I had a girlfriend who worked at the William Morris agency before moving on to manage comedians. Whether it was a strategic move or by happenstance, she took a job booking the main room at The Comedy Store where the likes of Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory and Shelley Berman would appear. As a side note, David Letterman was making his start at the time and was the de facto host and emcee at The Comedy Store, his subtle humor and refined skills were already on display. The acts my girlfriend managed were regulars at the Store.
So it was that I found myself spending most of my evenings listening to comedians and their routines at one or the other of The Comedy Stores in Los Angeles--the main location on the Sunset Strip where we now hold our Elysée Wednesday gatherings and at the annex on Westwood Boulevard where comics would showcase for producers, managers and agents. When Mitzi Shore was looking for someone to run the main room, I took on the task since I was there almost every night just hanging out.
One evening, we were at the home of one of The Graduates--Jim Staahl, Tino Insana and Jim Fisher--a three-man comedy act who had been a part of Chicago's Second City which famously launched a number of successful comedians. As we were drinking wine and talking, the phone rings and it is John Belushi. He had just landed at LAX and wanted to know what was happening. When he heard we were all there, he decided to join us.
A little later, John's taxi dropped him at our doorstep and we sat around talking business and telling anecdotes. Someone--it may have been John--suggested we all tell a favorite joke which, if you exclude me, seemed like a good idea. I was not a comedian. One by one, everyone told a joke. These were professional comedians and they were funny. I suppose the trick was to tell a joke we all hadn't already heard. In a way, the evening reminded me of those parties thrown by Tony Ford where Red Buttons would sing and dance while 'Doc' Simon played the piano.
Inevitably, it was my turn to tell a joke though I had somehow contrived to be last. I wanted to demur but we were on a roll and there was too much expectation to beg off. The situation demanded a joke. "I don't have a joke," I told them, "but I have a true story, if that's alright." Yes, they all replied enthusiastically, let's hear it. At that point, I launched into a joke I'd heard that was of a sexual nature but telling it as though it were a true story about a date I'd had with a girl from my answering service. It is not a joke I would tell today--and certainly not here--but when I delivered the punch line, everyone laughed. When the laughter died down, John Belushi started laughing again and everyone else started laughing at Belushi's reaction. The laughter died down a second time and the room was quiet for a moment. And then Belushi started to laugh again and this time he couldn't stop. His laughter was contagious and we all found ourselves laughing because Belushi had been laid low by the unexpected punch line to my joke.
It took awhile but John--red in the face with tears streaming down his face--finally settled down and it seemed as though the incident had passed. Then, he started laughing again!
I'll never forget that evening and I'll always regret that a man who provided us so many laughs didn't find a state of grace for himself.
wonderful account; the article is itself its own story, a beginning, middle, and end
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