Monday, January 9, 2012

An Interview with Lou Alexander - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: August 1962 you appeared on the TV show Talent Scouts. The way that show was set up - it was a fraudulent thing - a celebrity would come on and say, "I discovered this great new talent!" When in reality the celebrity was assigned to them by whoever produced the show.

Lou Alexander: That's right and we never even met the celebrity (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: On the episode you appeared on there was Jack E. Leonard and a young Herbie Hancock.

Lou Alexander: Yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jim Backus was the one who brought you on.

Lou Alexander: Jim Backus brought me on, that's right. That was my first TV show. I had never met him til that night. I thought I had one of the better opening lines that a comedian had for that particular show. Here's what I said. "I was so happy to get on this show that I phoned my grandmother. 'You're not going to believe it! I'm going to be on the Talent Scouts show!' She said, 'That's wonderful! Who are you bringing on?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) It was my first TV show and I used that as my opening line. The guy who put me on the show was a nice guy. He was married to Jacqueline Susann. He auditioned me and he said, "Yeah, you're going to do the show." Irving Mansfield.

Kliph Nesteroff: September 1963 you were playing Jack Silverman's International at Broadway and 52nd.

Lou Alexander: That's right, that's right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Appearing with singer Angela Drake and dance team Lida and Cortez.

Lou Alexander: My God. It's amazing where you get this stuff. It's amazing to me! I'll tell you something funny about that night. The comedians even talk about this today. I was popular with the comedians. Whatever the reason, they liked me and we had fun. I liked them. We were a gang of guys that just liked each other. When I opened on Broadway for the first time, every comedian that you could think of in my league was there. Guys like Pat Cooper, Norm Crosby, Dick Capri... there must have been, opening night, maybe one hundred and fifty show people and then four sailors sitting on the side. Everyone there knew my act! They all knew me! 

I said, "How the hell do I go out on opening night and everyone in the audience knows [what I am going to say]?" I'm going to look like a schmuck! So what I did... I said to one of the comedians... may have been Norm Crosby or Howard Storm. I said, "Excuse me, sir. Where are you from?" Like I didn't know him! Of course, they all broke up. I started interviewing them all like I didn't know them. It was the only way I could get through that show. The only people in the crowd other than my friends were four sailors and a drunk. I'm gonna do a show for them? Anyway, it was a very interesting evening and it was my first time on Broadway. I was headlining there.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Jack Silverman's International like?

Lou Alexander: Oh, it was beautiful. It was right near the most popular jazz club in New York. What the hell was it called? The most famous jazz club.

Kliph Nesteroff: Birdland.

Lou Alexander: Yes. It was right near Birdland. All those clubs were near each other. Names used to work The International, so it was a big deal for me to have my name on Broadway.

Kliph Nesteroff: A couple months later you were playing the Bon Soir.

Lou Alexander: Oh, yes. I was always a big hit at the Bon Soir. I worked it a few times. The first time I worked it... the guy who ran the Bon Soir was sort of like a Jules Podell. We weren't frightened of him, but he was a tough Italian guy. "Ayyyy! Heeyah is da time ya gonna go on - you betta not be late!" And he would talk like that. Okay? So for some reason he took a liking to me and I worked it a few times. One day he said to me, "I got a goil coming in here... she only has a couple songs... all the agents said I should book her and she'll do good. You ever hear of this girl? Goes by the name Barbara Streeesand." 

I said, "Barbara Streeesand? No. Is it that girl that's doing the song in that Broadway show and she's a big hit? Maybe that's her. I've never seen her, but I've heard she's good." He said, "I want you to come down opening night and tell me what you think." So I came in opening night and it might have been one of the most thrilling nights of my life - to see this new girl with all this talent sing. The whole place was erupting! People were standing on chairs and yelling, "Bravo!" So the owner called me over and said, "What do you think?" (laughs) Like he couldn't see it!

