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The Comedy Survey

America’s favorite comedians answer our questions

Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Charles Schultz, PeanutsSnoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Charles Schultz, Peanuts

Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus from the Charles Schultz comic strip, 'Peanuts,' 1968.

Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty

Who is your favorite cartoon character?

Bob Newhart: Charlie Brown. He has a vulnerability I empathize with.
Catherine O’Hara: Felix the Cat and Popeye. They could change into whatever they wanted.
Chris Rock: Yosemite Sam. He’s so loud and obnoxious he reminds me of some old black guy.
Steven Wright: Road Runner. I admire his energy.
John Waters: The old Walt Disney cartoons, especially the Beagle Boys, a gang of convicts that always tried to rob Uncle Scrooge.
Gilbert Gottfried: The old Max Fleischer cartoons were a lot more imaginative and surreal than anything Disney ever did.
Pee-Wee Herman: When I was little, Popeye was my favorite. I switched some where along the way to Pepe Le Pew. He’s able to be funny and suave at the same time.
Kathy Najimy: Wonder Woman. Most women in cartoons are like Wilma and Betty in The Flintstones, waiting for Fred and Barney to come home. At least Wonder Woman wears a belt instead of an apron.
Harold Ramis: Egon from The Real Ghostbusters.
Scott Thompson: Bugs Bunny. He does drag so convincingly.
Merrill Markoe: Daffy Duck is an underrated physical comedian–all that bouncing, spinning and ricocheting.
Rich Little: Donald Duck. He’s always yelling and getting flustered.
Jerry Seinfeld: The rabbit. It’s all in the attitude.
Spalding Gray: Betty Boop. The first time my girlfriend, Renée, tripped on acid, she saw her mother turn into Betty Boop and couldn’t stop laughing. Now Betty feels like one of the family.
Robert Wuhl: I like the whole fast-talking character of Foghorn Leghorn.
Jon Lovitz: Wimpy, because of the hamburgers.
Richard Belzer: Bugs Bunny, because he was the first real wisecracking, Bob Hope type of thumb-in-the-eye-of-the-establishment character.
Joan Rivers: Any animals by Gary Larson. They’re so weird and far-out and sick and brilliant.
Robert Townsend: The Pink Panther, because he’s cool.


What is your favorite comedy movie?

Garry Marshall: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, with Jacques Tati. It’s a gentle kind of comedy with characters who are just regular people.
Gilbert Gottfried: If Jerry Lewis had made Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, then the people who love it would call it garbage. And if Jacques Tati had made The Errand Boy, everyone would call it a work of art. There has always been a soft spot in my heart for Jerry Lewis, especially since I saw Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, which I thought was total garbage.
Robert Wuhl: Ernst Lubitsch’s original To Be or Not to Be. It’s black comedy, political satire, vaudeville and screwball.
Richard Belzer: Raging Bull, the greatest movie ever written about jealousy–deeply funny in an almost Greek sense.
Bob Newhart: Dr. Strangelove.
Martin Short: Annie Hall.
Steven Wright: Harold and Maude. I identify with Harold.
Pee-Wee Herman: The Laurel and Hardy shorts. I love how angry Hardy gets at Laurel. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World has many incredible moments.
Eric Idle: A good film is one you can bear to watch again–This Is Spinal Tap, Some Like It Hot and many Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness films, particularly Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob.
Harold Ramis: When I was a kid, I thought A Night at the Opera was the funniest movie ever. Love and Death is great.
Sandra Bernhard: Young Frankenstein. Everybody was at their best–even Gene Wilder.
Richard Lewis: Made for Each Other, by Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna, a breakthrough relationship film; Dr. Strangelove, for its vision and the performances; Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr., for theme and visual genius.
Harry Shearer: Any Marx Brothers movie, for sheer comic word power; any Laurel and Hardy movie, for enduring comic characterization; Taking Off, for satirical observation; A Shot in the Dark, for modern-era slapstick.
Jon Lovitz: Play It Again, Sam. It has Woody and Bogart.
James L. Brooks: The Graduate.
Joan Rivers: Broadway Danny Rose or Manhattan. Woody knows the people I do and sees the humor in them.
Rich Little: Airplane! But it’s mostly sick humor.
John Waters: The ones that aren’t supposed to be, like all those Other Side of Midnight kind of movies. They’re so ludicrous you laugh.


Who was your comedic mentor?

