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Once an Ad Lib, Always an Ad Lib

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.

Fear the Comedy Club Owner

Naïve me didn’t realize the power a comedy club owner wields until the day I walked into the post office in Hawaii Kai.

Charlotte and I had just moved from Hawaii Kai to Kaneohe and were having a little trouble with our mail forwarding. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I wrote a note to the postmaster, stuck it in a Honolulu Comedy Club business envelope, and wrote the word “Postmaster” on it. My plan was the next time I drove by the post office in Hawaii Kai I would drop it off. Simple enough.

So I thought.

Standing in line. My turn. I walked up to the counter and handed the girl the envelope. “Please give this to the postmaster.” And the girl said…

“I can’t do that without a stamp.”

“I’m sorry?” I responded, “Not sure I follow.”

She said, “I can’t give this to him without a stamp.”

Stunned, I replied, “I’m not mailing it. I’m dropping it off. I did the driving.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” she persisted.

After pondering my options for a moment, I slowed my voice down and said, “I would like to see the postmaster. Can you please get him for me?”

She disappeared. When she returned, I’ll be a horned toad, she took my letter – without the stamp.

The following day I got a call from the postmaster letting me know he had resolved the mail forwarding problem. Very nice man, obviously enjoyed his job, enjoyed helping people. Before hanging up… should I, shouldn’t I… Eh, what the heck. Before hanging up I decided to tell him the story.

“By the way, did your girl at the counter tell you what I had to go through to get my note into your hands?”

She hadn’t. So I took the liberty of laying out the sequence of events. When I finished my story I could sense a range of emotions flying through the phone. The good postmaster’s response was a combination of shock, embarrassment, humor, and fear. It was the fear that took me by surprise.

Shock in that his girl wasn’t following policy, but rather trying to establish a new postal policy on the fly. Embarrassment by the sheer stupidity of it. Humor in that he had already been considering writing a book about all of the insane things he had seen in his postal career and this one was near the top of the list. But fear?

The kindly postmaster knew I owned the comedy club in Waikiki due to my letterhead, and he assumed I had ultimate power over the stage and microphone, as well as connections with media. He knew what comedians could do with stories like these. And he feared.

I, on the other hand, had no clue I had any of these powers. But I guess… maybe…

We had a good laugh. I’m pretty certain he’s retired by now so it’s probably safe to tell the story. Clearly not his fault… but girl, if you’re reading this… we’re watching you.

The Day I Didn’t Meet Bob Newhart

As we were walking out of the Kula Lodge restaurant in Maui’s Upcountry yesterday, I noticed a family standing by the fireplace waiting to be seated. A grandpa, a teenage grandson, and a few people in between.

Bob Newhart

As I passed, I saw Grandpa smile at his family. I stopped, slightly stunned. I know that smile. I shook my head and kept on walking.

As we got to the lobby, Charlotte, who was a few paces behind me like the good Muslim woman she is not, whispered excitedly to me, “Hey, that looked like that comedian… actor… I can’t remember his name.”

So she saw it, too! It’s gotta be. “You mean Darrell and his other brother Darrell?” I said.

“Yes, exactly!”

“Yup, that’s Bob Newhart,” I answered.

What a day! It had started with a horseback ride at Triple L Ranch a few miles south of Ulupalakua, continued with a wonderful wood fired pizza and killer view, and if it couldn’t get any better, I just encountered a living legend.

I’m feeling it in my bones. Share. “Hey kid,” I whispered to my teenage daughter, “See the guy in the baseball cap? He’s one of the most famous stand-up comedians and actors ever.”

“Really?” She doesn’t know the name Bob Newhart when I tell her, but all the same she’s impressed. She’s smart enough to know that a star is a star whether she knows him or not.

So we’re hanging out in the lobby waiting for Mom to emerge from the lua. I killed some time by skimming through a magazine. Saw a picture of Mick Fleetwood who lives Upcountry in Kula. I came of age on Fleetwood Mac. So here I am, in the same restaurant as Bob Newhart and standing probably within three miles of Mick Fleetwood’s home. Boy, if this ain’t heaven…

“Let’s go to the art gallery,” I said to Ariel.

