Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"A Cold Case Of Comedy"

This story spans about ten years of my life.

Oh, no.  Not the Stanley Myron Handleman story again.”

“I love that story.  But I’m sure that’s not it.  The man has too much integrity to tell the same story…”

Mentioning Stanley Myron Handleman brings back the story…

“Well, maybe he doesn’t.  It’s still a good story.”

“Yeah, and we can tell it along with him. ‘… of working as a writer…’”

on this Canadian talk-variety series, where they flew up talent from the States for guest appearances on the series.  

Oneof the comedians they brought in was Stanley Myron Handleman.  

I had always appreciated Handleman’s goofy deadpan approach.  Here’s an example I found on the Internet.  

Handleman sets things up by saying that fairy tales are harmful to children because they are not factually true to life.  He then relates his version of “The Princess and the Frog.”  

“The frog says, ‘A wicked witch enchanted me.  Kiss me and I will turn back into a prince.’  So the girl picks up the frog and she kisses him.  And then nothing happens.  And you know why?  Because there’s no such thing as wicked witches and enchanted princes.  It’s just a plain talking frog.”

Anyway, part of my job on the show was to interview the guests, to prepare questions for their subsequent “sit-down” session after they performed.  So here I am, knocking on Stanley Myron Handleman’s Dressing Room door. I’m excited, ‘cause he’s a comedian I admire.    

I go in, introduce myself, and I explain why I’m there.  But before I can go further, he begins telling me a joke.

“There was an article in the paper about this new kind of bread that has a reported ‘shelf-life’ of ‘Forever.’  My uncle read that article.  And from then on, he ate nothing but that bread.  Six months ago, he died.  But to look at him, you’d think he died three months ago.”

I respond positively to his joke when he suddenly goes,

“‘But to look at him, you’d think he was dead three months’.”

Reading the confusion on my face, Handleman explains,

“Which one should I use? ‘You’d think he died threemonth ago’ or ‘You’d think he was dead three months’?”

I immediately feel the pressure.  Simply doing my job, I had inadvertently entered a “Lion’s Den.”  (Otherwise known as “Punchline Purgatory.”)  I had an instinctive idea of which “payoff” he should use, but… I mean, who needs the responsibility?  What if the joke bombed and they said it was my fault?  Risking possible offense, I judiciously demur.

“It’s not for me to decide…”

“I need help!”  ‘But to look at him, you’d think he died three months ago.’   ‘But to look at him, you’d think he’d been dead three months.’  What should I do?”

“I don’t know what to tell you.  I’m here to prepare questions…” 

The man is not listening. As I attempt to research his experience and background, Handleman pursues me around his diminutive Dressing Room. It’s like… 

“Where were you born?”

“‘But to look at him, you’d think he died three months ago.’”

“How long have you been doing ‘stand-up’?”

“‘But to look at him, you’d think he’d been dead three months.’”

“Who were your comedy heroes?”

Ignoring my questions, the crazed comedian relentlessly keeps coming.

“‘But to look at him…’ 

‘But to look at him…’ 

‘But to look at him…’”

I am now cornered, the troubled (and powerfully built) comic threatening my equivocating body.  With a salvaging feint, I (barely) escape the Dressing Room, leaving a suffering Handleman, agonizing over a punchline he would imminently deliver to an adjudicating audience.


Ten or so years later, maybe closer to twelve.  I am now in Los Angeles, my career’s going well, I am married and living by the ocean. 

One Sunday morning, we take a walk by the beach.  I look out… and there, strolling by the water, I spot 

Stanley Myron Handleman. 

Unable not to, I proceed over to the comedian and introduce myself.  Explaining how our paths had once crossed, after receiving permission, I excitedly ask him “The Question.”

“Did you ever get an ending for the ‘bread with a “shelf-life” of “Forever” joke?”

He said yes.

“‘But to look at him, you’d think he died three months ago.’”

(Which is what I’d have told him had I not been so wimpy.)

I thanked him for providing the answer I had waited years to find out.  We then went our separate ways, him perhaps wondering,

“What was that about?”

And me, finally closing the books on a curious, longstanding

“Cold Case of Comedy.”

I never said that before.

“’You know what?  He didn’t.”

“It’s still the same story.” *

(* “Light purple” is sub voce red.) 

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