Harold Ramis: The Marx Brothers showed me light comedies can have deeper social underpinnings.
Pee-Wee Herman: Lucille Ball. She was so extreme, a clown almost. She was never making fun of people as much as of herself.
George Carlin: Spike Jones and the Marx Brothers represented a disruption of order that appealed to me. For social brilliance, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce; for verbal facility, Danny Kaye; and for weirdness, Jonathan Winters and Ernie Kovacs.
Carl Reiner: Danny Kaye and the Marx Brothers. Also Sid Caesar, but he is my age.
Bob Newhart: I learned timing from Jack Benny. He was so brave: He’d take all the time it took. I was also influenced by the almost Pinter-like quality of Bob and Ray. They would have these people that were boringly dull, just going on and on.
Catherine O’Hara: Woody Allen. It’s great to watch somebody grow and experiment like that.
Robert Townsend: Richard Pryor for truth; Dick Shawn for outrageousness and love of characters; Bill Cosby because of his impulsiveness and his cartoon-like persona.
Garry Marshall: My mother. When anything went wrong, my father would be stern, and my mother would make a joke.
Tracey Ullman: My uncle Butch. Growing up, I wanted to show him that I could be as sarcastic, vulgar, pessimistic and horrible about the world as he.
Martin Short: Dick Van Dyke. He was brilliant physically and verbally. Totally charming.
Kathy Najimy: Lily Tomlin, for her politics and characters that say something. And Bette Midler. For everything.
Richard Lewis: Lenny Bruce was groundbreaking, astonishing and prolific.
John Waters: If anything, I try not to be like anyone.
Joan Rivers: Lenny Bruce. He saw me, liked me and encouraged me, and when I hit on The Tonight Show, he sent me a telegram saying, “See, I told you so.”


What’s your favorite comedic book?

Pee-Wee Herman: Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who.
James L. Brooks: Catch-22.
Robert Wuhl: Philip Roth’s Great American Novel. Great satire.
Carl Reiner: Robert Benchley’s early books. Both elegant and nonsensical.
Bob Newhart: Any by Benchley.
Garry Marshall: Catcher in the Rye. It made stream-of-consciousness funny and enlightening.
Tracey Ullman: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, by Sue Townsend, about a boy with no sense of humor.
Martin Short: Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome.
John Waters: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. The funniest humor is a defense against nightmarish situations.
Harold Ramis: A Confederacy of Dunces. It challenges all your assumptions.
Sandra Bernhard: A Confederacy of Dunces. Makes me scream.
Gilbert Gottfried: I’ve never read A Confederacy of Dunces. and don’t plan to. Too many people told me it was funny.
Jerry Seinfeld: The owner’s manual to my 1973 Fiat.
Richard Lewis: Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. Funny and disturbing.
Mo Gaffney: Jonathan Winters’s Winters’ Tales. Fun to read and really weird. Harry Shearer: The Dick Gibson Show or A Bad Man, both by Stanley Elkin.
Jon Lovitz: Without Feathers, by Woody Allen.
Eric Idle: The Lucia books of E.F. Benson.
Steven Wright: Breakfast of Champions.
Richard Belzer: The Bible. The Book of Job is particularly funny. Talk about no respect, or having a rough day, or something happening to you on the way over to the thing.


What bit of yours now makes you cringe?

