Friday, September 30, 2011

An Interview with Lou Alexander - Part One

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just looking at a club listing for JoJo Gostel.

Lou Alexander: Oh my God, that was my father. He was a burlesque comedian and he was a Catskill Mountain comedian. He used to put me in shows when I was ten or eleven years old and have me do sketches with him. That's interesting that you looked that up and found it!

Kliph Nesteroff: He was playing in Manhattan at a place called The Swing Club.

Lou Alexander: The Swing Club, yes. He did work that place. I remember as a kid hearing the name. I didn't know... my God, where did you find that? That's amazing.

Kliph Nesteroff: Billboard used to have vaudeville listings...

Lou Alexander: Is that right? Wow. Yeah, I remember he also worked a club for many, many years with Joey Bishop before Joey ever made it. They were working in Chicago. I think it was called The Nut Club. I remember when I did Joey's show, when I became older, and was friends with Joey. My father had passed away by that time. He told me when they were both struggling, they worked this place called The Nut Club. Of course Joey made it later on... but that is interesting that you found that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about your father's act?

Lou Alexander: I was crazy about my father. He was great fun. I lost him at a young age. He died at fifty-eight. He actually died before I was doing the big stuff. I was working the Playboy clubs when he was alive, but I didn't really hit television or get into the Copa and all the big clubs until he was already passed away. He never really saw me [achieve that] and I always felt lousy that he wasn't able to share a little bit of that with me ... You're in Vancouver? They had a very popular club there - I think I worked it... was it called The Cave?

Kliph Nesteroff: That's right.

Lou Alexander: Yes, that was a very popular place. I think I worked it once, but I'm not one hundred percent sure about that one. I do remember working in Canada. I remember working in Montreal at the El Morocco. That was a very popular place. Canada was fun.

Kliph Nesteroff: It seems like everyone I have talked to played The Cave. If not The Cave then they usually played one of its competitors. Right by The Cave was a competing supperclub called Isy's, which was run by the guy who used to book the acts at The Cave.

Lou Alexander: Oh! Well, I think I know who that is. There was a guy that - I don't know if he did it from Canada or if he did it from here, but he used to send a lot of comedians there. Yesterday there was an article here about an old friend of mine - a guy named Jack Carter.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, in the LA Times. I read that.

Lou Alexander: That's right and he said that he worked The Cave and that he worked there very often. That's why The Cave came to mind today.

Kliph Nesteroff: He referred to himself in the article as The King of Vancouver.

Lou Alexander: Yeah, well he was a great comedian. A great comic.

Kliph Nesteroff: I talk to Jack all the time. I love his stories. Everybody tells me I have to take them with a grain of salt.

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Yes, I would think that's true, but he's got a helluva background.

Kliph Nesteroff: Anyway, getting to your career... you started out in the comedy world doing a double. You were in a comedy team with Howard Storm.

Lou Alexander: Yes, and he became a big director. He did all the shows. He became a very popular television director; Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, Taxi. Howard is still my best friend today. We met when we were fourteen years old. His father was a burlesque comedian and so was mine. My father got him some job in Florida in a real dump. Howard and I were living in a lousy area near where they were working. Howard, when we were fourteen, said to me, "Do you wanna do an act?" I said, "Don't you think we should get through high school first? What do you mean do an act? We're fourteen years old!" 

We ended up doing an act when we were eighteen. We were [billed as] Storm and Gale. We worked the strip joints around the country until I was drafted into the Marines. You don't hear that very often, but in the Korean War they were trying to get another hundred thousand men. Guys weren't joining that quickly and they drafted every fifth guy that was standing in line to go into the Army into the Marines. I was one of the fifth guys. I was drafted, I was sent to Paris Island and I was in the Marines. That is why Howard and I broke up. I remember they said, "We want to do a show. It's the first time. Since we're now drafting people, we're getting a lot of talent." The Marine Core had never had a big show like the Army, which had This is the Army. The Navy had big show called Tars and Spars, which Sid Caesar was in. Almost every branch of the service had a show that became very, very popular. They never had one in the Marines, so they had one when I went in and I was the lead in the show. It was called Saddle Up. They thought they were going to take this show to Broadway and they thought [Ed] Sullivan was going to put it on. They were going to bring it to New York and then they broke it up because the War got a little worse. They sent everybody to Korea and that was the end of it. I thought it was going to be a big break for me because I was the lead in the show. Saddle Up.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have an advertisement here from July, 1951 - The Paddock Club.

