Friday, October 16, 2015

Lunch at Musso's

Turk Pipkin (The Nobility Project) Phil Proctor (Firesign Theater),
Richard Sherman (Mary Poppins), Elizabeth and
Harry Anderson (where to start),
Milt Larsen (the Magic Castle) and Jay Johnson (Soap). 
They say one picture is worth a thousand words.  For this picture that's not nearly enough. Some stories require more than 144 characters to tell. Those are usually my favorites. 
You have to start with the setting. This is Musso and Franks Grill on Hollywood Blvd.   We are sitting in the Ralph Edwards Booth. Although squatters rights now belong to Milt Larsen. Milt wrote most of the funny stuff that happened on the Edwards Game Shows over the years with offices across the street and down the block for decades. Milt's Magic Castle is just up the street and some of the day waiters at Musso's are night waiters at the Castle. 
I think because of a song that Richard Sherman and Milt wrote together about a one eyed pilot, the beginning lunch conversation evolved into one eye jokes. As it does. 
Richard started telling a joke about a guy who lost his eye in an accident. You have to understand, telling a joke in this company is a like a wire walk without a net.  Milt and Richard have been friends and partners for decades. Milt will take every opportunity to get a laugh interrupting Richard, particularly if Richard is telling a joke.  
Richard is not even midway through the joke when Phil Proctor shows up. The joke is interrupted with a flurry of greetings. 
After a few one liners,  Proctor settles in. Richard explains he is mid way through a joke. After much harassing from Milt he starts over. Richard has somewhat of a slow Mel Brooks delivery.  
"There was this guy who was missing one eye." 
The waiter comes up and asks Proctor if he wants a beverage sending the eye joke to the back of the conversation line. There is one thing I know about a comedy track that is this fast.  Make the point or the joke quickly because comedy minds have the attention span of a rim shot. As time goes on, there is no way to explain what we are laughing at, it's just the music of incredible conversation. Most funny people love to laugh why else would they love comedy.  At some point Elizabeth and I heard something that caused us both to bust out laughing together.  At this table if you weren't saying something funny you were laughing at someone who did. 
Milt says, "What about the eye joke?"
"Yeah, Yeah, so he goes to get a fake eye....."  Before he can get much further  -
Turk Pipkin arrives and the eye joke is completely derailed as everyone has at least three one liners about Turk's beard.  Separated from Randy Quaid at birth was just one. Turk has heard them all and has toppers for each.  Lunch arrives and it becomes the art of eating and not choaking from bad timing between swallowing and laughing. Eventually the dishes have been removed from the table along with all sharp objects. 
I get a glance from Milt. He smiles a demonic grin and shuffles his look back and forth at Richard. He is going to do it, he is going remind Richard he didn't finish the un-finishable eye joke.  "What about the glass eye, Dick" 
"Okay, so he couldn't afford a really good glass eye, so he had to settle for a wooden eye..."
Milt is aware that everyone at the table knows this joke, but he is having such a great time watching Richard try and finish it, therefore the attempt continues. 
I look at Harry. He is fumbling in his pocket for something. He fishes from his pocket what appears to be a small altoid's tin.  He is trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to interrupt the joke again.  
I thought. 

He takes some object out of the tin and covertly shows it to Elizabeth who smiles and nods. 
Richard has gotten further along with the joke than any time before. He has every one's attention, except for Harry. Richard is sitting to Harry's right. Harry turns his head away from Richard and puts his hands to the left side of his face. 
I have known Harry Anderson for a very long time, and this strange behavior only means one thing. He is setting someone up, I am certain it is Richard, and I think I know what is about to happen. 
And it does. 
Harry's magic teachers taught him that a good magician always has three magic tricks on his person ready to perform anywhere. Harry is a great magician and learned that lesson well. With a deck of cards alone Harry would have hundreds of tricks ready to perform; and he is smart enough to know you don't come to the table (Especially THIS table) unprepared.  We will never know what he might have prepared specifically for this audience, because he used something he always carries around.  
Richard is to the part of the story where the man with a wooden eye goes to the dance.  Harry is now leaning forward listening to the story intently trying to make eye contact with Richard.   I am sitting across the table and am intently waiting for Richard to make eye contact with Harry as well. Harry is waiting for that moment when Richard looks at his face and realize that his left eye has been "replaced" with an actual glass eye that is not only a different color it is focused in a different direction.  
Richard is close to the end of the joke.  He is circling for the punch line.  There have been multiple attempts to complete it but this is it, he is leaning into the punch line going for the tape.   It is not until Richard says, "So he asks her to dance and she said, 'Would I' and the guy yells..."  Richard has chosen to deliver the long awaited punch line to his friend Harry.  It is the first time they have made eye contact.  
There is just a moment of silence as Richard comprehends what is happening. Richard is thinking he will get surely get through the eye joke this time, but instead is looking into Harry's glass eye wondering off toward Musso's walls. Richard bursts into the most genuine, completely taken by surprise, laughter. His laugh is so contagious, spontaneous and loud everyone explodes as well.  I briefly thought the ancient roof of Musso and Franks would collapse.  The unfinished joke got the biggest laugh of the lunch.
Comedy is all about timing. If you carry a glass eye around with you long enough there will come a time at just the right moment, when sticking that piece of glass in your own eye and waiting for the perfect comedy moment will bring down the house.
If heaven does not include laughter I can not see any reason to spend eternity there.
As you were,
Jay

2 comments:

P. Grecian said...

Reminds me of a story I tell in the Mark Twain show I do.
Goes like this: Mariar Whittaker…just as good and kind and generous. Why, if she had a thing and you wanted it, you could have it.
Have it and welcome.
She had this glass eye…and she used to lend it to Flora Ann Baxter, who hadn’t one…to receive company with.
Well, Flora Ann was pretty large…and it didn’t fit. She was...

Oh, there's the phone.

Later

michael murakami said...

A good lookin' fella is in a car accident. He
loses his eye! Unfortunately, he couldn't
afford a glass eye, so he bought a wood eye. He
stays home for several months very depressed
when finally his friends talk him into going to
a dance. He reluctantly goes and stays in the
corner all night. Finally, his friends convince
him to dance with a gal with a harelip standing over in the other corner, who also hasn't danced all evening . He walks over and says, 'Would you like to dance?'
She says in a southern accent, 'Would I! Would
I!' and he screams, 'Harelip!! Harelip!!'