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Comic Inspiration - Dad always knew how to get a laugh.


The Pratfall
The first time I went onstage with my father, I was five years old, and we were at the President Hotel in Swan Lake, New York. My mother was being paid $5 as his pianist, and he got $15 to perform comedy and sing. They learned that if they brought the kid in, they could get another $5. I sang "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

After I took my bow at the end, my foot slipped and hit a large photoflood bulb. Smoke came up, and it made the loudest noise. The explosion scared me to death. I took my first pratfall and got a big laugh. I still remember that laugh.

My parents were on the road 52 weeks a year working at hotels and nightclubs. During the school months, I stayed with my mom's relatives -- Aunt Rose on Friday, Aunt Jean on Monday, my grandma on Wednesday. In summer, my parents would take me along. When they performed, my dad would seat me dead center, front row.

My dad did mime, then sang a love song with that handsome face of his, then put on a hat and what's called a gaff nose (you take it out of your pocket and stick it on) for a turn of physical comedy. He'd do a sketch in which he played a straight role, made an exit and came back as the twin of the one who just left, wrapping it up with a comedy finish.

I stole everything my father did. I saw my dad take a fall onstage. He said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a thing in our business called butterflies, a little trembling before you come on. I have to tell you, I do not understand that kind of nervousness with some of my peers. I walk out onstage and just do what I do." Bang! He hit the floor hard. The audience moved so much that all the chairs rose. Then the laugh happened. First he scared them, and then they realized he was not nervous; he just fell flat on his ass. Hysterical.

Early in my career, on one of my most important gigs -- opening night at the Copacabana in New York in 1948 -- I took that fall, exactly, and it was great. The audience loved it. My father never got hurt because he took the falls right. He used the palm of his hand to break the fall, and did it in a manner the audience didn't see. But that didn't work for me, so I abandoned it. I landed flat on my back. Every time I took a fall, my dad said, "You're going to pay for that one, because you're doing it wrong." He was right -- I killed my spine.


From: Reader's Digest

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