Lou Alexander: Yeah, that was a big club on Miami Beach.

Kliph Nesteroff: Storm and Gale. Miami's Answer to Martin and Lewis. With Lorna Rhodes, The Revealing Redhead. Dusty DeLure, The Body Beautiful...

Lou Alexander: (laughs)

Kliph Nesteroff: The Venus, Dance of the Veils. Six foot Four of Blonde Loveliness. Patsy Reid, Blonde, Exciting, Exotic...

Lou Alexander: (laughs) I remember them all, too!

Kliph Nesteroff: And Evelyn Anne, Dynamic Songstress. Shows at 11, 1:30 and 3:30 - dancing to Bob Morris' Orchestra.

Lou Alexander: Oh, that is interesting. That is interesting. Well, let me tell you. The Paddock Club was one of the better places that Howard and I worked. Remember we were only nineteen - twenty years old at the time. We were the youngest comedy team in show business. We didn't start at the top, of course. We only worked toilets. When we got to Miami Beach and went into The Paddock Club, we were a very big hit there. It was the number one strip club in Miami Beach and it was one of the classiest strip clubs in Miami Beach. 

Howard and I were doing all the burlesque scenes and no one could understand how these kids could know all the classic burlesque scenes that we would be doing. All the comedians used to come in and see us and this is when they were big. Red Buttons used to come and see us. Joey Bishop came to see us. There was a comic by the name of Jackie Miles who used to come and see us. There was a guy by the name of Lenny Kent who was pretty popular at that time. They all came in and said, "Where the hell did you kids learn this?" And they became fans of ours. They would all come in and say, "You kids are amazing!" This made us feel great because they were stars in our eyes. And they were stars at the time. The Paddock Club is one place I will never forget. In fact, I was going with a girl there. A gorgeous girl! Her name was Laura Darnay. I was nineteen and she was probably twenty-five at that point. It's funny. You're helping bring back memories to me that I haven't thought of in forty years (laughs)!

Kliph Nesteroff: I see Lenny Kent's name everywhere when looking at items from that era of Miami Beach. What was he like?

Lou Alexander: He was funny. First of all, he was a very hip comedian. Very hip and wild. Almost like a Lenny Bruce, but not quite. Nobody was quite like Lenny Bruce. I do remember walking down the street one day and Lenny Kent was an older guy by now and he had no career. He was walking down the street with a much older woman, about twenty years older. She doesn't look very good and Lenny was on the balls of his ass at the time. As I walked by I said, "Hello, Lenny! How are ya?" He said, "Hey, Lou! I gotta eat!" He was talking about the girl he was with (laughs)! He said this right in front of her! Well, I almost fell on the floor. There's another thing that he did... and I was there. He was a gambler. He lost all his money in gambling. He was playing craps in Vegas. He was doing half-way decent in his career at that point. Not that great, but okay - working Vegas. He was at the crap table and a little old lady... it always goes back to a little old lady with this guy!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: A little old lady is rolling the dice. She must have kept the dice for forty-five minutes, which we know is amazing. Okay? She is hitting number after number after number and he's betting on her. He keeps on betting on her. He's making tons of money! She's making all the passes! The fives! The nines! The fours! The tens! He must have chips in front of him that you can't believe. He says, "Oh, this girl is never gonna stop! She's unbelievable!" Meanwhile, while she's doing this he's talking to her like this, "Oh, honey, I love ya! You're the greatest! I'm gonna take you to dinner! I'm gonna buy you a house! Come on, hit another! Oh! You're so beautiful! You're unbelievable! I can't believe how sweet and gorgeous you are! I'm gonna take you out! I'm gonna buy you a boat!" Now he takes all of his money - all of it - and she hits a three. A two and a one. He lost all his money. The second that happened he yells, "AHHHH, YOU FUCKING CUNT!!!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Well, I fell on the floor. What are you gonna do when you see things like this? This is like watching Candid Camera. Whenever you see something like this - a real thing - not planned... he yells, "You fucking cunt!" She must have been about eighty years old. I just fell on the ground! Lenny was a funny guy.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw his act once...

