Monday, April 14, 2014

My Puppets Have Last Names

Comedy is a lonely business. At the bottom there are bringer and barker folks eager to get stage time by busting their asses. In the middle, there are career bringer producers and barker overseers who make your dream feel obscured. On the next rung are those who have TV credits but can't pay their rent, thus stabbing everyone and anyone in the back to be on the upside of the middle. On top of them are the regulars on the TV shows, and then there are the stars. Somewhere in this mix you have the bookers, the club owners, and everyone else. People give you all sorts of advice and it is tough to know who is friend and who is foe.

In the comedy business, there is also a lot of trash talk from comedians when it comes to our more eccentric peers. When I was nineteen, I was chatting with a bunch of fellow vents. Many of these folks had done Vegas. Some were smaller time, club dates and corporate. Then Otto and George came up. They were this X Rated ventriloquist duo. There were stories about them offending people at the porn awards. These guys kept saying there was no way a prop act could follow a good standup. But somehow Otto could. He broke all the rules and defied all the odds. That's why they were so eager to talk shit.

I met Otto for the first time when I was twenty.  Still green, I was new to comedy. That summer, I had spent a lot of time at Pips. In Sheepshead Bay, it felt like a New York outside of the city. One evening, I was invited to see Otto and told to bring May. It was a wild night. The whole place was trashed. I was coming out of the fog of the first year of comedy. Yes, the fog where I thought I would be on HBO tomorrow. However, then I realized I didn't know what the fuck I was doing.

Otto asked me if May had a last name. I said no, puppets didn't need last names. As I sat getting tanked like everyone in the place, Otto informed me they did. A puppet needed a last name because that gave the character more depth and made them more real. Otto informed me George's last name was Dudley. It was after an uncle of his. For May, I chose Wilson. The reasoning being that as a kid, my family didn't have cable, and Dennis the Menace was one of the few cartoons we watched. Mr. Wilson was my inspiration, and Wilson was easier to say than Brucker. So thus it began, and this was advice that wasn't total bullshit. This man knew what he was talking about. Plus he wanted to help another young comedian.

I met Otto again several years later. Now I had started getting time on national television. While the exposure had been cool, I was also being introduced to a cruel reality of the business, jealousy. I had done open mics with some people back in the day, and then all of a sudden they stopped speaking to me. Or when they did it was one, mean, nasty back handed jab after another. I began to grow a chip on my shoulder than became a cinderblock. Comedy became about fame and ego, not about punchlines.

I was invited to do The Pig Roast by the Wild Cherryz Burlesque. They were the house dance team. Otto and George were doing a late night talk show, and I was flattered I was asked. The experience was awesome, not only to work with someone so amazing but also someone who loved comedy. Everyone there just loved comedy. I also didn't feel so alone, and the cinderblock melted. The Pig Roast introduced me to a new group of comedians who may have teased each other on the air and when the camera was on, but in real time they were supportive as hell of each other.

Otto did my webshow, and called in. I remember him calling me a hack several times. Otto also denied the legendary Apollo incident as well as being the inspiration for the movie Magic. But these are still cool stories nonetheless. He could kill it in the Aristocrats, work his charm on Letterman, and still murder a crowd. At the same time, he remained humble and respected other ventriloquists such as Terry Fator and Jeff Dunham. While he bowed in some ways because he never had their commercial success, he was better in so many ways. Otto never censored his act, he didn't care, and he wasn't afraid to give a young comedian a pointer. He wasn't afraid of you being funny because he shined no matter what.

There is a famous story about Otto. He was street performing in Washington Square, and John Lennon saw him. After he was done, he handed Otto a dollar and fifty cents. He told Otto the dollar was for him, and the fifty cents was for George.

I think right about now Otto is doing a show for all of them.

As my type A personality keeps driving and readies for her DVD taping, I will think of Otto. I will think of chasing the punchline. In my heart and in my mind, no matter how much or how little commercial success I get, I can only dream of being as extraordinary as he was.

I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl

Come see me April 22nd @ 7pm
Metropolitan Room
34 W. 22nd st.

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