I said, "Here's what I think you should do. I think you should knock down the wall in this club and put in another five hundred seats and tomorrow sign this girl to a five year contract for twenty weeks a year - because she is gonna become the biggest star in show business. You better grab this girl right now." He said, "Was she that good!?" He didn't know! I told this story to Barbara Streisand about four years ago at Bernie Brillstein's memorial. She got a big kick out of it. Too bad he didn't do it!

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a comedy record Larry Storch recorded at the Bon Soir.

Lou Alexander: Oh, yeah, a lot of guys recorded at the Bon Soir. You know I did a comedy album?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.

Lou Alexander: Yeah, I always hated it. A guy saw me at the Copacabana. I was a big hit there. A guy came in from United Artists records. I can't remember his name, but he said, "You've got very, very clean material. You're like a TV comedian. You don't work dirty even in the clubs. You could do an album." I said, "I'd love to do an album! Could we do it live here at the Copacabana? I've waited for fifteen years to get into the Copacabana." For a comedian - that was their goal. The Copa. 

The greatest nightclub in the world. It was so exciting for me. "They're bringing me back, so for you to record me live at the Copa - that would be great for me." He said, "All right. We'll do that." He called me up about a week later, "We're not going to do it at the Copacabana. Here's how we're going to do it. We want you to come here to United Artists. We'll have about twenty-five secretaries and we'll have a wine and cheese party - and you're going to perform." 

I said, "Wait a minute! You really think I'm gonna have my heart in that - instead of doing it in the excitement of the Copacabana? There are five hundred people in the Copa - and I'm a hit here! I'm telling you I want to do it at the Copa!" He talked me out of it and I always hated the album. Never liked it. I loved what I did on television, but I hated that album.

Kliph Nesteroff: And you're naked on the cover.

Lou Alexander: Yes. They came up with the idea of me being hatched from an egg or something. This "brilliant" idea. It wasn't my idea (laughs). I always hated that album because it was like I was reciting it. If I'm on television I've got that adrenaline going. If you're on at the Copacabana you're high on what's going on and all the years you've waited to get into that place. And here I am doing comedy for twenty-five secretaries at a cheese party? Come on.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the worst comedy albums I have is by one of my favorite comedians - ruined by poor presentation. Hysterical comedian, but it has a terrible canned laughtrack...

Lou Alexander: Who's that?

Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Vernon.

Lou Alexander: Jackie and I were very close friends. In fact, when I became an agent and put shows together in Vegas, Tahoe and Reno for thirty years - I haven't been a comedian since 1972... Jackie Vernon was a very lovely guy. He always made me laugh. Hold on, I gotta a cough. [coughs]. See, you caught me in the morning here and Jewish people have a lot of phlegm in the morning.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: Anyway, Jackie was a funny guy and I loved him. Once he was working Las Vegas at Caesar's Palace. He was in the lounge and he had about a three year contract. Well, Caesar's wanted to close the lounge down, but they had this contract with him. 

They said, "We'll make a deal with you. We'll pay you half the money that you're supposed to make for the next three years and you don't have to work at all." He said, "No. I want to work in this hotel. I don't care what room you put me into - I want to work." To teach him for being a wiseguy, they put him in a dance room. There was a band and people dancing and he would go on between sets for twenty minutes. While he was on people were dancing. I've seen nightclubs where people get up and dance and there is no music. People will dance to anything and some of them were dancing to his jokes, which is hysterical. He would get so drunk every night. 

He was so depressed because he was dying. Every night he goes and he plays Keno and he gets drunk and passes out. He plays Keno and passes out and someone wakes him up. "You just won twenty thousand dollars!" He was asleep when he won. We were good friends. 1960 was when the Playboy Clubs opened and in 1961 I went into the Playboy Club in Chicago. 

One room was Jerry Van Dyke, one room was Jackie Vernon and I was in the other room. We were all working there. We used to hang out. They put me in a room... in nightclubs they had to break the bottle at the end of the night. There was some kind of law that when the bottle was finished they had to break the head off the bottle and get rid of it. I don't know what the reason was, but I was put in the room where they break the bottles. I was doing comedy! 