Lou Alexander: You did see his act!? Really?

Kliph Nesteroff: Not live, but it was on a very, very early episode of Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town... it was from 1949... and Lenny Kent bombs. Big time.

Lou Alexander: That sounds right. I don't think he was for television. He was only for hip clubs. He was never right for television. It's interesting about television and comedians when you give it a thought. To me there was nobody funnier in a lounge or in Vegas than Shecky Greene. Nobody. There was never a comedian that could work off the top of his head like he did. He was an animal onstage. 

He was absolutely brilliant. I remember people like Bob Hope and George Burns would come in and say to him, "We could never do what you do. You're just brilliant." And he was! No doubt about it. And yet, when he went on television for all those years... it never really worked. He had to be a freeform comic. If he couldn't work freeform, it didn't work. On television they gave him seven minutes... and that wasn't his thing.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I had heard a statement once, "The line on Shecky Greene was that he needs twenty minutes just to warm-up."

Lou Alexander: That's true. Yes, he was a guy that had to have the freeform and he would do an hour and a half or two hours in the lounge and there was never ever anybody better. He and Don Rickles are the two funniest human beings I have ever seen in a lounge. I used to go to the lounge every night because I was working Vegas, opening up for all the stars. I was their opening act. Late at night we'd always go see Shecky and Don - and you couldn't see [any act that was] better.

Kliph Nesteroff: I also find Shecky Greene hysterical, but currently he's mad at me.

Lou Alexander: Yes, well, Shecky can get mad at people very easily. It can happen.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wrote a big piece about Shecky Greene. I'm fairly certain it's the most elaborate thing ever written about Shecky Greene. It basically lays it out just as you're saying. That there was nobody better in a nightclub...

Lou Alexander: Nobody.

Kliph Nesteroff: And he never connected on TV...

Lou Alexander: That's true, that's true. You hit it right on the nose.

Kliph Nesteroff: I spoke with him on the phone a few times, just as you and I are talking today, and he gave me great stories and anecdotes and so on. Anyway, I crafted this article and then a few weeks later there was a message on my voicemail from him.

Lou Alexander: And he's upset.

Kliph Nesteroff: "(In Shecky voice) Mister Nesteroff? This is Shecky Greene. Someone sent me this article you wrote... I just couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. Where the hell did you come up with this shit?"

Lou Alexander: (laughs)

Kliph Nesteroff: "Did I give you this shit? I don't think so. Where'd you get this story about Buddy Hackett?"

Lou Alexander: (laughs)

Kliph Nesteroff: "I mean, I just could not believe it. I am very upset. I am very upset. Can you call me? I could not possibly be more upset."

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Yeah, that sounds like Shecky! Oh, yeah (laughs). He's Jekyll and Hyde. That's true, that's true, but I love him. He's a great comedian and a nice guy. We had dinner together about four weeks ago. We always make each other laugh. My favorite Shecky Greene story is "Frank Sinatra saved my life once." You must know this story. He says, "Four hoods were beating me up. Frank said, 'That's enough, fellas."

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, a classic joke.

Lou Alexander: It is. It really is.

Kliph Nesteroff: Just wanted to go back to Lenny Kent for a moment.

Lou Alexander: Yes, sure.

Kliph Nesteorff: One place he was always performing was called The Blue Sails Room.

Lou Alexander: I do remember The Blue Sails... this is a little before my time, just a little before 1950, right? I just came on the scene around 1948-49. Those clubs were very popular in Florida at that time. I remember there was another... something Gale's club in Florida. Can't think of his name, he was very popular. A comedian.

Kliph Nesteroff: Alan Gale.

Lou Alexander: Alan Gale, right. That was a popular place. And way before my time there were popular [Miami] places like The Copa City.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Place Pigalle?

Lou Alexander: Place Pigalle I remember. I'll tell you who used to work there. One of the funniest guys in the world. BS Pully (laughs). You know who BS Pully is?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Lou Alexander: They called him Bullshit Pully, of course. He used to work there and the kinds of things he would do were hysterical. There was nobody wilder than BS Pully. He was wilder than Lenny Bruce. He was dirtier, wilder and he would say anything onstage. As a joke he used to walk around with a cigar box down by his crotch. He'd have his dick in the cigar box. He'd say, "Would you like a cigar?" And his dick would be in there with a bunch of cigars!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Wow.

