Some friends and I decided to crash the Comedy Palace on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard to check out the comedians. We talked our way into the club and I somehow ended up backstage with a few of the comics performing that night.
There wasn’t a backstage area or green room that you’d imagine for the talent; it was just someone’s office. Sitting on the desk was a baby’s pacifier and one of the comedians held it up and made a joke about it.
I spoke with Sean Kelly, whom I’d seen perform before. I was impressed with the variety of accents he did and how he worked the crowd.
Chip Franklin, who does the morning show for KOGO 600, was roaming around. He got a phone call from his son, and we talked about what it’s like raising teenagers. When he said something that made me laugh, I wondered if comedians should avoid being funny right before a set to save it for the stage.
Since Franklin had written jokes for Leno and Letterman, I asked him about the writers’ strike. He said that he has a brother-in-law who was making a lot of money as a writer, but that he’s now in danger of losing his house because of the strike. Many of the writers who voted to strike, he said, aren’t regular working writers. They may have sold only one screenplay in their career, which, Franklin suggested, made it easier for them to strike — they had nothing to lose.
I told them about two comediennes who quizzed me on female comics before a radio show I was to be interviewed on. The women were bothered by the fact that most of the ones I was familiar with were from the ’80s and ’90s. They said how much more difficult it was for women to make it in that business. We ended up having an argument that made it on the air.
Coincidentally, when I went out to the club for food, I bumped into comic Dangerous Dick; he was the one interviewing me and the female comedians when we had the argument. I had never seen him perform live, and he said, “Hey, I’m opening this show, so don’t expect much.”
He performed a funny set, though. One of his bits involved stopping a cop to sign a fix-it ticket he got. Dick explained that he pulled up behind a cop car and flashed his headlights. And when the officer pulled over, Dick walked up to the car and said to the cop, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” He ended the bit saying, “They don’t like that very much.” But the crowd did.
When I ran into Franklin, he told me that he is from Washington, D.C. and that he’s owned comedy clubs over the years. “I’ve booked people like Martin Lawrence, Bill Maher, Kevin James, and Ray Romano. Many slept on my couch, borrowed my car, and never returned a call once they made it big. That’s okay. I would’ve blown them off as well.”
When the discussion turned to problems with bookings, Franklin had a few gems. “There was this one show with Kevin Pollack, who we had booked for little money. Then A Few Good Men came out, and he was huge. Well, his agent wanted more money, but we had a deal. And a good lawyer. So we expected this huge attitude. But he showed up and was a real pro. He actually hung out at the end of his show calling people’s answering machines and pretending to be Jack Nicholson.”
Another incident involved Marc Price, who played Skippy on Family Ties. I told Franklin how Price came into the radio station I worked at in the early ’90s, and he was nice. I was shocked when Price asked me if there was a place in town known for having prostitutes. I said, “Uh, yeah. El Cajon Boulevard.” He wrote that down. He then asked about a place known for having a large gay population. I told him Hillcrest. He also wrote that down. I saw that night that he used the information for bits on stage.
Franklin’s experience with Price didn’t go as well. He told me, “He was a horrible comic. He would get drunk and hit on female customers and always be late for the show. He once skipped out on the late Saturday show after already being paid. It was only $500 bucks, but still... Revenge is sweet. A year later, I booked him at a club in Chicago. Sent him the contract and itinerary and said I couldn’t wait to see him. For the first time in his life, he arrived on time. Did I mention that I never had a club in Chicago?”
I was surprised to find that comedians have some of the same stories rock stars have. Franklin, who told me he had opened on tours with Chicago and the Ramones, once walked in on Jerry Lee Lewis in the bathroom. Lewis was using the sink to, uh, not wash his hands.
Franklin saw Joey Ramone autographing a woman’s tongue. And he got to open for Warren Zevon, who he was a big fan of. We spent a few minutes talking about Zevon and our favorite songs of his.
An African-American comedian named Lamont got on stage and sarcastically thanked everyone for “keeping the applause going until I got five feet from the stage.” When we started applauding again, he said, “It’s too late! But, hey, I’ve never heard of you either.”
The club was packed, but I was surprised at the conversation I heard coming from tables. It was distracting, but sometimes the comedians knocked on the talkers.
Some patrons who’d had too much to drink thought that they were part of the show. When one comedian told us that he was from Cleveland, he added, “We have a motto. What happens in Cleveland...is a lie. Nothing happens there.” That joke was interrupted by a woman who finished the sentence with the incorrect anticipated punchline: “...stays in Cleveland.”
When Kelly got on stage, he talked at first to all the “baldies” in the crowd. He had a lot of energy and the room dug it. You could see that people in the front rows were nervous, as Kelly picked people out and started talking with them.
When someone heckled him from a back table, he joked about them being from Lakeside and said that people there “close escrow on their house at the DMV.”
Franklin’s act was hysterical. One of his bits was about how at his age, when he sees a Playboy centerfold and her date of birth, he thinks, “I wonder what her mom looks like.” I couldn’t believe he could keep us laughing through such a long set. I think he was on stage close to 45 minutes.
I ran into Kelly, who was rushing to get out of there. He’d just flown into town that day from Phoenix, where his mother-in-law had passed away. He seemed sad. He told me he had to catch a plane back to Phoenix.
“How could you do comedy under those circumstances?” I asked him.
“Yeah, it’s hard. I almost missed this show.”
Editor's note: Sean Kelly is a sales consultant to the Reader. Josh Board has appeared on Chip Franklin's radio show on KOGO 600 AM.
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