All the comics would come in every night and say, "We've got to go in and see Lou because on every fucking punchline they're breaking a bottle! He never gets a punchline that the audience hears!" They would come in and scream at me and roar. All the comics would come into my room and hangout every night and laugh at my situation. I would laugh too. I might as well just take the money and run because I can't do anything in this room. After that I did all the other Playboy Clubs and I was a big hit.

I worked all sixteen of them at one point. All sixteen clubs and then they put me in the better rooms and I did better. But I remember that particular club where Jackie Vernon would come in and say, "Let's see Lou die tonight."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) You are friends with comedian Don Sherman.

Lou Alexander: Sure, Don is a good friend.

Kliph Nesteroff: He pressed a comedy album - Don Sherman, Live at the Playboy Club.

Lou Alexander: Yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: He told me a story about how he was walking down the street one day in the mid-sixties and walked past a record store. In the window there was a large display for the album Don Sherman at the Playboy Club. Don thought to himself, "Huh, that guy has the same name as me." He looked more closely and saw that it was his photo on the cover. He didn't even have a comedy album out - but this one was pressed without his permission by a gangster...

Lou Alexander: Oh, wow, I didn't know this...

Kliph Nesteroff: Mo Levy...

Lou Alexander: Oh, Mo Levy, sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: They did the same thing to Bill Dana.

Lou Alexander: Howard Storm and all the comics know that I have been collecting the best, true stories of our business. I call it Nothing is Funnier Than the Truth. Maybe you should do it with me. I want to go to a publisher and put out a book of the greatest stories of comedians. I must have seventy-five stories.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm currently collaborating on a book with Jack Carter.

Lou Alexander: Well, Jack can be tough to work with. We all know that. He's an angry guy. Jack Carter... younger people don't know who Jack Carter is. They remember who Milton Berle is because he was the king of television. There are certain star comedians they remember. Even though Jack Carter was a brilliant comedian, one of the most talented guys of them all, there are reasons why he didn't become as big as everybody else. I'll just leave it at that. Dick Capri and I are very close. He calls me up one day. "Lou, I got a big break. I'm working with Englebert Humperdinck and I'm making $7500 a week and he's going to have me open for him for years!" Most comedians pray for that. You want a star to pick you up. I get a call one day. "Lou, I lost Humperdinck." I said, "You shmuck! How could you lose Humperdinck? What happened?" "Lou... I ran out of compliments."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: Comedians are always with the star. And when you're touring they often want the comedian to keep them company. They go and buy shirts during the day. They're in towns where they don't know anybody and the comic is up the star's ass.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

Lou Alexander: Let me tell you about the Copacabana. Jules Podell was feared. For some reason he liked me and the first time I worked there it was with Jerry Vale. When I was there somebody told me this story. They said Podell walked through the kitchen and there were flies all over the kitchen. Jules Podell says, "What are all these fuckin' flies doing in the kitchen!" That's how he talked. Now the chef had to make up an excuse. "Well, Mr. Podell, it's very humid. It's the hottest summer we ever had and - it's the season." He said, "Oh." And he left. He came back one night later and there were no flies. He said, "What happened to the fuckin' flies?" The chef said, "The season is over." (laughs) Everybody was so frightened of him. 

A new agent got a job at William Morris. They told him, "We want you to go see Mr. Podell. You're going to book the lounge. Go ask him what he would like in the lounge." The kid was shivering! "I have to go sit with Mr. Podell?" He was so afraid. So he went to meet him that night and he started to stutter. He was so nervous. "Mr. Podell, I'm with William Morris and they're going to be booking the lounge, um, they want me to ask you what kind of act you would like..." Podell went, "Sit the fuck down! This is all I want in my lounge. Duos! Trios! And Four-ohs!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: And the kid walked out! He didn't know what the hell to say (laughs). Let me give you one quick story about Jack Carter. A lot of guys that played golf with Jack Carter no longer want to play with him because he's always angry. He always curses. He hits a bad ball he curses for twenty minutes! That's who Jack is! He's basically an angry guy and that's where his humor comes from. That's what makes him so brilliant. So they would say, "Lou, don't bring Jack Carter anymore. If you bring him - then you better not show your face." 