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Oh, he was wild. He finally made it with Guys n' Dolls, but he was hysterical. When I was a kid, man, anything he did - I would fall on the floor.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was HS Gump like?

Lou Alexander: I didn't know him too much. Horseshit Gump. He was a short guy that played straight for him. Then they said, "We're going to get a third guy. MS Martin. Moreshit Martin." (laughs) I just remember this stuff from when I was a kid. Boy, you're bringing back memories.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about the Five O'Clock Club?

Lou Alexander: Oh, that was big. I used to go there all the time. That was a big deal to go to. Martha Raye's Five O'Clock Club. Something that happened to Howard and I when we were at The Paddock Club... We saw Red Buttons ... Red Buttons and I, in the last ten years of his life, became very, very close. I would take him everywhere because he could no longer drive. He became like my new father. But here is how we met. Howard and I were working The Paddock Club. Here we are, two kids making a little bit of a name for ourselves, working burlesque. We said, "Let's go and see Red Buttons." So we went to see Red Buttons and he doesn't know us. We didn't know that when you went to see a star like that perform that there was a cover and a minimum. 

We go there and before you know it we [get slapped with] a cover and a minimum. I looked at Howard and said, "We don't have the money! We don't have the money to pay this cheque! What the hell are we gonna do?" I thought, "Let's go backstage and see Mr. Buttons." Howard was scared to death. "What the hell are we gonna do? Tell him we're broke?" "We'll tell him we're working down the street, which we are. We're not lying to him. We'll say we'll come back in two days and pay the money if he can pay the bill." So we went to him, told him the story, he laughed and paid the bill. He said to somebody as we left, "I'll never see those two kids again." I came back two days later, paid him, and we were friends ever since that day. That's how we met. And we used to go see Gene Baylos over there all the time too. Remember Gene Baylos?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, what was Gene Baylos like?

Lou Alexander: He was hysterical. He was one of the funniest men, offstage, in the world. Everyone stole from Gene Baylos because he was so brilliant. He never really made it big, but offstage he used to do things... he did a hundred things - like this. He would come into the Stage Delicatessen. We all hung around the Stage, all the comedians, after our shows in the Catskill Mountains, and the Copa and The Latin Quarter, we'd all meet at the Stage Delicatessen in New York and sit at tables and tell stories. Comedians are not like singers. Comedians hung around. You know that. Singers don't spend five minutes with each other. Novelty acts probably don't either. Comedians - it was a little different. 

Comedians liked each other and hung out with each other. It doesn't mean we weren't jealous of each other, but we actually did like each other. So, we all hung around the Stage Delicatessen, have a great time, and do crazy things. I was like a hound looking for women those days. I was looking to get a date every hour of every day in those days. So if a good looking woman came into the Stage Delicatessen and I was sitting with the comedians I would say, "I've gotta find a way to get to that girl! She's sitting by herself. So, I called the waiter over one night. The guys were breaking up when I did this. I said to the waiter, "You see that girl sitting over there? I don't want you to send her a drink. I want you to send her a hot chicken soup, on me. Just send over a chicken soup." So the girl is sitting over there by herself, eating, and a hot chicken soup is put in front of her. She says, "I'm sorry, but I didn't order this. Where the hell did this come from?" "It's from the gentleman sitting over there." Well, half the girls got insulted and half thought it was the funniest thing in the world and they would come over and say hello to me (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: That was my introduction! Sending chicken soup to girls! Not a drink, but good Jewish chicken soup!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) The guys would break up every time I did that. But I'll tell you what Gene Baylos did that broke us up. He's standing there one night at our table and there were probably about seven of us. I betcha it was probably Norm Crosby, Pat Cooper, myself, Corbett Monica, Pat Henry, you know all of us. We all started around the same time and Gene Baylos comes up to the table. He says, "Hey, things are sure going great for me. I just got myself a new seven-year movie deal and three years on a sitcom - play or pay - good money..." He names about fifty things that are great and as he's telling us that, he's taking the chicken off our table and he's putting it in his pockets! That's the kind of stuff he would do that had us fall on the floor. He'd take the sandwich and put it in his pocket. Grabs the salt shaker, puts it in his pocket. He says, "Things couldn't be better!" Anyway, I used to fall on the ground from Gene Baylos.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have heard he hated Jerry Lewis.

