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Quotable Notables:  EXTRA! Inspiration

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Here is a peek at another extraordinary Monterey Peninsulan who will appear in my forthcoming book StarWords:

Stardust Inspiration: 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

Your 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.

Q: 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 family.

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 offensive.

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 till death.

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 Fool’s Day.

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 mad.”

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.



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