Garry Marshall: A show I created called Me and the Chimp. It lasted 13 episodes on CBS. The chimp wasn’t even so bad. I was just terrible.
Carl Reiner: Gidget Goes Hawaiian. I thought no one would see it, but that was before TV ran old movies. People think it’s bad because it’s old, but it was bad then.
Joan Rivers: A lot. Anything that I did yesterday. 
John Waters: The artificial-insemination shot in Pink Flamingos made me scream. I now understand why people called the police when they saw it. But I still wouldn’t cut it. I just think, “Did I do that?”  
Tom Smothers: In the Sixties, I tried to use the F-word when I’d been drinking. I thought my timing was so exquisite I could do anything. The punch line was “Fuck it.” The drinking threw my timing off. And after the performance, four people came up and gave me back my autograph. 
George Carlin: When I look at old Tonight Shows when I was high on coke, it’s very disturbing. 
Harold Ramis: Almost everything. 
Steve Allen: A movie called College Confidential. It was based on an actual professor who lost his post for having responsible discussions of sex in classes. But by the time I was permitted to read the final script, it had become exploitative, a lot of girls in low-cut gowns and that sort of thing. 
Martin Short: I did a pilot with Slappy White called White and Reno in 1980 because I needed money to go to Europe. I was told it would never go, but midway through the week of shooting, I thought it might, and I had to be helped onto the set. But it didn’t go, and I lived. 
Pee-Wee Herman: So far there’s nothing that I really don’t feel proud of.
Mo Gaffney: I perform every night, so generally there’s something to cringe about the next day.
Rich Little: Doing impressions of famous stars’ animals. 
Tracey Ullman: A sketch in which I had my husband frozen cryogenically and then out of desperation sang “He’s as Cold as Ice” and pretended to be skating. 
Harry Shearer: A sketch I was compelled to perform on Saturday Night Live called, with elegant simplicity, “Vomitorium,” from the Franken and Davis collection. I distinctly remember thinking, “I wasn’t put on earth to do this.” 
Jon Lovitz: I like watching myself. 
Catherine O’Hara: I always want to do better. 
James L. Brooks: This survey. 
Kathy Najimy: I narrated Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree. I thought it was sweet, but now I see that it’s totally sexist. And I had two mimes act it out in sign language. 
Richard Belzer: In the early Seventies, when I had four minutes of material, I once did Truman Capote doing the weather. That was shameless. 
Robert Townsend: Any old stuff I did when I didn’t have a mustache.


Why do comedians have such bitter feuds?

Harry Shearer: Because so many of them are assholes. And unlike musicians, who have a tradition of borrowing and elaborating upon each other’s ideas, funny people tend to regard that kind of thing as stealing.
Catherine O’Hara: Because they’re practicing for their audiences.
Gilbert Gottfried: Because comics are basically lowlifes.
Harold Ramis: There is a reason that stand-up comedians work alone. It’s zero-sum thinking: They believe if someone else is getting laughs, then it’s going to diminish what they get. As opposed to the Second City tradition that I come from, which is based on collaboration and making everybody look good.
Bob Newhart: Actually, I always found a camaraderie among comedians–they have the kind of shared experience that sky divers do, opening the chute only a couple hundred feet from the ground.
Rich Little: Usually the egos are quite high in the comic field. They became comics because they needed the applause.
Sandra Bernhard: Because they’re all talentless and they steal bad jokes from each other.
Garry Marshall: Because there is no patent for what you do. You can be doing a brilliant joke all over the country, and if a guy does it on the air, you’re finished. It’s like the old West; everyone is out there on their own. The only protection you have is “He stole my material–I’m not talking to him.”
Robert Townsend: Everybody tends to create the same things, because they read the same newspapers and watch the same TV shows. If somebody steals a joke, I’ll create another one.
Tom Smothers: I remember Bill Cosby once telling Jimmie Walker, “Don’t tell jokes. If you tell stories, they can’t steal them.” Once you have a style, people can’t steal it. The guys that get upset are the little people that are always looking for one-liners.
Merrill Markoe: It’s really the only aerobic exercise most of them get.
Robert Wuhl: Because of the singular nature of the profession. You come in contact only with yourself and a few others, and you take everything very personally.
Dom Irrera: Why don’t you just shut up!
Jerry Seinfeld: It’s often the case with unsupervised children.
Richard Lewis: Because there are so many bitter comics.
Jon Lovitz: Because comedians are the most competitive people you’ll ever meet.
Joan Rivers: Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t talk to me now because he said I took some of his premises. Like talking on the telephone. So I called him up and I said, “Rodney, all right, you want talking on the telephone, that’s your premise. I want marriage and children. That’s my premise.”
George Carlin: Because comics are basically hostile and aggressive people, and your ideas are really all you have. If someone steals your identity and you’re already hostile and aggressive, your behavior is predictable.


What do comedians use instead of steroids?

Gilbert Gottfried: I usually stuff my jockey shorts with raw liver an hour before I go onstage.
Catherine O’Hara: Other people’s jokes.
Bob Newhart: I pace and get the energy up and get ready for the performance.
Dom Irrera: I reflect on my depressing life.
Martin Short: Confidence or laughter.
Bruce McCulloch: Half-price drinks.
Pee-Wee Herman: I use discipline that I don’t have normally. I eat really well, get enough sleep and take vitamins.
Robert Townsend: I stretch out and warm up my voice before I perform, because I know that I’m going to get physical onstage. I do all these weird exercises. I hum.
Sandra Bernhard: Sex.
Jerry Seinfeld: Sex and money.
Robert Wuhl: Better material.
Mark Mckinney: Raindrops.
Spalding Gray: A large dose of rest and silence. When I perform, I talk for an hour and a half without stopping, so I don’t want to leak any chatter beforehand. Richard Lewis: I drag around family-reunion albums to remind myself of my childhood.
Kathy Najimy: I watch people.
George Carlin: Observing, writing and performing. I missed a lot of years because I wanted to get high. I’ve since developed at a much faster pace.
MO Gaffney: Not taking yourself too seriously and laughing at yourself.
Scott Thompson: Athletes.