Lou Alexander: Yes, because Jerry stole a lot of his shtick. It's true. He did take a lot of stuff from him. I'm sure Jerry would even probably admit that. He took a lot of stuff. It doesn't mean that Jerry Lewis wasn't brilliant because he was brilliant. There's no doubt about it. When I was a kid my idol was Jerry Lewis. I was kind of a clown at that time. Always falling into walls, falling off the stage and doing a lot of physical comedy. To me he was the greatest. I never met Jerry Lewis and he was always my idol as a kid. When you're eighteen or nineteen years old and you saw Dean and Jerry - how could they not be the idols of any comedian in the world? They were brilliant! There was nobody like them! 

We used to see them at the Copa. I was in awe of them, but never met them. When I got popular and was working a lot of clubs in Los Angeles, there were popular clubs like The Crescendo, The Interlude, Slate Brothers, Coconut Grove, and I was working them all and making a bit of a name for myself. I was starting to do television. One day, some woman I knew that was writing a column out here took a liking to me. She said, "You know, one of my best friend's is Jerry Lewis' wife Patti. How would you like to go to dinner with me at his house?" Now, even though I was doing well and wasn't in awe of him like I was as a kid, I still loved Jerry Lewis. I went to his house and it was an interesting night. I was opening at The Copacabana two weeks later and I was with Tony Martin. I told him I was opening at The Copa. He said, "I'm going to show you some stuff from The Copa. Come with me." He took me to the other room. He had a bunch of scrapbooks and he showed me stuff of him and Dean working at The Copa in 46-47 or something like that. 

Their last show as a team was 1956. Their last job was at The Copa and he showed me these pictures of him crying in the dressing room and how he was feeling. He said to me, "You're bringing back a lot of memories with your talking about opening at The Copa. I wish you the best of luck." It was very nice and he was very, very sweet to me. He said, "It'll be a big break for you." He was showing how much he was hurt by the break up and how the last shows they ever did were at The Copacabana.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have footage of them performing for a full hour at The Copa in 1954.

Lou Alexander: Ah, that has to be a classic!

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, it's a fascinating document - to see what the craze was truly all about, rather than the facsimile they were reduced to in film and television.

Lou Alexander: That's something I would love to see!

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I'll show it to you some time.

Lou Alexander: Oh, I would love to see it. To me that's a classic. There has never been a comedy team like them. There was electricity in the air - and you'll only ever see an act [that causes that] one or two times in your life. Maybe with Sinatra or Sammy Davis... but I had never seen it like when Dean and Jerry went up. You could feel the electricity going through the room. The excitement of the room. It was something I never forgot. The feeling in that room. To this day they are probably the most excitable act I ever saw in my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm too young to have ever experienced them in the flesh, but to me, when you use the phrase "show business" - they are, to me, the epitome of the concept.

Lou Alexander: Oh! Boy, was it! That's what it was. I felt that way about two other acts and they weren't comedians. I felt that way about Anthony Newely. He knocked me out. He was such a great performer. And I felt that way about Sammy Davis. I once saw Sammy Davis do a show for two hours, just for people in show business, at two o'clock in the morning. It was only for show people. It was a show that you would never ever see again - nothing like it. He had only showbiz people there and he was just the most talented man I had ever seen in my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: Where was that show?

Lou Alexander: Ah, I'm not sure. There were certain places we used to go late at... it might have been at The Stardust. At two o'clock in the morning, everybody finished their shows and at that time in Vegas, everyone stayed up all night. There was no such thing as going to sleep. You gotta remember, when I was working Vegas - the Mob ran Vegas. Now it's corporate. Today it's corporate! Today it's like going to Disneyland. But in those days, all the people that ran Vegas loved show people. They actually were great to us and they would give us everything. Give us the shows, give us the rooms, give us the meals - whatever you want. 

