Wednesday, May 17, 2006

SOUPY SALES got kids to look up to him

In 1991, one of my local newspaper's assigning editors had an obsession with stand-up comics. He loved getting them into the newspaper at every opportunity. Since Allentown is one of the Paphlagonia's of our great nation, this often meant going to the usual dives to watch people under dire circumstances. One terrible experience occurred when a local promoter booked a comedy night into a gay bar known as Jeff's City Line Pub without making it clear to the talent the nature of the place. What ensued could not be accurately reported in the newspaper when the first comedian onstage reeled off twenty minutes of four-letter-word anti-homosexual humor. At first the audience was in shock. Then it started retaliating with jeers. The comic, who was thick, didn't realize for most of his act that his audience was predominantly gay. He assumed they were just heckling him for sport. Subsequently, the place exploded and the night was ruined. Every comic that came after him -- there were another three -- did terribly, since their nerves had been shredded by the opener, too.

Another journeyman's night out was furnished by Howie Mandel, the semi-celebrity host of the horrible TV show, "Deal or No Deal." In Bethlehem, at the local university's athletic arena, Mandel was a dreadful. He had no routine and his shtick simply involved spitting out whatever came into his head. Since his wife had apparently recently been in the hospital with a pregnancy, he regaled the audience about a nurse asking her if she wanted an enema. It was not quite a laff riot. Much of the rest of the show had him witlessly asking people in the front row what their names were and then insulting them.

There were two things at the newspaper that could be dependably counted upon to result in threadbare entertainment and antagonizing interviews. Stand-up comics were one. Local blues bands were another. There were way too many of both.

But one comic from the old school was perfect. Soupy Sales. He was generous of spirit, funny and endured with grace stupid claims and questions about the myths which adorned his reputation.

(September 1991, abridged) Soupy Sales, the unforgettable character of comedy, the man who was drummed off the air by the FCC when an anonymous harridan complained to the agency after a New Year's Eve broadcast in which Sales asked the children to sneak into their parents' bedrooms, collect all the green paper with people's faces on it and send it to him.

Put your roller skates on the stairs, kids
"That was broadcast at 7 in the evening. How many parents do you know that are already asleep then? It was just the case of a humorless station-owner getting worried," said Sales.

"Hey, if I'd gotten any money from that, I wouldn't be talking to you. I'd own the paper!"

And what about the time, Soupy, that my editor said he saw you do the routine where you wrote the letter "F" on the chalkboard [for White Fang who saw only "K" and you said "When I see 'F' you see...]

"You tell him he never saw that," Soupy interrupts. "You know, I never said that when I went to the ballgame I kiss my wife on the strikes and she kisses me on the [balls]."

"We weren't allowed to do that. You can't be that dumb and be in this business."

What about Gilbert Gottfried's "Pee Wee and masturbation rap" at the Emmy's?

"That was in bad taste. There is a difference between being in the club where people are smoking and drinking and a primetime television audience. But, you know the way the Emmy's are, everybody forgets in two weeks."

"But with PeeWee, everybody thinks you can get away with anything in the 90's. The fact is, people do not like their children following perverts. It was stupid.

"I grew up in the south and it is not so liberal there. People say, 'Didn't the cops have anything better to do?' Well, that's the way it is.

"By the way, you know why you don't see Pee Wee around much anymore?"

Duh, I dunno. Why?

"He's got his hands full."

"How can parents get their kids to look up to them?" Sales finally asked.

Gee, Soupy, I don't know.

"Stand in front of the television set."

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