To break out into stand-up comedy, it takes many years of “paying your dues”. So if you are still a newbie like me, be prepared to keep eating shit on stage and learning how to work a crowd because we still have a long road ahead of us. Now most of the people that do not have a lot of stage time still have one major advantage over me...their age. I am 37 years old and only have a little over a year of experience under my belt. Most of the comics that I do open-mics with are quite a bit younger than me. So if I ever have the chance to transition myself from an open-micer to a profession road comic...then goddamn, my retirement will have a race with my death.
But surely I am not the only person with some age on their bones who wanted to pursue the dream of becoming a professional stand-up comic. So I decided to take the advice from Matt Ward and pursue this, which I am glad I did because this is what I found.
Jacob Rodney Cohen was born on November 22, 1921. When Jacob was 15, he began to write for comedians. At the age of 20, Cohen started performing stand-up comedy under the name of Jack Roy. That lasted for nine years before Jacob called it quits. The reason why he stopped...financial difficulties. Sixteen years later, Cohen decided to give comedy another try. After Jacob returned to the stage, he was still unsuccessful. Besides the debt that Cohen built up, he also had a hard time getting booked. That is when Jacob realized he needed an on-stage persona. So Cohen decided to come up with a personality that not only audience members could relate to, but would also make him stand out from other comics. Shortly afterward...Rodney Dangerfield was born.
Dangerfield’s first public appearance was on The Ed Sullivan Show, which aired on Sunday March 5, 1967. Rodney was chosen for the show as a last minute replacement. Whenever Dangerfield decided to take that spot on The Ed Sullivan Show, that was probably one of the best decisions that he would ever make for his comedy career. The reason why…he fucking killed it. Because Rodney done a great job on that broadcast, people wanted more. So Dangerfield started headlining shows in Las Vegas and performing regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Show, along with making several appearances on The Tonight Show.
Then in 1969, Rodney decided to team up with Anthony Bevacqua (a longtime friend of his) to create a comedy club. So on September 29, 1969, Dangerfield’s was opened. Dangerfield’s is a comedy club located in Manhattan. The club was set up as a venue for Rodney to perform at on a regular basis without him having to travel. The club was also designed for other headlining comics to perform at. Some of the comics that have performed their are George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, and Jerry Seinfeld. Dangerfield’s was also home for the annual HBO comedy specials that Rodney put on to showcase young comics.
Besides the thousands of performances that Dangerfield done and the fact that his comedy venue helped launch the careers of many big name comics, Rodney has also recorded several albums, done numerous comedy specials for HBO, and starred in many movies. Now I do not know about you, but I think that is pretty goddamn impressive considering Rodney did not make it big into comedy until the age of 45. So to me, Rodney Dangerfield was not just another comic...but also a fucking legend of the comedy world.
Another late bloomer in stand-up comedy who is considered to be legendary is Phyllis Diller. Born on July 17, 1917, Diller did not introduce herself publicly to the world until 1952...where she appeared on KROW, an AM talk radio station based out of Oakland, California. But that was only the beginning. A few years later, Phyllis decided to give stand-up comedy a try. So on March 7, 1955 at The Purple Onion (a cellar club in San Francisco), Diller made her first public appearance as a stand-up comic. Diller performed their for 87 weeks straight. Then on November 3, 1956, Phyllis performed on Del Courtney’s Showcase (an Oakland based variety show where local talent performed).
Diller’s next step for her stand-up career was in St. Louis, Missouri. That was the area where Phyllis decided to work on her craft as a comic. So in 1961, Diller moved out there so she could tweak on her gift at telling one-liners at the clubs in the area. That same year, Phyllis ended up performing on several national television shows, which she started doing more frequently throughout her career. Later on, Diller ended up becoming an honorary member of the New York Friars’ Club where she seemed to display her gift of bashing her comrades in comedy in a respectable way.
Eventually, Diller became a successful stand-up comic who crossed over into film and television. She had the privilege of sharing the screen with Bob Hope, George Burns, and many other notable comics from that era. But truth be told, Phyllis was a stand-up comic before anything else. She not only made a mark in the world of stand-up comedy, but Diller also paved the way for many other female comics before her time. To me, that is pretty impressive considering Phyllis Diller did not even start performing stand-up comedy until she reached the age of 37.
To be continued...