a peek at another extraordinary Monterey Peninsulan who will
appear in my forthcoming book StarWords:
Comedian/author Larry Wilde, who has interviewed all the world’s
greatest comedians, never says die. Like a tick on a mule deer,
he pursued an interview with (the late) Johnny Carson, who
finally relented, and even featured him on the “Tonight Show”
several times. Reared in a rat-infested tenement, and teased for
being Jewish, laughter was Wilde’s ticket out. Along the way, he
has sold 12 million books and counting. Through laughter, he
continues to heal himself and others from rejection (endemic to
the comedian), disappointment and heartache.
Blues Buster Larry Wilde is Unstoppable
boss is on the warpath again and you’re cringing. The doctor
just diagnosed you with heart disease. The bedtime horror books
you’re reading are giving you nightmares. Who ya gonna call?
Why, blues buster Larry Wilde, that’s who. He’ll enliven your
miserable workplace with a humor-filled speech. Or, read one of
his 53 humor books, some of them best-sellers.
Wilde, with book sales over 12 million and dubbed “America’s
best-selling humorist” by The New York Times, looks more like a
Fortune 500 CEO than a wild and crazy guy.
But the look must serve him well when he encourages execs from
such corporations as AT&T, Hewlett Packard, and Bank of America
to lighten up.
He’s appeared on “The Tonight Show,” the “Today Show,” “The Mary
Tyler Moore Show” and dozens of national commercials. His
credits include a 30-year career as stage and TV actor; stand-up
comedian; university instructor; and motivational humorist.
He has also founded The Carmel Institute of Humor and National
Humor Month, which starts on April Fool’s Day.
You were born in Jersey City, delivered papers at age 8 and
shined shoes. Was it a hard life?
A: When you consider I was sent into the basement to get wood
for meals, and rats larger than cats scared the hell out of me.
That’s what you get growing up in tenements. But I did all the
things kids did when I was young. I also helped support the
Q: Were you teased about anything as a kid?
A: Yes. About being Jewish. My real first name is Herman. They
called me Hymie, Heinie and any of the other names they called
Jewish boys and a member of a minority.
Q: Did your teachers punish you for moronic antics?
A: I was the class comic at the University of Miami. Actually, I
had many teachers who appreciated a break from seriousness. The
class would roar. I performed in clubs and hotels, helping to
work my way through school.
Q: Why do we laugh at anal-retentive jokes and bathroom
scenes such as in “Dumb and Dumber”?
A: It’s part of the human comedy, the broad spectrum of humor.
We laugh because it’s something everybody can identify with,
whether rich or poor. It’s one of a handful of subjects where,
if you do a joke on it, most people will laugh if it’s not
Q: Timing is everything in comedy, right?
A: Probably the comedian best known for his timing was Jack
Benny. He was my idol. When I did stand-up comedy, I did
self-deprecating humor like he did. When I interviewed him, he
talked about timing. He said it was his delivery. He spoke
slowly, paused for emphasis and had wonderful rhythm.
Q: Describe a time you totally bombed as a stand-up comedian
or speaker. Ever had food thrown at you?
A: I once did a program at a winery where salesmen got to the
winery for dinner late. The bus had been held up and they’d been
served more drinks. By the time I was introduced, they were out
of their skulls. They began throwing bread and rolls at me and
all around the room. I looked up and said, “Was it something I
said?” I’d only said, “Good evening everybody.” There are times
in the career of every comedian that you bomb. It’s intangible.
You can’t understand it. It’s a night in which you are incapable
of communicating with that particular audience.
Q: You’ve headlined with such stars as Ann-Margaret, Debbie
Reynolds and Pat Boone. Ever get the hook for staying on too
long before they appeared?
A: When you work the clubs in Vegas, a digital clock counts
down, and if you’re not getting off, the lights go out. Every
routine I did, I timed at usually 5 to 5½ minutes. On TV, they
never wanted a routine longer than 6 minutes.
Q: Are CEOs the hardest group to please?
A: No. Accountants, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and
people under 35 are the hardest. Kids haven’t lived. They don’t
know about mortgages and divorces. My best audiences are over 45
Q: The U.S. Library of Congress has requested the original
tapes of the interviews you did with the 17 comedians, including
Woody Allen, for your first book, “Great Comedians Talk about
Comedy.” Is Allen overcompensating for depression?
A: If you’ll substitute “comedians” for Allen, I’ll answer,
because comedians are under the constant pressure of making
people laugh. It can be depressing, stressful and agonizing at
the thought of being rejected. I once had lunch with Jack Benny
and he says, “Larry, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me
two nights ago. The audience didn’t laugh for the first five
minutes. I couldn’t figure it out.” Comedians are serious
people. They don’t necessarily have a sense of humor. They are
wrapped up in what it takes to make people laugh, and that
concern sometimes prevents them from laughing themselves. My
interview with Jerry Lewis was a blockbuster, and I caught him
on a day when he was very depressed.
Q: What do the comedians you interviewed have in common?
A: They’re intelligent, self-educated, students of human nature
with a sense of what people would laugh at and what was best for
them to make fun of. And a wonderful self-awareness. Those were
the common characteristics and the achieving of their great
success. Comedy is one of few subjects that few people know
anything about. Jimmy Durante, one of the most lovable, kind men
in show business, wasn’t able to talk about comedy. He just did
it naturally. But Woody Allen broke down, step by step, the
writing of a comedy routine.
Q: What part of yourself have you healed with humor?
A: Rejection, disappointment, heartache, failure, all of the
human negatives that we have to overcome in order to go ahead
with our lives and succeed. Plus, I have a very happy, 26-year
marriage to Maryruth . . . And I’ve done 23 TV commercials for
which I’ve auditioned at least 150 times. How about the
rejection of the other 127?
Q: How does one “found” April’s National Humor Month, as you
did in ’76?
A: It occurred to me that most people didn’t recognize the value
of laughter, even though Reader’s Digest came up with “laughter
is the best medicine.” I contacted Chase’s calendar, they
included it, and then it spread and picked up around the country
. . . Many senior residence homes have joke-telling contests and
they watch funny movies; in hospitals it’s a month where nurses
may wear funny hats or costumes, etc. It starts with April
Q: Regarding your latest book, “When you’re up to your
Eyeballs in Alligators,” when does this apply to you?
A: Unfortunately, I’m overly sensitive, so it’s when a publisher
turns down an idea, a booking doesn’t come through, or any time
my feelings are hurt or I’m disappointed.
Q: Can you sum up your life philosophy?
A: Rafael Sabatini said, “What makes life worth living? To be
born with the gift of laughter. And a sense that the world is
Universal Update: Humorist
and humanitarian, Wilde now gives motivational talks for health
care organizations and other venues across the country. He has
just written a two- act, one-man play called, “It only Hurts
when I Laugh.” “It’s a funny, hysterical account of how not
to become a household name in show biz,” he said, in his
jocular way, in a recent phone conversation.