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Point of View: Alt Comedy, Shecky Greene and a Shekel for your Spit-take

Point of View

Point of View:
Alt Comedy, Shecky Greene and a Shekel for your Spit-take

Point of View: Ardent Partner Samantha Swan writes about her love of stand-up, old show business and how Shecky Greene is Alt Comedy.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a comedy nerd. A nerd, a geek, a fool for it…
when I was a little kid I loved comedy in movies, but I also knew stand-up and always wanted to see who the comic was on Letterman, the Tonight Show, and who is guest-hosting? There was a sense of discovery over Garry Shandling, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser. I loved the sketch format of Saturday Night Live, SCTV and The Carol Burnett Show, all of which were available in plentiful re-runs.

Having come to realize that now when the term comedy nerd is used, it has indeed become the term Comedy Nerd and it refers to fans of ‘Alt Comedy’ comics like Patton Oswalt, Louis CK, Sarah Silverman and Marc Maron. Sketch started with ‘Mr Show‘. They are my favorite comics today too, but I have to remove the uppercase C and N and take it back to the lowercase comedy nerd…

Woody Allen movies were soaked up by me with my dad and my grandmother gave me a context for an even older generation that included Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis… She made me fall in love with old movies and TV shows to be sure, but I now realize even more so, she was in love with Old Hollywood and Show Business and was passing that love on to me. The Mob was a problem for entertainers back in the day, and she talked about this like she had seen Sam Giancana in action with Marilyn Monroe or that Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato were familiar to her. She would read a biography in those days and pass it on to me, as would my dad. It never occurred to me that other 12 year olds weren’t reading David Niven’s autobiography.

But it was always stand-up that killed me. As a kid who wanted to write and act, maybe it was the art of the lone storyteller that got to me, or maybe it was just the sight of some poor bastard fighting for his life up there; I don’t know. Maybe I just liked to laugh.

At some point I think I heard the name Shecky Greene and thought it was a made-up moniker for someone in comedy, almost like “he was a shecky”, or that it was some kind of term that came from an Olde Tyme comic… did it have something to do with getting paid in shekels for your spit-takes…?

It was years before I saw Shecky Greene in a guest spot on ‘Roseanne‘; it was the nice role of a man she meets at a bar mitzvah who mistakenly assumes he is her uncle that hasn’t seen her in ages. He was lovely in the part in which she was nice enough to cast him: you could see the comedy was effortless for him; he lived and breathed those rhythms and there was a great symmetry in her casting him as her ‘Uncle’ Sol. Those old Borscht Belt comics were Roseanne Barr’s spiritual uncles and aunts, certainly. Greene in particular was a non-conformist, as Roseanne herself was.

But there was a reason a self-styled comedy nerd like myself was so unfamiliar with Shecky Greene; he wasn’t known for film or TV. Apparently he just shone live, shone most brightly in Vegas and was as free-form and ‘alternative’ as it gets…

But enough of my musings on my relationship with comedy in general and Shecky in particular. What I now realize is a passion for Old Show Business, the legacy of my grandmother, fusing in a nuclear accident with my love of comedy, has perfectly come together in the pieces Kliph Nesteroff writes about old comics.

Outrageous and Courageous: The Myth and Legend of Shecky Greene is a great article about Shecky in the days of the supper clubs and is a must read for lovers of comedy, and indeed, live performance.

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