Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An Interview with Paul Mazursky

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about your 1950s comedy team 'Igor and h' and your writing partner Larry Tucker...

Paul Mazursky: Let me say something to you. You are getting the wrong information. So I don't feel like giving it out anymore. I'll tell you briefly right now and you can put that in your pipe, smoke it, and do whatever you want. Igor and h was the name given to me and a guy named Herb Hartig. Okay? Larry Tucker had nothing to do with Igor and h. Nothing. Later, in New York, Larry Tucker was running a nightclub called Upstairs at the Downstairs. I went to college with this guy Herb Hartig. We both graduated in 1951. When we decided to do this he was already writing comedy stuff for revues, but he didn't want to be known as Herb Hartig because he was writing a novel. He was a little pretentious. He decided to use the lowercase letter 'h' and that's how the 'h' came about. So I said, "Well, if you're going to do that - instead of my being Irwin Mazursky - I'm going to be Igor." That's how we became Igor and h.

Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't mean to infer that Larry Tucker was part of Igor and H. What I meant is that I wanted to ask you about both Larry Tucker and the comedy team Igor and h...

Paul Mazursky: Well, the point is... I don't want to talk about it. There's no point. You've got all the information. Look it up. There was a guy named Pops Whitaker who wrote blurbs for The New Yorker telling people what to go see. He gave Igor and h, which he'd seen at the Upstairs at the Downstairs, a great review. And it ran week after week after week. And that's the story of Igor and h.

Kliph Nesteroff: I talked to Will Jordan who described you guys as the intellectual Martin and Lewis.

Paul Mazursky: I would say that's accurate except that he is... I don't know what he was... but he was very, very funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you hanging around Hanson's Drugstore?

Paul Mazursky: We went there trying to sell sketches for ten or fifteen bucks. We later played Steve Allen on television. All of that. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You did The Steve Allen Show on an episode that also featured Count Basie, Phil Harris and Jane Powell.

Paul Mazursky: That's true, I think.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who was your manager?

Paul Mazursky: Irvin Arthur. Charged us very cheap. Cost fifteen bucks to drive up to the Catskills. He booked us Saturday night for two different places where we made $37.50 each and Irvin made $7.50, the son of a bitch.

Kliph Nesteroff: He represented Joan Rivers early on.

Paul Mazursky: He did. He was very good at what he did but he was really cheap. He booked us into a place where we didn't get one laugh. They didn't laugh once and when the lights came up I said, "Any questions from the audience?" They said, "Vot! Vos this! Speak Hebrew! Vee don't speak English! Vot!" But they had good food, good brisket.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys sound like an unlikely act to be booked in the Catskills.

Paul Mazursky: Well, I began to work as a waiter in what they call a Cookalone. Cookalone means you rented a little cottage - Cook-A-Lone. You make your own food. I had fifty-five people on my station and my girlfriend came up for the first time and our plan was that we would have sex. As we were getting to the act of sex she said, "I don't feel good. I have lumps in my neck." I probed around and said, "I think you've got mumps. If they find out you've got mumps this place will be empty in five minutes." 

So I went and told the owner and he almost passed out. He said, "Take your car!" I said, "I don't have a license." He said, "My busboy has a car." He drove us back to New York. In the morning when I got back - around five in the morning - the table already had enough bread to feed an army. Sour cream, pickles, sauerkraut. These people would eat anything they could get. They would eat glass! Listen, I got to go. Nice talking to you.


Anonymous said...

He sounds too busy to talk to you.

mackdaddyg said...

Well, that was helpful. Glad you were able to get a couple of anecdotes out of this guy.

Thanks for sharing the interview.

Anonymous said...

Even leaving aside the fact of the subject's age, something Kliph routinely asks us to remember, that was certainly an uncomfortable interview. Perhaps Mr. Mazursky was having a bad day or perhaps, as others have suggested, he was simply a wretch.

Too bad really as I enjoyed a few of his films.

Anonymous said...

Vot a joik!

Anonymous said...

I heard repeats of Terry Gross's interviews with Mazursky, and it's an interesting comparison. He does tell her about Larry Tucker and other people.

Anonymous said...

I see what you did there!

Mazursky tells you the guy at the New Yorker loved his act. Then, being the researcher that you are, you go and find the actual New Yorker "Interlude" column, which tells a different story.

Why did he think he could bullshit you?

Rotarian said...

Paul Mazursky was a rude, arrogant son of a bitch. I "met" him one morning at the Farmer's Market in L.A. where he held court over a bunch of old goats who were his yes men. My friend and collaborator at the time, Peter Ford, knew Mazursky since the Blackboard Jungle days. He was dismissive to Peter, and when he tried to introduce me, it was obvious Mazurksy couldn't have cared less. I might have been a producer interested in hiring him for all he knew! Talented, but a putz.

Michael Fleischmann said...

I remember seeing Herb Hartig as part of a show called “Jennifer and H” at Jay and Fran Landesman’s Crystal Palace in St. Louis (my sister worked there). That was in the early 60’s. Humor and songs. Wish there were more about him in the way of video, as I only have a vague memory of his performance. Michael Fleischmann NY