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Tipping the Balance—Either Way
According to the Talmud, all of us ought to consider the world as being equally divided into good and evil. That way, we will regard our own actions as important. If we act evilly, we will tip the world onto the side of evil and all Humankind will suffer, but if we perform good deeds, we will tip the world onto the side of good, and all Humankind will benefit.
“Don’t A T’ing Like Dis Make Ya Feel Good?”
Comedians Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor were very giving of their time to good causes. On New Year’s Day of 1943, Mr. Durante met Mr. Cantor while taking a walk. “Eddie,” Mr. Durante said, “I’m just thinkin’. This must be a tough time for the guys over there in that hospital. Here it’s New Year’s Day, they’re sick, some of ’em have amputations. What do ya say we go over and entertain?” The two comedians rehearsed for a short time, then entertained at the hospital from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Afterward, Mr. Durante said hoarsely to Mr. Cantor, “Eddie, tell me, don’t a t’ing like dis make ya feel good?”
Stranded in Kent, Ohio
In Kent, Ohio, early in his vaudeville days, W.C. Fields found himself stranded. (At this time, he was still being victimized by tour managers who would abscond with their performers’ salaries.) He had six dollars, sold his coat for two dollars, then went to the railroad station to inquire about the fare to New York. The railroad agent told him that it was just over $10. (Ten dollars in 1894 was the rough equivalent of over $200 in the year 2000.) “Well, I guess I’m stuck,” Mr. Fields said. “I’ve got eight dollars.” The agent asked if he was an entertainer, and on hearing that Mr. Fields was, he said, “People don’t put much trust in you folks, do they?” (At this time, being an entertainer was about as low on the social scale as a person could be.) “We’re used to it,” Mr. Fields said. The agent then gave Mr. Fields $10 and said, “I’ve always wondered what there was to that story. When you get a little ahead, send this back.” That rare act of kindness impressed Mr. Fields so much that he sat on a bench and cried. Two years later, Mr. Fields was finally able to repay the debt. On Christmas Eve, 1896, he sent $20 to the railroad agent ($10 was for “interest”), then he stood in line at a free soup kitchen for a Christmas dinner. After Mr. Fields became a huge success, he looked up the agent, as did other famous show people who learned what the agent had done for Mr. Fields.
Tennis Shoes and a Pink Umbrella
One book that Gilda Radner read and enjoyed was Disturbances in the Dark by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The main female character in the book remembers that when she was a young girl, she, her sister, and her parents would go to the beach. So that the two young girls would always be able to find the beach umbrella their parents were using, her father tied a pair of tennis shoes to the umbrella. The two young girls felt safe and protected when they saw the umbrella with the pair of shoes hanging from it. The night before Gilda underwent her first chemotherapy after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, her husband, Gene Wilder, walked into her hospital room carrying a little pink umbrella to which he had tied some shoes.
My Fellow Bums
While living in New York City, comedian Bill Hicks was shocked by the number of homeless people he saw, and he always left home with change in his pockets to give to the homeless. He pointed out, “I could have been a bum. All it takes is the right girl, the right bar, and the right friends.”
Visiting the Wounded Troops
Comedian Al Franken goes into Veterans Administration hospitals to meet the wounded troops. He thought that it would be very difficult, but he was amazed by how cheerful many of them—including a woman helicopter pilot who had lost most of her left leg and part of her right leg—are. He asked a man with one leg what had happened to him; the man replied, “I came in here for a vasectomy, and when I woke up my leg was gone.” By the way, Mr. Franken says not to thank these wounded veterans for their service to the country—they imitate all the politicians who tell them that. Therefore, Mr. Franken uses humor. When he has a photograph taken with one of these veterans, he writes on the photo, “Thank you for getting grievously wounded.”