They'd all tell me not to bring him anymore. I said, "Look, I feel bad. I like Jack and he knows I play golf. He's asking to play. Can I bring him?" They said, "All right. One. More. Time. If there's anymore problems..." I said, "I'll make sure." So on the way there I said, "Jack, these guys get crazy when you get angry - and they don't want to play anymore if you do that. You've really got to watch yourself." He said, "I'll never act like that again. I promise. I'll never do it again." We get to the first hole...

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: He hits the first ball... the very first ball...

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: The ball goes into the woods. He throws the club and says, "It's gonna be one of those fucking days!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) All three guys were looking at me, "You cocksucker." Jack and I have been friends for a long time.

Kliph Nesteroff: God, how he makes me laugh.

Lou Alexander: Oh, he's funny. Let me tell you something. When Red Buttons, Jack Carter and all of those guys were big - there was nobody more talented than Jack Carter and all his contemporaries said it themselves. I saw him in 1956 when he was opening for Sammy Davis Jr and I watched him do forty-five minutes. I said, "I have never seen anything like this guy." Almost any comic from those times will tell you... he could have made it bigger than all of them... if he hadn't been self-destructive.

Kliph Nesteroff: He burned a lot of bridges?

Lou Alexander: He burned a lot of bridges. He could have been the biggest comedian in show business. Nobody had more talent than Jack Carter. I used to watch him - and I watched them all. And they all used to say it. There was nobody better than Jack Carter. I saw Jack Carter do something forty years ago that I couldn't believe. I would go to a lot of parties with him. It would be something like a birthday party and they would get him to do this thing. Let's say it was a party for "Mary." They'd get Mary's gifts out and they'd get Jack Carter to open them for her. "Jack, will you open the gifts - and tell us your feelings about each gift?" He would ad-lib for an hour and half about how cheap these gifts are, what pieces of shit they are...

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: We would be falling on the floor! His ad-libs, his anger was so funny. He would do all this shtick and we would just fall on the floor. I must tell you - he was a brilliant comedian!

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, well he makes me laugh so hard.

Lou Alexander: He was a brilliant comedian. Brilliant.

Kliph Nesteroff: He just got cast in a TV show on Showcase called Shameless starring William H. Macy.

Lou Alexander: Oh, I know the show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, he's playing the bartender in the show.

Lou Alexander: Right, I read that in the LA Times article. Well, good.

Kliph Nesteroff: For a lot of the guys their careers kind of dry up in the middle, but if they live long enough they start getting a lot of work playing crusty old men.  

Lou Alexander: That's true. That happened to Red Buttons when he got on ER - and he won an Emmy! He wasn't working for years and all of a sudden he was doing ER and people were stopping him in the streets. He told me, "More people have seen me on ER than anything I've done in my entire career." I used to walk with him to the bank and fifty people would stop him on the street. "Saw you on ER last night!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Now we mentioned Morris Levy...

Lou Alexander: Yeah, I didn't know him... but I knew he was a record guy and that he was... with "The Boys."

Kliph Nesteroff: He was with "The Boys" and he ran two clubs. One called The Roundtable and...

Lou Alexander: I remember The Roundtable!

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about it?

Lou Alexander: The Roundtable was in New York and very popular. It was like Basin Street East.

Kliph Nesteroff: Upstairs they had another room where Jackie Kannon was the house comic...

Lou Alexander: Jackie Kannon worked The Rat Fink Room. Yes. Now you're bringing it back to me. Jackie Kannon was married to a tall blonde and she was a great looking girl. Jackie was fairly short and a very sharp, fast-talking guy. He ran The Rat Fink Room and we used to go there and see his act. Now you're bringing it back! I used to go The Roundtable, yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Both those venues were controlled by Mo Levy from Roulette Records.

Lou Alexander: Wow, yeah, I guess he did! Well, The Copacabana - that was just a front for Frank Costello. I mean, all of those places - ALL the clubs were racket guys. All of them. Frank Sinatra would say, "Why do people make fun of me for talking to racket people? This is how I got in the business! It's why I have a living!" If you worked nightclubs and these guys didn't like you - then you didn't work! That's what it comes down to. When I worked Vegas in the sixties, those guys were great to us. "Give him anything he wants. Send up room service. Whatever the kid wants - give it to him. He's doing a good job." That's how they used to treat us and it was great!