What Would you never make a joke about?

Steve Allen: There is no subject matter which cannot be dealt with humorously. Martin Short: Something that truly would hurt someone. Unless they deserved it, of course. 
John Waters: AIDS. If someone had AIDS, however, they could make jokes about it. 
Steven Wright: My psychiatrist. 
Sandra Bernhard: Politicians. Political humor is always tired. 
Garry Marshall: There’s no humor I wouldn’t do if I knew who was delivering it. Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker could get away with lines that Ed McMahon couldn’t. 
Harry Shearer: Foreigners working at 7-Elevens, airlines, the phone company. Nothing is taboo, but the more delicate the procedure, the more you should know what you’re doing. 
Catherine O’Hara: Anything that people can’t help about themselves. 
Harold Ramis: I’m more offended by arbitrary and pointless comedy than by comedy that has strong intent and fails. 
Pee-Wee Herman: I always try for situations where I’m the butt of the joke. 
Chris Rock: Old people. This whole society downs the elderly so much. 
Jon Lovitz: One thing I learned from Sid Caesar’s book–don’t make fun of the audience; make fun of yourself. 
Kathy Najimy: Fat people making fun of their fat is not funny; it’s never even entered my mind to do it unless something funny happened to me because of it. Tom Smothers: People in trouble. 
Richard Belzer: The world of medicine, in case I’m ever in their hands. 
Joan Rivers: If the atmosphere is right, there’s nothing that cannot be made fun of. 
Robert Townsend: God or religion. People are confused enough. 
George Carlin: You can make a joke about anything if you create the right context. You can’t just blurt it out. You and the audience have to arrive at the moment together. 
James L. Brooks: CAA, the Creative Artists Agency. I’m afraid to tell the reason.


Why do comedians live so long?

Merrill Markoe: Because they’re waiting to get panel with Johnny on The Tonight Show.
Sandra Bernhard: Because they sap everybody else’s energy and they use people.
George Carlin: Having a real sense of humor is a life-renewing and healing process. And every time a John Belushi or a Freddie Prinze comes along, it bothers me, because they’re screwing with the averages.
Garry Marshall: They’re afraid if they die, they’ll miss getting a laugh.
Scott Thompson (age 96): They don’t. They just lie about their age.
Gilbert Gottfried: Because only intelligent people die of heart attacks. Stupid people are generally calmer and happier.
Harold Ramis: Because they’re so narcissistic.
Steven Wright: So the date will be right on the gravestone.
Pee-Wee Herman: People who make people laugh hopefully get a lot of satisfaction. Maybe some of that feedback acts as a kind of healthful comedy ray.
Catherine O’Hara: Because they feed off of the laughs of others.
Robert Townsend: Laughter is a proven source of healing. When you smile, your body secretes a certain kind of fluid that heals, it relieves tension.
Marin Short: I do believe that laughter is hearty for the soul.
Kathy Najimy: I hope people don’t say because of laughter.
Dom Irrera: ‘Cause they get out a lot of their hostility.
John Waters: I don’t know if that’s true–they all smoke.
Carl Reiner: I don’t know that they do. Comedians are stressful people. They’re upset with what’s wrong with the world. Orchestra conductors live longest, because they do aerobics while working.
Jerry Seinfeld: Jokes purify the system.
Richard Lewis: Luck.
Jon Lovitz: What am I, a doctor?
Tom Smothers: Because they have to keep their brain clear. A comedian is only half a comedian without an audience, so they’re doing a dance the whole time.
Richard Belzer: Because they want to save money on funeral expenses.
Joan Rivers: We’re happy. When you laugh, they say that your liver pats your kidneys.
Chris Rock: Because they only work an hour a night.


What do people think is funny that really isn’t?