“Paid, and Thanks. Danny”
When British comedian Danny La Rue asked fellow entertainer Larry Grayson to entertain at his club while he went on vacation for two weeks, he showed much kindness to Mr. Grayson. First, he showed him his own dressing room and asked if any alterations needed to be made. Of course, everything was excellent. During the first week of Mr. Grayson’s vacation, Mr. Grayson ran up a rather high tab, but when he called for his bill so he could pay it off, he was surprised to be given a bill marked, “Paid, and thank you. Danny.” The next time Mr. Grayson was asked what he wished to be served in his dressing room, he said, “Just a coffee, please,” thinking that he would not run up his tab because Mr. La Rue would pay for it. However, when he was informed that this week he would have to pay his own bill, he ordered what he really wanted: a gin and tonic. At the end of the second week, Mr. Grayson again asked for his bill, and again it came to him marked, “Paid, and thank you. Danny.” Mr. La Rue had known that Mr. Grayson would not order what he wanted and would not run up his bill the second week if he had thought that Mr. La Rue would pay it, so he had left orders for Mr. Grayson to be falsely told that the second week he would have to pay his own bill.
Homeless, Coatless, and Penniless
Before becoming a famous country comedian and star of Hee Haw, Archie Campbell was homeless, coatless, and penniless on a bitterly cold night in Knoxville, Tennessee. After getting thrown out of the bus station where he had fallen asleep, Mr. Campbell started walking in an unsuccessful effort to keep warm. Seeing an all-night restaurant, he went in and stood near a hot radiator. The owner, a Greek named Nick, asked him what he was doing. Mr. Campbell said that he lived nearby (a lie because he had no home), he had forgotten his coat (a lie because he had no coat), and he had dropped in to get warm (not a lie). Nick asked where he lived, and Mr. Campbell answered with the name of the first apartment complex he could think of. Apparently satisfied, Nick invited him to sit in a booth and get warm. Mr. Campbell fell asleep in a booth, and when he woke up, Nick set a huge, hot breakfast in front of him. Mr. Campbell explained that he couldn’t pay for the meal, but Nick said he didn’t have to—he knew that Mr. Campbell was homeless because he lived in the apartment complex that Mr. Campbell had named. After becoming rich and famous, Mr. Campbell made sure to stop in at that restaurant wherever he was in Knoxville.
Comedian and Nurse
Martha Raye was a wide-mouthed comedian who played an important role in Charlie Chaplin’s 1947 black comedy, Monsieur Verdoux. She endeared herself—as did Bob Hope—by performing frequently for United States servicemen. In South Vietnam, her early training as a nurse’s aide came in handy. She arrived on the morning of a day on which there was a big battle. When wounded soldiers started pouring into camp, she put on fatigues and worked as a nurse for 13 hours. After getting some sleep, she worked as a nurse again the next day. For this action, General William Childs Westmoreland recognized her services as both a comedian and a nurse.
In Toledo, Ohio, in the early part of the 20th century, a man named John Mockett ran a clothing store. Every winter, he saw impoverished kids on the street selling newspapers, and if they needed an overcoat, he would give them one. One of the boys to whom he gave an overcoat was Joe E. Brown, who later became a famous comedian.
 Source: Simon Certner, editor, 101 Jewish Stories for Schools, Clubs and Camps, p. 32.
 Source: Eddie Cantor, Take My Life, p. 59.
 Source: Robert Lewis Taylor, W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes, pp. 48-49, 61-62.
 Source: Gilda Radner, It’s Always Something, p. 104.
 Source: Cynthia True, American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story, p. 129.
 Source: Terrence McNally, “Al Franken’s Nutritional Candy.” 11 February 2005 <http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/21239/>.
 Source: Peter Underwood, Danny La Rue: Life’s a Drag!, pp. 36-37.
 Source: Archie Campbell, Archie Campbell: An Autobiography, pp. 47-48.
 Source: Steve Allen, More Funny People, p. 213.
 Source: Joe E. Brown, Laughter is a Wonderful Thing, p. 242.