Kliph, I enjoyed it.
Kliph Nesteroff: And I will send you this clip of you talking about dexadrine on The Dean Martin Show.
Shecky Greene: I want to see that!