Sandra Bernhard: 90 percent of all stand-up comics.
Harold Ramis: All sitcoms.
Bruce McCulloch: Jokes.
Martin Short: Danny Kaye doing those fast little songs with all those words.
Pee-Wee Herman: Sometimes comedy gets really violent. If I think it’s hurting somebody, I might laugh, but I feel guilty, so it’s not a satisfying piece of humor.
Kathy Najimy: Judy Tenuta and Emo Philips. I don’t get it. And Andrew Dice Clay should be shot in the head.
Merrill Markoe: Andrew Dice Clay.
John Waters: Dirty comedians.
Garry Marshall: People blowing things up.
Chris Rock: Impressions. 7-Eleven jokes. Iranian jokes. How old Reagan is. Stevie Wonder jokes.
Richard Jeni: Three Men and a Baby, Andy Capp and Bette Midler.
Jerry Seinfeld: Your own act repeated back to you.
Richard Lewis: The list is too long.
MO Gaffney: Racist, sexist and antigay jokes don’t open anyone’s eyes to anything.
Gilbert Gottfried: I never laughed at King of Hearts.
Tom Smothers: Eddie Murphy’s stand-up stuff and Andrew Dice Clay. “Eating pussy,” “sucking cock,” that kind of shit is awful. Yet Richard Pryor is wonderful. So it’s not using the words; it’s trying to get shock value out of them.
James L. Brooks: Breasts.
Richard Belzer: Jokes about going to the bathroom and all that entails. Pardon the expression.
Joan Rivers: A lot of comedy movies.
George Carlin: Doonesbury. It’s elitist. Elitists aren’t funny. They’re sick and ugly.
Spalding Gray: Almost everything.


What was the last thing that made you laugh to yourself?

Gilbert Gottfried: Sitting on a plane with earphones and hearing Henny Youngman say a few jokes.
Bob Newhart: The story that Eastern Airlines was approaching funeral directors about using Eastern to ship coffins and the funeral directors got the frequent-flyer miles.
Dom Irrera: A scene in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels where Steve Martin’s sitting at a table acting retarded. I just saw the trailer of that and laughed, and that hardly ever happens.
Martin Short: During sex. But seriously, though, just last night I was flipping the TV at like one in the morning and saw Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi was doing all this great stuff behind Costello.
Pee-Wee Herman: Most comics I know don’t laugh very easily at others. The last time I laughed out loud alone was probably last night watching some dailies to my TV show.
Chris Rock: Going to the Comic Strip on Monday nights and watching all the really terrible comedians audition.
Tracey Ullman: Last night, at Private Eye magazine.
Spalding Gray: Three years ago. I was laughing at myself.
Richard Lewis: Every eight to ten seconds, I laugh at myself.
Harry Shearer: Watching a rerun of either TV’s Pennies From Heaven or SCTV.
Sandra Bernhard: I was probably in my car driving past someone less fortunate than myself.
Paula Poundstone: I can’t remember. But when I do, I make a note of it, believing it is a sign of insanity.
Joan Rivers: At a cartoon of Gary Larson’s of a ship of fools and a car of idiots.
Robert Townsend: 60 Minutes, when they interview someone and bust them in a lie.
George Carlin: Usually every comic on cable has one or two things that get to me. If it’s not an outward laugh, it’s a good inward laugh.
Garry Marshall: I sit on a park bench and watch children interact. They kill me. They’re best friends and they hit each other on the head. It’s true Laurel and Hardy.
Richard Belzer: There’s a line by a philosopher, but I can’t think of his name: He’s walking down a road and laughing, and one of his students says, “Master, why are you laughing to yourself?” And he says, “Because I’m laughing to myself.” That’s the way I feel.


What will Sam Kinison be doing twenty years from now?

Rich Little: Selling refrigerators to Eskimos. And they’d be buying.
Robert Wuhl: Hopefully, working.
Catherine O’Hara: Doing time.
Sandra Bernhard: Working in the Diamond District in New York wearing Jewish religious articles.
Bob Newhart: Still getting walkouts.
Martin Short: I couldn’t care less.
Tracey Ullman: Either he’s going to explode with anger or he’ll meet some unimpressed girl who tells him to shut up, after which he’ll be taking stroller-proficiency lessons.
Steven Wright: Starring in a movie about a librarian.
Garry Marshall: A preacher or host of a Geraldo-type show.
Merrill Markoe: Christmas at Sea World.
Gilbert Gottfried: Married to Barbara Feldon.
Jerry Seinfeld: Dieting.
Kathy Najimy: He’ll own a nice hardware store somewhere in Delaware and have laryngitis.
Dave Foley: Vegas.
Tom Smothers: I don’t think he’s going to be around, but I like his mind.
George Carlin: Hosting The Tonight Show, I like Sam–what I mean is, I wish the world would accommodate that.