They really knew how to treat performers. Then there'd be a show at two in the morning. Sammy worked from two o'clock until four o'clock and everybody in all of Las Vegas was there to see him. From the stars to the dancers and strippers to you name it. It was a show I will never forget. But Vegas was real fun in those days. I was working Vegas in the sixties and then you had maybe six hotels. You didn't have the Disneyland of what it is today. Everybody knew each other and we all hung out together. It was so much fun. Really, really fun.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now, going back to New York for a moment... you mentioned the Stage Delicatessen...

Lou Alexander: Oh, yes, that was a popular spot.

Kliph Nesteroff: I am intrigued by that era of showbiz hangouts. There was another place called Hanson's Drugstore...

Lou Alexander: I hung out there more than anywhere. Let me tell you about Hanson's.

Kliph Nesteroff: Please.

Lou Alexander: Hanson's Drugstore was right next to a theater. I think it was 7th and everyone hung around Hanson's Drugstore. A lot of us weren't working at the time, so we had nothing to do in the afternoon. We all hung out there in the afternoon and I remember when I was hanging out there with Don Rickles and Shecky would hang out there too. A lot of comedians like Dick Capri and Pat Cooper and Norm Crosby. We all hung out there. All of us. Everyone. Howard Storm. Jackie Mason. All of us hung out at Hanson's Drugstore. And there was another little place next door called B-G. B-G was like a little cafe.

Kliph Nesteroff: The B-G Coffee Shop, Home of the Bottomless Cup.

Lou Alexander: That's right. That's funny. I only lived about three blocks from there, so we all hung around there in the afternoon. All the girls used to walk by and we would flirt with them. It was just good times. We were all young kids, young guys. We were all looking to make a mark. We were working two days a week. If we got Friday and Saturday it was a big deal. Friday and Saturday, we'd get fifty dollars for the two days. From 1951-53, when we worked Friday and Saturday and got fifty dollars to work those weekend clubs, it was enough to pay our rent, enough to pay our phones, enough to pay to eat. Fifty dollars for a weekend - we lived on it. And it was enough to sit around at Hanson's with cup of coffee and sit around all day and tell stories to each other.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the difference between a place like the Stage Deli and Hanson's? Was there a pecking order?

Lou Alexander: Well, I'll tell you the difference. Nobody hung around the Stage Delicatessen during the day. Hanson's was the daytime. It was always the day. I don't remember any of us ever going to Hanson's Drugstore at night. It was always the Stage Delicatessen. First of all, they had better food. They had the great greatest Jewish food in the world at the Stage and the Carnegie Delicatessen. But we all hung out at the Stage. All of us. After our jobs. We used to have one guy... there was one guy who used to come in. Jackie something. I can't remember his last name. Jackie Farrell? Something. He would come in and he would have make-up on and he would sit down with us. We'd say, "Where did you work tonight?" He'd say, "Oh, uh... Grossingers." I'd say, "That's funny. I worked Grossingers tonight." He would put on the make-up to look like he had a gig!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) He didn't want to look like he was out of work!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) We would roar! And every time he came in wearing a tuxedo we'd say, "I wonder where he didn't work tonight."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: That was, really, the most fun time of my life. There was no time more fun than The Stage Delicatessen and especially Hanson's Drugstore. It was like a club. A bunch of guys that had a little talent and we didn't know where we were gonna go... some of us did great... some of us didn't... but we all had... a hunger. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you encounter Jack Roy at that time?

Lou Alexander: Yes. Yes, oh, sure. Of course, he became Rodney Dangerfield, but I knew him as Jack Roy. I knew him when he was in Jersey and he had his business. He was putting up... whaddaya call it?

Kliph Nesteroff: Aluminum siding.

Lou Alexander: That's right, he was in the aluminum business. He quit the business because he couldn't do anything as Jack Roy. Then he started writing things for Jackie Mason. Jackie Mason said, "You write very funny stuff." So, that was it. He said, "Well, let me write this stuff for myself" and that's how it happened.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you see his act as Jack Roy?

Lou Alexander: Well, I saw him at the very beginning. He still did the one-liners and all the lines he did were classics. You could see that his style was nothing more than one or two lines. I remember somebody once asked Milton Berle, "Why does Henny Youngman only do one-liners?" Milton Berle said, "Because he can't remember two lines."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) That broke me up!

Kliph Nesteroff: Now how about Joe Ancis...

