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.
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.
“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?”
“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.
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?”
“That’s Bob Newhart.”
“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.
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.
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
Bo Irvine and I were discussing hecklers the other day. He loves them. He thrives on them. They lift his show into another stratosphere. Unlike myself, he is able to interact with multiple hecklers remembering their names, jobs and where they’re from – and somehow weave all of their lives together as the show progresses into one complex web of hysteria.
Wait. I really shouldn’t term these audience members as “hecklers.” In Bo’s case, and mine, and many other comics – well, we ask questions of our audience. You’re in my living room and you are my guest. We talk. So when I say “heckler” I am referring to those seemingly unwanted outbursts from certain, oft-times drunk, members of the audience.
It’s a case of an audience member thinking that the comic can use his help. Sure.
Heckling the comic. It’s part of the show, right. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes.
There’s an art to heckling. As an audience member, if you do not have a firm grasp on the art form, it’s probably best not to go there. One of two things will likely happen:
A) The comedian will eat you up alive, or
B) You’ll destroy the show for everyone.
As comedy club owners, when “B” starts happening it’s time to step in. But which one of us should dive into the shark tank? The male comedy club owner or the female comedy club owner? It’s never a coin flip. The answer is always obvious.
If heckler is a female, send the male. Especially a drunk female. If Charlotte or Wanda were to quietly, silently tiptoe-crawl-sneak up to the drunk female hecker’s table so as not to attract any attention whatsoever and whisper ever so gently in her ear, “Please let the comedian control the flow of the show, it would really be appreciated,” she is likely to respond in a very loud voice, “F*** you!” which, frankly, does bring a certain amount of unwanted attention to that side of the room.
There is an unspoken communication between comedian and club owner. It, too, is an art. No game plans are discussed in advance between comedy club owner and comedian. The dynamics are universally understood in our industry. When I hear heckling, I’m in the showroom… watching. Monitoring. Making sure the heckler is a good heckler. That he or she knows what he or she is doing. That it’s helping the show, not hurting. And looking for subtle signs from the comic to measure if he is being frustrated by not being able to go where he wants.
The comic sees me lurking in the back. He knows he’s covered. If I ever feel the heckler is starting to hurt the show more than help, I lock eyes with the comic and give a subtle “Now?” gesture with my hands. He’ll either nod or subtly wave me off. Sometimes I am waved off immediately when he sees me come into view.
Many comics dream of good hecklers. Personally, as a comic I never remember laughs I get that come from my scripted lines, but will play back over and over in my mind the off-the-cuff lines that came out of nowhere in the heat and pressure of the moment.
You can tell when the heckler was good. The comic will seek out the heckler shake his hand. “Thanks for coming.”
And you can tell when the heckler was bad. The heckler seeks out the comic after the show and says, “Weren’t we great?!”
No, we weren’t.
I like heckling, both as an act myself and as a club owner. Canned stand-up can be seen on TV. Live in a comedy club spontaneity rules the day. You can feel the electricity in the air, bursts of energy caused by unplanned, unforeseen circumstances. Add brilliant comedians with brilliant heckling and the result is magic. For both it’s an art.
And Bo? He thrives on it.
Thanks but no thanks for the help, Mr. Hotel Person…
If you are familiar with nightlife in Waikiki, you would know we run the longest and most successful comedy operation in the history of the state of Hawaii. And we’ve done it all by partnering up with the state’s finest hotels, from Waikiki to Kauai to Maui to Kona. I firmly believe one of reason for our success is that we don’t get involved in hotel business! We don’t tell them how to serve food or how to serve beverages. Frankly, we don’t know. They are the experts.
Likewise, another reason for success has been our hotel partners’ understandings that we know comedy, they don’t! They don’t tell us what’s funny and what isn’t, what will work and what won’t.
I would like to share a story about the one (and only one) day when that line of sanctity was crossed. Thank you for the help, Mr. Hotel Person.
We’ll call the helpful hotelier “Roy” and we’ll place the hotel somewhere inside of Waikiki. And it isn’t at our current location working with the wonderful staff at the Sheraton Princess Ka’iulani. No, it was somewhere else.
Roy was new to the hotel. He was their new assistant GM, director of rooms. Roy decided to take in our show. We let Roy and his party in for free, as it was the neighborly thing to do. (Side note to all comedy industry personnel: 99% of all trouble emanates from those who get in for free.)
It was a Tuesday night, opening night for our headliner Brad Stine. (“Hello Brad” if you’re reading this!) The finale of Brad’s act was quite memorable. One of the best closing bits in the biz. The best description of it, however, is not in what Brad does but in how the crowd responds.
His comedy setup is genius. He talks his way through it. Brad is a top flight professional. Yes, he talks… providing a running commentary… while he is snorting sterile surgical thread up his nose. When he’s snorted enough he makes a guttural sound after which appears the surgical thread coming out of his mouth. One end hanging from his nose, the other from his mouth. Thus begins the demonstration of nose floss.
Okay, that’s the less significant part of the explanation. What happens next is where the rubber meets the road. The audience.
It’s a frenzy. Screaming. Very, very loud fits of laughter. People moaning trying to catch their breath. The windows shake. The room is blazing with energy.
It’s The Moment. It’s why we exist. It’s what comedy clubs are all about.
Every single person in the room that night, there were over 100 of them, went out the next day and told every person they knew about what happened and why they had to come to the comedy club in Waikiki while Brad Stine was still in town. It wasn’t a recommendation. It was a requirement of life. An item that should be on everyone’s bucket list if they only knew the item existed. The Taj Mahal, Brad Stine’s Nose Floss.
We know this happened because we got the calls.
There was only one problem.
Roy, Mr. Hotel Person, called me the next day explaining that he felt the nose thing was a little over the top and didn’t think it should be included in this funny man’s act.
Say what? I was stunned. I don’t think people should drink Blue Hawaii’s because blue dye #66 is a known carcinogen, but I’m not about to tell a hotel person this because it is none of my business. Oh but Roy had to make his mark.
It happened once. Once since 1988. The line was crossed and our precious customers were denied. It wasn’t fair.
But only once. Not a bad average I suppose.
But oh how I remember The Once. I think of it every time I see someone get stitched up. And I still say, “G r r r r r r…”