What will comedy be like in the 21st century?

Kevin McDonald: Modern.
Robert Wuhl: Even less wit, if that’s possible.
John Waters: More critical, and more painful.
Catherine O’Hara: We’ll have learned to read minds, so it will be highly conceptual, and there will be no punch lines.
Dave Foley: Topical.
Scott Thompson: Hip.
Martin Short: It will have adjusted as society will have, but it will still be making fun of a jerk.
Carl Reiner: Even better. We have more comedians than ever, because the world is bigger and crazier.
Harold Ramis: Like The Terminator. We’ll be living underground.
Chris Rock: A guy with a mike and a huge video screen, because comedy clubs will be bigger.
Spalding Gray: Tragedy.
Steven Wright: It’ll be in tiny yellow boxes.
Gilbert Gottfried: With the glut of clubs and 24-hour comedy stations, the Nineties are going to kill stand-up comedy. It’ll go the way of jugglers, ventriloquists and shadow puppeteers on the old Ed Sullivan Show.
Rich Little: Everything seems to go in circles. You may go back to a more clever kind of humor, a more subtle humor, or you could go back to slapstick.
Mo Gaffney: Silent. It will all be done with facial expressions.
Bruce McCulloch: Early show or late show?
Harry Shearer: They will find the nerve center in the brain that stimulates laughter, and comedy will be getting hooked up to a machine that gives that center a good jolt, say, 20 milliwatts for 10 dollars. Plus a two-drink minimum.
Jon Lovitz: Not funny.
Tom Smothers: Probably the same–about traffic in New York and how L.A. is glitzy.
Richard Belzer: A lot of jokes about the 20th century.
Richard Jeni: The pendulum will start swinging back and comedy clubs will be replaced by serious clubs with names like the Stone Face, the Tight Lip and the Bladder Cancer.
Joan Rivers: It is still going to be jealousy and what you fear and sex. And we’ll all be wearing gas masks.
Robert Townsend: Everything will be centered around electronics. “So I’m playing chess with the computer, and the doorbell rings.” Or, “I’m in my flying saucer, I need gas, I’m circling the galaxy twice…”
Kathy Najimy: There’ll continue to be more women. And hopefully they won’t have to joke about how ugly they are and will talk about things we think are funny.
Bob Newhart: You’ve got to destroy comedy before you can rebuild it. I had an idea for a show about two pool cleaners traveling around town and cleaning pools where nothing funny or interesting was said. It would get an audience because people would tune in thinking, “They have to say something funny this week.” It’d be very hard to continually write something that isn’t funny, but I know a couple of writers I’m sure could do it.
Sandra Bernhard: Really different! High tech! Scary! Cold! Distant! Detached! Alienating! Postnuclear! Postmodern!


Who will be hosting the Tonight Show in 10 years?

Tom Smothers: Not Arsenio Hall, that’s for sure. The man doesn’t listen.
Robert Wuhl: Whoever Johnny wants.
Garry Marshall: Sandra Bernhard–she’s got a probing mind that makes you think and laugh.
Sandra Bernhard: Joe Franklin.
Dom Irrera: Steve Allen again. An 80-year-old Steve Allen.
Steve Allen: Johnny Carson was made to be hosting that show. He should continue to.
Pee-Wee Herman: Carson–and it’ll be on at six.
Carl Reiner: If Johnny’s not there, something’s wrong with the country.
John Waters: Somebody we’ve never heard of today.
Tracey Ullman: Jay Leno, as long as he doesn’t get too slick–and he changes the color of those bloody curtains.
Jerry Seinfeld: They’ll leave the desk empty. Celebrities will keep coming out and telling their stories anyway.
Richard Belzer: Carson now and forever. Or me.
Robert Townsend: It’ll just be reruns.
Rich Little: Nobody I know.
Gilbert Gottfried: Everyone in America will have a shot. People will be sent like a draft notice. Then each one will have an article come out about them in a magazine, saying, “Is he the one who takes over for Carson?”
Joan Rivers: Who cares?


What do you think of Eddie Murphy’s singing career?

