The Coolest People in Comedy: 250 Anecdotes


  • Whoopi Goldberg has had excellent success as an actress. When Stephen Spielberg told her that he wanted her to make her film-acting debut in his movie The Color Purple, she was happy. In fact, she says, “My teeth caught cold ’cause all I could do was grin.” However, she did have to think about appearing in the movie. At first, she thought that Mr. Spielberg wanted her to play a small role, but instead he wanted her to play a major role. But she did not think about it for long. She realized that this was Mr. Spielberg wanting her to be in his movie, so she thought, Wake up, stupid. Say yes. She did say yes, and she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar but did not win. Later, she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Ghost — and won. In her acceptance speech, she said that she had been practicing making an acceptance speech for an Oscar since she was a little girl, and she joked, “My brother’s sitting out there, saying, ‘Thank god, we don’t have to listen to her anymore.’”[1]
  • On The Drew Carey Show, Mimi Bobeck, played by Kathy Kinney, became a breakout character and Ms. Kinney became a major co-star, although Mimi was originally conceived as a minor character. Mimi, known for her outrageous makeup and clothing and hatred for all things Drew, owes a lot to Ms. Kinney, who is able to make funny many actions that seem to lack funniness. For example, in one scene, she had to obey the direction, Mimi hands an envelope to Drew. But instead of merely handing the envelope to Drew, first Ms. Kinney coughed on it. Ms. Kinney says, “In that moment, Mimi was born.”[2]
  • Actresses sometimes have love scenes in movies, and some actresses find these scenes difficult to do. Ellen DeGeneres once was asked to do a lesbian love scene with Sharon Stone in an Anne Hecht-directed segment of HBO’s If These Walls Could Talk 2. Ms. DeGeneres at first did not want to do the scene, but she gave in after Ms. Hecht pointed out, “I’ve made out with some weasels [on film], and I got you Sharon Stone!”[3]
  • When Chris Rock made the movie Nurse Betty with veteran actor Morgan Freeman, he would sometimes overact. Mr. Freeman had an interesting way of showing Mr. Rock that he was overacting: Mr. Freeman would overact, too, and Mr. Rock knew that he had to start acting instead of overacting.[4]


  • Back when vaudeville was alive and well, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel were performing together. Mr. Cantor made an ad-lib that got a big laugh, and then Mr. Jessel made an ad-lib that got an even bigger laugh. Not knowing anything to say to get a bigger laugh than Mr. Jessel, Mr. Cantor took off a shoe and hit Mr. Jessel on the head with it. Upset, in part because of the huge laugh that Mr. Cantor had gotten by hitting him, Mr. Jessel started complaining to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, this so-called grown-up man, whom I have the misfortune to be working with, is so lacking in decorum, breeding, and intelligence, that when he was unable to think of a clever retort he had to descend to the lowest form of humor by taking off his shoe and striking me on the head. Only an insensitive oaf would sink so low.” Mr. Cantor had the perfect response to Mr. Jessel’s speech. He hit Mr. Jessel on the head with his shoe again.[5]
  • Being an insult comedian has its advantages. Comedians Don Rickles and Joan Rivers performed together in Miami, Florida. A Florida judge asked, “Mr. Rickles, why don’t you come have lunch and play golf tomorrow?” If he had asked Ms. Rivers, she would have politely replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I have a prior family engagement and I can’t get out of it, but thank you.” Mr. Rickles, on the other hand, is an insult comedian, so he replied, “Listen: One, I’m leaving town. Two, you’re a putz. You’re loud, obnoxious, incredibly boring, and I wouldn’t play golf with you because I don’t live here and you couldn’t fix a ticket. No.” What was the judge’s response to being insulted by a famous insult comedian? He laughed.[6]
  • Comedian Joey Bishop was quick with an ad-lib and with a joke. One evening he was performing in a nightclub when glamorous actress Marilyn Monroe came in wearing very expensive furs. Mr. Bishop said to her, “Marilyn, I told you to sit in the truck.” And after he got a small part in the movie The Naked and the Dead, he told an audience, “I played both parts.” Mr. Bishop didn’t mind making fun of his good friend Frank Sinatra, who did mind when people other than Mr. Bishop made fun of him. Mr. Bishop once said about his good friend, “Frank regularly calls Dial-A-Prayer to pick up his messages.”[7]
  • One of stand-up comedian Greg Dean’s students made the mistake of rehearsing her act silently instead of out loud, with the result that, as Mr. Dean had predicted, she forgot her act when she got up in front of a nightclub audience. Fortunately, she maintained a playful attitude and got a few laughs ad-libbing a few jokes about forgetting her act. When Mr. Dean yelled out a few words to remind her of the topic of one of her funniest bits, she got a laugh by saying to him, “Thanks, Greg, now I have to stay up here and actually do my show.”[8]
  • On Jack Benny’s radio show, Virgil Reimer, the show’s sound-effects man, ran into a problem. A telephone was supposed to ring on the show, and he had just discovered that the machine that was supposed to make the sound of a telephone had weak batteries and wasn’t working. Therefore, Mr. Reimer said into a microphone, “Ding-a-ling-ling.” The audience in the radio studio laughed, and Mr. Benny ad-libbed, “I’ll get it — it sounds like a person-to-person call.”[9]
  • British comedian Danny La Rue performed in drag, and he was very funny. One night, a woman in the audience was annoyed that her boyfriend was paying attention to Mr. La Rue’s performance instead of paying attention to her, so she bared her breasts and told her boyfriend, “Look — these are real.” From the stage, Mr. La Rue said, “Yes, darling, they are — but I can hang mine up when it’s hot!”[10]


[1] Source: Sandor Katz, Whoopi Goldberg, pp. 40-41, 49.

[2] Source: Ann Graham Gaines, Drew Carey, p. 72.

[3] Source: Lisa Iannucci, Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography, p. 56.

[4] Source: Anne M. Todd, Chris Rock, p. 49.

[5] Source: William Donaldson, Great Disasters of the Stage, p. 17.

[6] Source: Aaron Hillis, “Filming the Merchant of Venom.” The Village Voice. 2 October 2007 <,hillis,77940,20.html>.

[7] Source: Richard Severo, “Joey Bishop, ‘Rat Pack’ Comic, Dies at 89.” The New York Times. 19 October 2007 <;. Also: Michael Freedland, “Obituary: Joey Bishop.” The Guardian. 24 October 2007 <,,2197717,00.html>.

[8] Source: Greg Dean, Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy, p. 153.

[9] Source: Robert L. Mott, Radio Live! Television Live!, p. 109.

[10] Source: Peter Underwood, Danny La Rue: Life’s a Drag!, p. 66.


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