It was 1981 and I was happy living the life of an early morning telemarketer selling a quarter a million a year gross of office supplies by calling businesses all across the country and offering the purchasing agent a free food processor if they only purchased 20 gross of overpriced ball point pens. Yes, I was a conman. But, “everyone was doing it!”. No excuse, but I was a superstar at it; I’ll admit. Had a very nice apartment, new Beemers every year, dinners at Mussos and Mr. Chow and trips to Hawaii and Aspen. 24 years old. I also ran a weekly open mic for singer/songwriters at a now defunct health food restaurant called (wait for it), The Natural Fudge. Interpret that brown steamy image at will. You see, I was a singer/songwriter back then and the reason I became a singer/songwriter was that I had been a rock n roll drummer throughout both elementary and high school and after graduation the band broke up and everyone went to different universities. It was also because I was a great “Ringo” on the beat drummer, whereas the rest of the band’s musical taste permutated into progressive shit I not only didn’t understand, I hated. Having a very good singing voice and having been in musicals since I was a child, well, I taught myself to play guitar.
The Natural Fudge
Was a crazy kooky place. Right in the middle of the Scientology belt in Hollywood and run by a character named John Roberts, who had a “Satchmo” type raspy voice, a nice veggie restaurant, and a Jew-fro, I booked the talent and hosted the show for the sizable stage riser and we had a regular heavy weekly turnout. I wrote songs and one of them was about the commercialization of violence in America. A singalong. “The Homicide Song” was pure satire (not parody because it wasn’t mocking another song); a tongue in cheek bullet along the lines of Tom Lerher meets Randy Newman. One night, this songwriter who called me from Texas to reserve a spot, Mark Bloodworth, showed up and asked if I’d heard the news about John Lennon. It wasn’t the first time when I felt a weird synchronicity with my creative instincts and the darker real world.
Mostly the performers were light-hearted, talented, and great people. There was one guy – a comic, who came on stage wearing a snare drum. He explained up front that if a joke worked, then we the audience would laugh. If it didn’t, it would be art. He’d tell a very dry joke, it predictably didn’t get a laugh. He’d then “barrum-dum” on his snare, followed by: “That was art“, which was the planned laugh. Genius and it was one of things which immediately hooked me into comedy early on. Never saw him again, but we had regulars, including comedian/impressionist Bob Petrella. Bob was a quiet fellow who did really inventive “mixed impressions” of like Walter Cronkite on the moon. Bob and I became friends but then we lost touch for years until decades later he’s on national television revealing his true identity as one of the handful of humans on Planet Earth who possess “HSAM” or High Superior Autobiographical Memory. You could ask Bob what he did on January 17, 1974 and he’d tell you he woke up late, made breakfast but there were no eggs in the fridge but he turned on the television and hear the news that Madison Square Garden officials announced that all tickets for the 12‐round heavyweight rematch of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on Jan. 28 have been sold and that the Pittsburgh Steelers won against Greenbay by 2 points in overtime.
Shifting from Music to Comedy
I was the host of the evening and really cut my teeth on how to produce a show. I purposely balanced the night between music and comedians and poets and odd novelty acts. And, I would always open the night by performing 2 or 3 of my own songs. Including The Bluebird is Blue, the first song I ever wrote. Before I ran the Fudge, I had done music gigs at the Troubadour, opening for a punk rock band called Kim Wilde, F. Scotts in Venice Beach and The Blah Blah Cafe on Ventura Boulevard, where Al Jarreau started and Rickie Lee Jones played for that matter. I got these music gigs mostly by auditioning for the manager during the day, one on one. Once they heard I could sing, they booked me. It was then on me to bring 40 people to see me. A musical version of the contemporary comedy bringer. The night at the Blah Blah Cafe was a great turnout, but I noticed that a lot of people just tuned out and when I sang my songs, they just talked amongst themselves. Which was doubly annoying because these were invited friends and family. And so I had to do something. When I finished the song, people would applaud, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to throw them.
“Ladies and gentlemen; I’d like to play for you a song I just wrote this morning; I hope you like it.”