Kliph Nesteroff: You played The Copa with Jerry Vale.

Lou Alexander: I played The Copa with Jerry Vale and I played it with Tony Martin. Well, I have reviews from the first time I was at The Copacabana and it's as if I wrote them. I thought I was going to come out of The Copacabana and become a superstar because it was the same week that I did Sullivan. I never told you this story? Oh! This is a beauty. It could have changed my career. There are two things that could have changed my entire life had they gone differently. Instead of going half-way I could have gone all the way. I was opening at The Copa with Tony Martin.

All my material was fresh and clean and it was TV material. The critics gave me credit for that and I got booked on Ed Sullivan. Sullivan could screw a comedian five minutes before they'd go onstage. He was known for that. My life might have been different if not for what happened that night. I was at The Copa. I was on the show with Tony Martin. Sullivan came in with Sylvia, his wife. When the show was over - he called me over. "Come here, my boy. You're very clean and you're very clever. You're going to be on my show." 

I said, "Oh, that's great. I've waited fifteen years for this." He said, "You will hear from me." That was on Thursday. Copacabana openings were always on a Thursday. That Sunday I got a call at my hotel. "Ed Sullivan wants you to come over to the theater. Richard Pryor fell through and they need a comedian to take his place." Sullivan told them to get the kid from The Copa. 

Usually people have a little bit of time to prepare for being in front of forty million people - live! It's one of the scariest things you can do in comedy. If you have a few days to psych yourself up to do it - then it's great. I didn't have any time to do it. I went over there and the Sullivan show always did an afternoon run-through that was identical to the show that was done that night. Always. Right to the minute and right to the second. Bob Precht, his son-in-law, was producer. That afternoon I went out and did the show. On the same show was Myron Cohen.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sure.

Lou Alexander: I did the contact lens routine. It runs six minutes. The afternoon audience gave me the kind of reaction that comedians pray for. You know, I was sure Sullivan would say, "Great!" and bring me back ten times. You do the Sullivan show ten times and you're a star. It was like when Johnny Carson would call the comedian over. That happens three or four times? He has made you a star. Those were the two people that could make a comic a star at that time. I went out that afternoon and I'm not talking about doing well. I'm talking about killing. Killing. Okay? 

Now I go backstage and Myron Cohen said to me, "Kid. I'm not following you tonight. This is your night." I mean, wow. He said, "I'm telling the same old stories and you're coming out tonight fresh, modern, hip and today. That reaction you got? It's your night, kid." I remember him saying it just like that. That night. Five minutes before my spot. Bob Precht comes into my dressing room. He says, "We're running long. We're late. You have to cut a minute and a half out of your act."

I said, "You don't understand. I can't cut a minute and a half. What I have is a beginning, a middle and an end. I'm building. I'm not a joke teller. I'm telling a story about contact lenses. If I have to edit a minute and a half in front of forty million people live - you're asking for the impossible." He said, "You're going to have to." It killed me. 

Everyone who knew me that saw it said, "Lou, you've had a suntan your whole life. What happened? You were as white as anybody we've ever seen. Your eyes were darting - we could tell you were editing on the spot. We knew it! We could see it on your face. You looked it." All the comics called me the next day and said so. If he had let me do what I did in the afternoon - my whole life could have been changed and I might have had eight or ten shots.

Kliph Nesteroff: They never invited you back.

Lou Alexander: Never and they blamed me.

Kliph Nesteroff: If you had gone long and defied them - they probably would not have invited you back either...

Lou Alexander: They would have cut me off and try to ban me from television. I had to do what they said. I had no choice.

Kliph Nesteroff: Would they have started playing music in the middle of your act if you chose to go long?