Gilbert Gottfried: Well, his new song is “Put Your Mouth on Me,” which is how I got the part in Beverly Hills Cop II.
Robert Wuhl: It’s great. If you can do it, do it.
Tracey Ullman: His singing problems pale next to his wardrobe problems. He looks like he’s been to the Iranian store at the mall. I made some cruddy records, too, but at least I knew when to stop.
Garry Marshall: It’s a show-business thing where if you do one thing well, they let you do everything else, and nobody cares. Eddie Murphy makes people laugh. So it’s “Whatever you want! Sing! Juggle!” Just as long as he keeps doing the thing he does. If he stops making people laugh, that’s it, goodbye.
Scott Thompson: He’s never been funnier.
Chris Rock: He can do anything. Next thing he’ll do is he’ll probably try to play center field for the Yankees.
Pee-Wee Herman: I haven’t heard his new album, but I liked the first one. If Eddie Murphy can sing, so can Pee-wee Herman, so I’m planning on doing a music album myself.
Carl Reiner: I wish he would do a real funny important comedy. He hasn’t done his greatest work yet. As he gets older, he’ll get wiser.
John Waters: It’s a future Golden Throats record, like the record with Jack Webb and all these other personalities that weren’t singers singing.
Jerry Seinfeld: Andy Kaufman would have approved.
Joan Rivers: I don’t know. I’m still waiting for him to send me a free album. Richard Jeni: Eddie’s ego will eventually expand to the point that it punctures a giant hole in the ozone layer, causing worldwide famine and death, whereupon Arsenio Hall, in an announcement broadcast to 75 countries, will proclaim that he is Eddie’s “close personal friend.”
Bob Newhart: I wasn’t aware of it.


Were you a class clown?

Gilbert Gottfried: I always think class clowns were the ones who became shipping clerks later on.
Tracey Ullman: Definitely. I was the horrible one in the back banging on her desk. On my reports it would say, “She encourages others to be completely stupid and horrible.”
Dave Foley: Yes, but I bombed.
Bob Newhart: I was the antithesis of a class clown. I was the guy in the back row, and I’d whisper to the guy next to me, and then he’d start to laugh, and the guy next to him would say, “What did he say?”
Harold Ramis: I used to write for the class clowns. I was an instigator and would think of funny things to say and whisper them to a guy with a lot more nerve than I had, and he would say them out loud and get the credit but also get in trouble.
Sandra Bernhard: No, I was class commentator. I used to lecture the class on drugs and the condition of the world and people’s selfishness. Like I do now.
Garry Marshall: Not at all. I was too shy. I wrote jokes in the school paper. I used to yell out things in a movie theater and make everybody laugh, because that was safe–they didn’t know who was yelling.
Martin Short: Only if the teacher was weak.
Steven Wright: No, I was a small-claims-court jester.
James L. Brooks: Yes. 
Pee-Wee Herman: I became a class clown starting about junior high school. In the cafeteria, I was known for my ability to make milk come out of girls’ noses. I could always time jokes to when a girl sitting across from me would just be taking a sip of milk.
Spalding Gray: Whenever the teacher would turn to write on the blackboard, I would put on these crazy glasses with built-in reflective eyes and go wild. By the time the teacher turned, I’d have my glasses back in my pocket and be sitting there with a very straight New England poker face. Looking back, it was kind of obvious I was the perpetrator because I was the only one not laughing.
Catherine O’Hara: I’d imitate everyone, like the geography teacher. Or someone else would make jokes and I’d laugh and I’d always get caught.
Richard Lewis: Every minute.
Joan Rivers: Anything but. Very shy and wanting always to be an actress.
George Carlin: That’s fairly well documented–I have an album, Class Clown. I am among thousands of them. Not all of them became professionals, of course.
Paula Poundstone: In seventh grade, I went to school late every day because I was watching Leave It to Beaver with my dad. And every morning, just to get me to shut up, they had to let me tell the class which episode it was, beat for beat.
Eric Idle: I was a class clown, but I dislike anecdotes
they are the curse of chat shows and magazine articles. I remember once I was…oops.


Why did the chicken cross the road?

Gilbert Gottfried: His agents and managers thought it would be a good idea. And although the chicken himself didn’t think it was all that funny, the producer said he’d fix it in editing. But then eventually it didn’t go over all that well, and his producers and managers said, “Well, we just brought it to him. We didn’t suggest he take it.” And the producer said, “Well, the chicken was really hard to work with.” And he never worked again after that.

In This Article: Comedy, Coverwall


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