We went downstairs to the Curtis Wilson Cost Gallery. The nice lady there greeted us. I couldn’t help myself. “I think Bob Newhart is in the restaurant upstairs.”

“Are you sure it was Bob Newhart?” she asked me.

I replied, “Honestly, no. But when he smiled… I know that smile.”

“Did he look older than you expected?”

“Yes.”

“Then it was probably him,” she said with a knowing wink.

Went back upstairs to the lobby. Bob walks by me to go to the lua. We nodded at each other as random gentlemen acknowledging each other’s presence. Out of respect, I didn’t say anything to him, like thanking him for the thousands of laughs he has given me through the years, and, I assume, out of respect he didn’t say anything to me about the thousands of laughs I have given others by hiring stand-ups like him through the years. I let him enjoy his anonymity and his family and he let me enjoy mine.

Charlotte joins us in the lobby. “Bob’s in the bathroom,” I inform her.

And as the wonderful, classy woman my wife has been for nearly 25 years, she says, “You should go to the bathroom, too. Then you can say you took a crap with Bob Newhart!”

No thanks, I’ll pass. But God, I love that woman.

Mick Fleetwood

That night, several hours later, we went to Lahaina to see the amazing Ulalena show at the Maui Theatre. On my way to get the car I came face to face with Mick Fleetwood.

Charlotte didn’t believe me. I dropped her off with instruction to walk around the corner and look for tall guy, white pants, gray beard, gray ponytail, aloha shirt, lei, and British accent. And there he was.

That was yesterday. This morning I watched Legally Blonde II on TV with Ariel. “Hey kid,” I say. “See the guy next to Reese Witherspoon wearing the cap?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“That’s Bob Newhart.”

Bob Newhart and Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde II

“Ah,” she said, “so he is a star!”

Most of you know Bob Newhart from his starring roles on TV, but you might never have seen his brilliant stand-up. YouTube “Bob Newhart stand up” and take your pick. Or enjoy the clip below from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, circa late 1960’s.

Bob Newhart on YouTube

“Okay, Let Me Have It”

I take no credit for Bo Irvine’s comedic talent. That came from Above. Suggesting what direction to go with that talent? Well, I’ll take a few points for that.

Bo and I usually drove into the Comedy Club in Waikiki together since we both lived in Kailua. It’s only 25 minutes in the car over the Pali, not enough time on our drive home to go over everything he did on stage that was right and wrong. So for the sake of his enjoyment, we would just focus on what he did that was wrong. It was a ritual that did wonders for our friendship.

I mean, heck, what he did that was right was not up for debate. Joke by joke, bit by bit, the audience’s votes are instantaneously tallied by the laugh meter. No need to run down that scorecard. Bo is a humble guy and there was no need to tempt him, no need for his head to start swelling unnecessarily.

Our discussions were about refinement. To steer his amazing raw talent in a direction that would enable him to have his own headline show in Waikiki some day. Cruise ships. Conventions. National television. Travel the world doing comedy.

It’s about more than Bo Being Funny. It’s about Bo being The Right Kind of Funny.

Money-Funny. Being funny where the money is. Entertaining locals – absolutely. Bo Namolokama Irvine is a Native Hawaiian. He mokes out with the best of’em. We’ve got that down. Check.

The challenge was to find our way to a unique place in the world of comedy entertainment in Hawaii, a level to which no performer had yet achieved. Ours was a long term plan and fortunately, time was our friend. There was no rush.

Bo Irvine would entertain visitors – not as easy as it sounds. He would bring aloha to their vacations via stand-up comedy, capturing their experiences in Hawaii from a visitor’s perspective. And then relate to them how a Hawaiian fares when he leaves the safe confines of his Hawaiian archipelago and ventures over to their neighborhoods on the mainland.

Which brings me back to our post-show ritual – one moment in particular.

The scene: Honolulu Comedy Club, Ilikai Hotel, Waikiki. Capacity 172, all seats full. Bo Irvine’s on the bill. He kills. Slaughters. There’s screaming. It’s a frenzy.

Show’s over. Bo stands near the exit to make himself available should anyone want to come over and shake hand, which pretty much everyone does, especially on this night.

“You were great.”

“We loved you.”

“You’re the best.”