Lou Alexander: Yes. He was... there were always a certain amount of guys that were hysterical offstage. They were funny, could do everything, ad-lib... people would walk by and they'd have great lines. But they would never go onstage and be a professional. It's like the guys that put on the lampshade at a party. They could never go onstage. But there were two or three guys around then that were very funny and Joe Ancis was one of them. A lot of guys took a lot of lines from him. But he never became a professional. He never performed. I'm having fun! You're bringing back a big part of my life!

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a guy... I think he was more Miami than New York - Bert Stone.

Lou Alexander: Yes. He was a little bit older than us. I can't really say I knew Bert Stone. I'll tell you who else hung around there a lot were the Leslie Brothers. Do you have them down? Bob Leslie and Larry Leslie. They were popular. They were a comedy team. Then they broke up and Bob Leslie must have gained one-hundred and fifty pounds and Leslie was writing for me. When I just was starting to play big rooms I said, "Larry, I want to do a routine about contact lenses because I wear them." He worked with me on it and I paid for it and I did that bit on television. I always picked the subjects that I did [even if it was written by someone else]. It had to be interesting to me, otherwise I couldn't make it funny. People ask me where comedy comes from. I say, you take something truthful. Embellish it. Exaggerate it. And that's where the humor comes from.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned in passing Jackie Mason.

Lou Alexander: I'll tell you about Jackie Mason. Jackie Mason, to me, was brilliant. Not just good or great. Brilliant. And he still is, to me, today. He's a brilliant comedian. But do I like him personally? Not one bit! I never liked him for one minute! I don't like him and none of us really liked him. It's hard to like him as a person because he wasn't a nice guy. He just wasn't... I don't know how to put it. He just wasn't a hamisha guy. He wasn't a guy you liked. He was kind of a user. But on stage? Brilliant. A brilliant comedian. Absolutely brilliant.

Kliph Nesteroff: That's interesting that you say that. It's not so much an opinion as the consensus.

Lou Alexander: Really, is that true?

Kliph Nesteroff: Everyone qualifies it the same way too. "First of all, I want to say he's a brilliant comedian. Second, I can't stand him."

Lou Alexander: Well, there you go. I'm one of everybody!


Michael Powers said...

So interesting to hear about Dangerfield in his earlier Jack Roy incarnation. I'd love to see some film of him from back then.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating interview. It's amazing to me (it shouldn't be) how some people become huge successes and other people (equally talented) are forgotten, and never make it.

Joe Ancis, I remember learning about him in the 1970s, when I was researching Lenny Bruce. Lenny was basically doing Joe onstage, the crazy humor mixed with the intellectual pretensions. For years I thought Joe was a talented amateur, but recently I found out that Joe was selling jokes to Dangerfield. So even though he never stepped onstage, he was still "in the business."

Anonymous said...

Did he say (twice) that he never met Jerry Lewis, and then went on to tell how he went to dinner at Jerry's house and Jerry showed him scrapbooks of the Copa? I re-read that section several times and that's what he said.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered you NOW, Kliph.....enjoying every interview!! Such great memories. Lou Alexander, and some other guys, have referred to comedians who rarely performed professionally, but who they all agreed were the funniest ever. Does anyone remember Danny Crystal?? ( no relation to Billly) . Danny was around in the 50s and 60s...did a lot of warmups for TV shows..some radio (John Nebel)
.and whenever other comics got together...they all thought he was the greatest...very quick and original and terrific one liners. Would love to know....he was so funny...

Bill Housden said...

"Did he say (twice) that he never met Jerry Lewis, and then went on to tell how he went to dinner at Jerry's house and Jerry showed him scrapbooks of the Copa? I re-read that section several times and that's what he said."

I got that, too, on first reading, but if you go back a couple of sentences, you can see he was talking about himself never meeting Lewis as a teen. He didn't make that too clear --

"When I was a kid my idol was Jerry Lewis. I was kind of a clown at that time. Always falling into walls, falling off the stage and doing a lot of physical comedy. To me he was the greatest. I never met Jerry Lewis and he was always my idol as a kid. When you're eighteen or nineteen years old and you saw Dean and Jerry - how could they not be the idols of any comedian in the world?"

It would have been clearer if he had said "I never met Jerry Lewis as a kid and he was always my idol."