Lou Alexander: (silence) I really don't know. I don't know what they would have done. He would have been very mad and said terrible things about me to others. Remember he was a superstar and he wrote a major column at the time. I was just some young comic. But that's what I call a bad break. It was a bad break because they made it a bad break. If I had done that exact same six minutes that killed in the afternoon, the way I wanted... they cut my balls off.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

Lou Alexander: There was another time where I got close to the real big time and it didn't happen. Even though the Sullivan show didn't go well - I went back to The Copa and there was a note from a big producer [Harold Prince]. It said, "I don't know if you can sing or dance... but you're perfect for this part in Cabaret. Joel Grey is leaving in two months and we need a replacement. We're looking for a replacement. Get in touch with me." 

He leaves his telephone number. I call him. He says, "Can you sing and dance?" I said, "It just so happens that I went to the American Theater Wing when I got out of the Marine Core and I sing and dance. For a comedian, I sing and dance pretty good." "We want to audition you." I'll never forget it. I was doing The Copa, I was on Ed Sullivan and I'm auditioning for Joel Grey's part on Broadway. 

Sixty people were up for the part and my agent at the time was a guy named Joe Glaser. Joe Glaser was big. He discovered Louis Armstrong. He said, "Lou, they're down from sixty to thirty people and you're still in there." And then it was down to ten people - and I was in there. It came down to two. It was between me and a guy named DeSalvio. He had done a bunch of off Broadway shows and I was a stand-up comic. 

And he got it. I came that close to starring in Cabaret on Broadway. I always looked at those two things as potentially life changing. The Sullivan show and Cabaret.

Kliph Nesteroff: On a much smaller scale - somebody that gave you a ton of exposure was Joey Bishop.

Lou Alexander: Joey Bishop was a big fan of mine. He put me on a lot, yes. I did five or six Joey Bishops and I did Steve Allen, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Della Reese and maybe fifty or sixty television shots. All the TV I did was between 1963 and 1970. By 1972 I was an agent - but that's another story for another day. I was all over television. I did a lot of Woody Woodbury shows! Remember Woody Woodbury?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Lou Alexander: Woody and I were in the marines together. He saw me in a show in the Marine Core. When he got his talk show he would say, "Get the kid from the Marine Core - Lou Gostel!" I used to do The Woody Woodbury Show all the time. Joey Bishop worked nightclubs with my father so I knew him when I was a kid. When I was getting into comedy, Joey was close with Corbett Monica. 

Corbett was one of my best friends and he told Joey, "Lou does a great act. You oughta use him." Corbett was doing Joey's [sitcom]. I used to go and watch them shoot the series all the time and Joey would say hello. He's dead now, so I can say this. Joey loved women and I was his "beard" many nights. It looked like I was with the broad, but it was his. I did that many, many times for him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Earl Wilson once called you "Joey Bishop's prodigy."

Lou Alexander: That could have very well been true. After he saw me on four or five shows Joey said to me, "Lou. You're a lot better than you think you are. Lou, you're special." He used to talk about me all the time and tell people I was one of the better young comedians around.

Kliph Nesteroff: And he wrote the liner notes for your comedy album.

Lou Alexander: Yeah, he did.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were signed to work on a project that never came to fruition - a film called La Vita Hollywood.

Lou Alexander: Yes, I was supposed to be the star of a B picture. They must have made it for twelve dollars. It was really stupid and jerky. They wanted me to play a comedian working in a bowling alley. Believe it or not there were lounges in bowling alleys and when I was first starting out I did work in bowling alleys. 

You'd hear [the pins crash] right on your punchline (laughs). This is the kind of shit that used to go on! I did work those kinds of places. This guy wanted me to star in this movie - but he never raised the twelve dollars to do it! Yeah, I was supposed to be one of the stars of it.

Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of nightclub comics of your era played straight roles in B films for some reason. Jackie Mason was in The Stoolie, Henny Youngman was in a slasher film called The Gore Gore Girls in the early seventies.

Lou Alexander: G-O-R-E?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.

Lou Alexander: Gore Gore! (laughs) Well, comedians are desperate to be in the movies (laughs). But when I look at all the memories - it was the happiest, most fun and exciting part of my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: I just wanted to ask you a bit more about Joey Bishop since you two were close.