“I can’t believe how funny you are.”

“Where did you come from?”

“How come I’ve never heard of you?”

Ad nauseum. On and on. I’m getting sick. 172 of these over a very long 10-15 minutes.

Last person leaves. The door shuts. Bo turns, looks at me and says, “Okay, let me have it.”

Let him have it? Like I’m going to find fault in perfection? There is no checklist to go down this night.

He’s arrived. Yes, he has definitely arrived.

Bo Namolokama Irvine headlines the Comedy Polynesia show every Wednesday and Saturday in at the Hawaii Comedy Theater, Sheraton Princess Ka’iulani Hotel in Waikiki. On Tuesdays, he’s at the Hale Koa Hotel: High & Right Comedy Night with Bo Irvine & Friends.

Had you been here two weeks ago, you could have seen him perform on the Norwegian Cruise Lines as it sailed between Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai.

Earlier this year He was performing at U.S. military bases in Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, and Bahrain.

His own headline show in Waikiki? Check. Cruise ships? Check. Conventions, National television? Check, check. Travel the world doing comedy? Check.

He’ll say that to me every once in a while with a sarcastic smirk. “Okay, let me have it.” Nope. The tables have flipped. Teacher is now student. And he rubs it in.

Redd Foxx In 3rd Row!

Of all the things to do in Waikiki, on this particular night the correct answer was the Honolulu Comedy Club.

“Bo,” I breathed with excitement into the phone. “Redd Foxx is sitting in our club right now. 3rd row.”

Powerless. Helpless. Bo Irvine was headlining at our Turtle Bay comedy gig on Oahu’s North Shore and was too far away to hele back into town to meet his idol. I knew Redd Foxx was on the top of Bo’s list, because a year or two prior to this we had a minor disagreement over the subject of Redd Foxx.

What happened was I had set Bo up for his first press interview with the Honolulu Advertiser. Cool. The next day I find myself reading in the paper that his comedy idol is none other than Redd Foxx. Not cool.

“Are you kidding me?” I whined at him. “Redd Foxx? REDD FOXX?? What the heck were you thinking!

Bo was bewildered. “Because the reporter asked me who my comedy inspiration was and I answered the question.”

“Truth has nothing to do with what you say to a reporter!”

“What’s wrong with Redd Foxx?” he asked, still not knowing where I was coming from.

“Well, nothing’s wrong with him. Great comedian. Legendary comedian. But he’s blue. Blue comedian. Very R rated. You’re not an R rated comic, but if you tell everyone Redd Foxx is your comedy idol everything might get the mistaken impression that you are trying to emulate him.  To be Redd Foxx.  To be R.  Bo Irvine is R.  But you R not R!”

“I was just telling the truth.”

He just doesn’t get it. Or maybe I’m the one not getting it. Yes, tell the truth. But no law says you have to tell the Whole Truth unless you’re in a court of law and your hand’s on the Book.

The reason this came up was because a few minutes ago I was on the phone with a very nice gentleman who works with a program that airs on MTV and also happens to be Redd Foxx’s grandson. He is working on starting a show in Las Vegas show at the hotel for which I am the entertainment consultant. I asked him a question that had been nagging me. “For years I’ve been telling people that Redd Foxx was in the audience at our comedy club in Honolulu six weeks before he passed away, that he was on his honeymoon. Do I have my facts right?”

I’d always been concerned that I dreamed this up. I’m in show business and delusion is contagious. I like knowing I have both feet on the ground. Besides, I distinctly remember calling Bo who raced back to Waikiki after his show was over but to no avail. Too late. Redd was gone.

Fact check: Green light, positive. Redd did honeymoon in Hawaii just before he passed away. Note to self: No senile yet.

I never did ask Bo if he cut a few minutes off his stand-up show that night at Turtle Bay to get back in time to meet his comedy inspiration. Bo always tells me the truth and I didn’t want to know. Do not shave points off the show to meet an idol. The truth? I can’t handle the truth.

Factoid: Redd Foxx’s real name was John Elroy Sanford. I never knew that!

Okay folks… If you can stomach blue R rated stand-up, which has NO relationship whatsoever to what Bo Irvine does on stage, here a link for ya: Redd Foxx