I would then, with all serious deliberation begin to play the beginning opening guitar riffs of Stairway to Heaven. BOOM! Laugh. I then played it hard.
“Uh, I don’t know what’s so funny.”
I’d start again and would milk my seriousness for “my song” until I got to the lyrics, which were The Beatles’ Yesterday. More laughs. I’d then go back to my real songs and everyone would be talking again.
So, one night Bob Petrella and another comedian Buck Simmons, tells me I should go down to some place called “The Comedy Store” and audition to get in as a comedian. If I passed the audition, the owner of the club, Mitzi, would give me spots. Just a few years previous I worked the counter at Hollyway Cleaners in West Hollywood, where we’d remove spots and now five years later I’m hoping to get spots. (I’m just trying to keep up folks.)
So, on a Monday in March of the year of our comedy lord 1981, I found myself on line (the old meaning; meaning standing behind and in front of others) and signed up to “do 3 minutes”. When my name was called, all I could think about was when 5 years earlier I went up at The Store, pretending to be President Jimmy Carter and my dad in the crowd trying to help, when after my 30 seconds of material ran out, I said (as Carter): “Any questions?,” which got an unintentional surprising laugh. My dad from the back of the room: “What’d you get Amy for Christmas?” I don’t remember what I said. It was all a disaster and I didn’t even think about becoming a stand-up comic for another 5 years; but there I was, waiting for my name to be called’ then it was time. 3 minutes.
27 Laughs in 4 Minutes
I brought two guitars on stage, told the audience I was really a songwriter and did my Stairway to Heaven bit, which they ate up. Actually, my opening line was: “Thank you. I didn’t know this was ‘comedy’ night!” which immediately got everyone on my side because the 5 comics on before me sucked big weenie. I went on with some material about the “Paul is dead” Beatles theory and how it was related to Opie on The Andy Griffith Show (a bit to this day I feel guilty about because one of my co-workers at the office supply deal, Eddie Serrotta, told me and I have no idea where he got it from), then my “expensive antique guitar” bit whereby I hold a cheap guitar and drop it while I look for a pick and then closed with me just playing one chord, getting the crowd to clap along and the eventual lyrics were: “I only know how to play one chord!” The light came on about 3/4 of the way through, but I was just too into my thang and kept going. 4 minutes, 27 laughs, and I got the first big applause for my version of stand-up comedy.
Over the next five years, I would be one of the regular emcee’s, live at “the house” (which was behind the club and known as “Cresthill”) as well as write for other comedians and for a while, become a doorman and phone guy.
The host, comedian Robert Aguayo, told me to come back the next week and audition for Mitzi. I did, she saw me and hired me on the spot. I was immediately thrown into an incredibly intense world, was given upwards of 2 dozen paid spots a week (including the Sunset club, The Store in Westwood and The Store in La Jolla) and folks. These spots were 15 minutes. I only had 5 minutes of material. And what would happen over that very tough first year would teach me one thing. And that was this. To really make it, you have to rely on the one thing you do that nobody else does or does as well as you do. For me that was my lightening quick interplay with the audience and laser like vanquishing of hecklers. The only question remained. How could I turn that into a successful comedy club act? Every comedian who made it out of the Store had a tight scripted 6 minutes. Although I wrote and sold jokes to the likes of Jimmy Walker, Jay Leno and Arsenio Hall; it was like what uber talent agent Chris Albrecht at ICM would tell me: “Steven Alan Green. You’re one of the funniest people I know, but you have no act.” Chris represented Eddie Murphy at the time and a new up and comer dynamic impressionist named Jim Carrey. Chris would go onto run HBO, turning it into the comedy behemoth it became and there’s an entirely whole crazy story with him I’ll write about another time, when I’m drunk enough.
In the meantime, it would take me a long 5 years of experimentation, pissing people off, trying to fit in, and finally finding that one thing. That one thing which would not only guide me, but open heretofore important locked hidden doors. That one thing came to me all because I did what you were never supposed to do in showbiz.
To be continued.
For Larf Magazine…
…this is Steven Alan Green, July 17, 2018
KEEP LAUGHING OR BE MISERABLE