Lou Alexander: Joey and I were pretty good friends, but I had one disaster on one of his talk shows. I was doing great on all of his shows and Joey kept bringing me back. Now, I had already done most of my material on his shows. I don't know how many times I did it, but I did it a lot. We were out having dinner and he said to me, "By the way - I announced that you're on Tuesday night." 

I said, "You announced that I'm on your show two nights from now?" He said, "Yeah, you're on." I said, "Oh! Well, I need some material! I've already used so much material on your show - I don't know if I can find a new five or six minutes in two days!" People don't realize how much work it is to find five or six minutes for a talk show. You've got to hone it and I needed time to hone it. I said, "Maybe I can repeat what I did the very first time. That was two years ago." 

He said, "No. Something new." So, I did end up doing something new - but I didn't have it down yet. It was called "Conjugal Prison Visits." I worked with a writer. I had to do it off of a teleprompter - which I had never done before. Well, I went on the show. And I bombed. I bombed. I made a fool of myself that night. I really made a fool of myself. So, I go and sit down on the panel. On the panel that night? Muhammad Ali. 

We were the only two people on the show that night and he was the most popular man in the world at that point. When the show was over Muhammad Ali walked over to the producer and said, "That kid that had so much trouble tonight? He ever been on TV before?" "Oh, he's always been a big hit. He's been on many times. Joey loves him." Ali said, "I want to see that kid." He went looking for me. 

He came to my dressing room and I was sitting there depressed as shit. Millions of people just saw me bomb. Ali says to me, "I heard you've done the show a bunch a times. You had an off night tonight, huh?" I said, "Very off. I made a fool of myself." He said, "I didn't win every fight I had. I got knocked down and I got knocked out. But I had more great ones than bad ones - and that's why I became Muhammad Ali. But we all have an off day and an off night." I loved him from that day on. Whenever I see him now - he brings tears to my eyes. How do you beat that?


Kevin K. said...

I'd never heard of this guy 'til you started interviewing him and I already like him. Funny guy, great stories, seems genuinely nice. You know, Kliph, you might not know it -- and I'm not prone to saying things like this -- but I think you're doing God's work with these interviews. These guys are appreciative, hilarious and respect your hard work in researching their careers -- plus, you're introducing them to a whole new generation. Like one of your other readers, I always get a kick at how shocked they are at the facts you dig up.

Bobby Wall said...

Kevin K. is right, Kliph!

That was so touching what Mohammad Ali did that night. That's a real ! Now compare Ali's compassion and understanding to how others treat something like Alexander's bombing one night out of many, many successful nights. Some of these show-biz comedians and entertainers are brutal.

I'll bet you anything that if Ed Sullivan was Muhammad Ali, then he would never treat comics that way. Just disgusting. Podell was another disgusting creature. I think it's all about men of lesser character getting absolute power and then wielding it in a mean and despotic manner. I wish Lou Alexander had had the balls to tell Sullivan that his routine is 6 minutes and that either he does the 6 minutes or he doesn't go on. Of course, that's ridiculous, too. Who would kill their career like that? Look what happened to Jackie Mason after his own debacle with Sullivan. Lou Alexander was in a no-win situation.

My guess is that if he had gone over the time limit, then the band would have played him off -- the way they do at the Oscars.

What's weird for me is that I don't remember Lou Alexander at all. And I watched all those shows he was on, too.

What I also don't understand is how Lou raves so profusely about how great a comedian Jack Carter was. I used to see Jack Carter all the time, and I thought he was just average. He seemed so forced and so frenetic. His impressions, to me, were just average -- even below average. And god knows he's an angry and bitter man. Yet we was a great success in a very difficult field. Go figure.

Kliph, I hope you can continue interviewing Lou Alexander about his years as a booker. He must have some wonderful stories.

Here's Lou Alexander on the Mike Douglas show:

Keep 'em coming, Kliph!

Anonymous said...

Lou was a great comic and a handsome humble man. Man of dreams. Always in m heart.