Archive for December, 2011
Sometimes you just have to ask.
Our headliner that week, Steve Bluestein, had just delivered one of the most brilliant and daring ad libs ever witnessed on our Honolulu Comedy Club stage, and I had to know. Even from Steve, whose entire act was bantering with the audience, well, this one was over the top.
Bluestein (pronounced “stine,” not “steen,” as I was once and only once corrected) is a gem. He talks to the audience his entire time on stage in an endearing love-hate Rickles-lite kind of way, yet many of the things you hear from show to show are the same. He knows what questions to ask, where to lead the discussion, and has responses for seemingly every type of situation. Us other comics, we just sit back and marvel. The sheer control, the mastery. Off the charts.
But this one evening Bluestein went beyond.
Backstage after the show when our home was at the Top of the Ilikai, long before the Sarentos renovation, I asked about that particular interchange in his set. “Steve, I gotta know. Was that an ad lib?”
Of course when I say “backstage” I really mean “the kitchen.” But using terms like Green Room or Backstage sounds more impressive than Next To The Stainless Steel Commercial Dishwasher.
Steve thought about it for a moment. “Yes and no,” he replied.
I’d better tell you about the ad lib. He asked a question to a random older guy sitting several rows back. He looked like he was in his 70’s. Unexpectedly, the man’s response came with a thick German accent. Steve, whose last name identifies his Jewish heritage, was set to take full advantage. “Oh, a German! And what were YOU doing [looking at his watch] 50 years ago?”
Not waiting for an answer Steve continued, now speaking with his own German accent, “Vot, me? I vus a ski instructor! I had no idea anything vus happening. All I know is that ven I came back a few years later, the bagel shop at the corner? It vus gone.”
Only a Jewish comic can even think of getting away with a line like that, and even so, with great care and precision. Black comics can use the n word; white comics can’t. Only Jewish comics can do Jewish jokes. And, I might add, only Jewish club owners can write about Jewish comics doing Jewish jokes, especially on topics which are taboo to the extreme like this was. I digress.
The laughter was uproarious. There was no uneasiness, no “ooooooh’s.” It was a moment I’ll never forget. But was it an ad lib?
“What do you mean, yes and no?” I asked for clarification.
Steve explained, “Well, I’ve used that line before. A few years ago I had the same situation. There was an older German guy in the audience and I used line then. But back then it was an ad lib.”
Hmmmm… A repeated ad lib. That might be a good question for my Zen Master. Is “repeated ad lib” an oxymoron? If you use an ad lib a second time, is it still an ad lib?
I believe the answer is yes. Most definitely. Once an ad lib, always an ad lib. I’m glad I asked.
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