Seeing the familiar sights of St. Louis brings me back to my day-to-day life when I lived in the 314 years ago and my days as a struggling (okay, YOUNGER struggling) stand-up when I was waiting tables at Al Canal’s “Close to the Bone” cafe next to the Funny Bone at Westport. It was the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was too young to be funny but knew I had comedy in my blood. I saw the hot comics of the day for free and a TON of home-grown talent.
I remember seeing a young man who would later become known as Cedric the Entertainer. I remember being amazed at how quick and funny the late JP Mack was. I remember thinking that Dan Chopin, the MC, was a hundred times funnier than whoever was headlining that night. (I think it was Michael Winslow-- the sound effects guy from the Police Academy movies.)
It took me a while, and a lot of living, before I found my comedy footing. Starting out, I wrote a lot of hack material. It was the early 90’s and PMS jokes and airplane food hadn’t become cliches yet.
But I remember the moment it hit me that I could do it. The headliner that night was Pat Paulsen. Pat Paulsen, for you young kids, was not only a very funny comedian, but also a regular on the groundbreaking Smothers Brothers TV show who regularly ran for president in several mock campaigns. He was also a guest on The Monkees, but that’s a whole other story.
Paulsen was the headliner that night and he was, up to that point, the biggest star I had ever met. I angled my way over to hang out with him before he went on and, as I was a waiter, I got him a drink and a sandwich. And he asked me, “Hey, what’s something around here the locals make fun of.”
I gave him a line I had written. He smiled.
Then, he walked out on the Funny Bone West Port stage and OPENED with my line. Not only did he get a laugh, but he got applause.
I was hooked.
I won’t tell you the line because, now that Pat’s gone (he died in 1997), I stole the line back from him.
And at that moment, I became another in the long line of comedians with St. Louis roots. Red Foxx, Dick Gregory, Phyllis Diller, Stooge Joe Besser, John Goodman and of course, Todd Akin.
Here’s a clip of the great Pat Paulsen.
See you next time, St. Louis.