Comedians: From Stand-up to Sitcom - Rolling Stone
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From Stand-up to Sitcom

Some of the funniest moments for the best comedians in America have been transitions in their career

Roseanne, Lecy Goranson, Roseanne Barr, Sara Gilbert

Roseanne, 'Dan's Birthday Bash', Season One, Becky (Lecy Goranson), Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) prepared a birthday breakfast for Dan, January 3rd 1989

ABC Photo Archives/ABC/Getty

TV has always been happy to latch on to whatever is hot (or has recently been hot), and lately that has meant stand-up comedians.

Over the last couple of seasons, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, Paul Reiser, Jackie Mason, Bob Saget and Richard Lewis have virtually anschlussed the terrain once happily tended by Hugh Beaumont, McLean Stevenson and Don DeFore.

Currently working their way across that vast wilderness of development are Rodney Dangerfield, Gilbert Gottfried, Jeff Altman, Louie Anderson, Whoopi Goldberg and Andrew Dice Clay (perhaps in a comedy about an abusive moron? Did I give it away?).

“What you fall in love with at the comedy clubs,” says Chris Gorman, CBS casting director, “becomes an integral part of the TV character.” There are, however, often discrepancies between image and TV character. It’s not surprising that comics would stand for these changes–a night at Catch a Rising Star can pay $1,000; a series, $25,000 per episode.

But there is a certain amusement factor in watching entertainers conclude that their pathway to happiness involves playing the current version of Dagwood Bumstead and not telling dick jokes to drunks. The following Comic-Discrepancy guide will help you keep track of who’s changed what to attain small-screen stardom.

Bill Cosby
Stand-Up: Aggrieved dad pushed into curmudgeonly griping by the antics of his kids; pose sustained his club career during the Seventies.
Typical line: “My wife and I were so happy with everything about our first child. We said, ‘Oh, look, she made a poo-poo.’ We called our parents and said, ‘Come on over and see the poo-poo!’ “

Sitcom: Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show: Aggrieved dad pushed into curmudgeonly warmth by the antics of his kids; pose sustained Brandon Tartikoff’s career during the Eighties.
Typical line: “Now repeat after me. I promise to feed the dog, wash the dog and clean up his boom-boom and his bam-bam and especially his woobie-wabbie.”

Roseanne Barr
Stand-up: Domestic goddess; acerbic every-woman who complains about caring for ungraceful children and husband though he’s now been dumped.
Typical line: “People ask me, ‘Now that you’ve had success, will you lose touch with the little people who made you?’ And I say, ‘Blow me.”

Sitcom: Roseanne Conner in Roseanne: Network goddess; acerbic everywoman who complains about caring for ungrateful children and husband, who has been rehired for ’89-90 season.
Typical line: “I found it, Darlene…the floor of your room.”

Bob Newhart
Mild-mannered fuddy-duddy; did that funny phone routine.

Sitcom: Bob Hartley in The Bob Newbart Show: Mild-mannered fuddy-duddy; did a short version of that funny phone routine nearly every episode.

Sitcom: Dick Loudon in Newhart: Mild-mannered innkeeper; delivers most lines from behind the telephone at the front desk.

Gabe Kaplan
Stand-up: Mustachioed, ‘froed Brooklynite, echt early-Seventies man who spent his entire act waxing nostalgic about the outcasts and thugs who populated his high school. They moved on; he ran out of material.
Typical line: “There was one kid, Arnold Horshack, who just said one thing all the time: ‘Up your hole with a Melorol.'”

Sitcom: Gabe Kotter in Welcome Back, Kotter: Paunchy sweat-hog ringmaster. A genial leftover liberal amid a sea of urban decay and students who say. “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” Became as dated in the disco Seventies as the John Sebastian theme song.
Typical line: “Hey, Julie, did I ever tell you about my uncle, Crazy Moishe Kotter?”

Robin Williams
Stand-up: Inventive, kinetic, unpredictable; insults Ronald Reagan and Jack Valenti; has a reputation for “borrowing” other comedians’ material.
Typical line [on the unreality of biblical movies]: “You never have a Roman who’s really Italian, who says [grabs crotch], ‘I’m Caesar–kiss my fucking ass.'”

Sitcom: Mork in Mork and Mindy: Inventive, kinetic, unpredictable, at least until final season. Insulted Tom Poston and Conrad Janis; writers always credited. Typical line: “Nanu, nanu.”

Richard Lewis
Stand-up: Neurotic and generally harmless; basic like-ability lets him get away with total self-absorption.
Typical line: “I’m just a little paranoid. She’d say, ‘Don’t you want an orgasm?’ I’d say, ‘What’s in it for me?'”

Sitcom: Marty Gold in Anything but Love: Nervous and generally harmless; basic likability lets him get away with unbelievably lame lines: total absorption in Jamie Lee Curtis has to be taken on faith, given how unclearly her character has been drawn.
Typical line: “My friend Jack would get the women–I’d get mono!”

Harry Anderson
Stand-up: Unscrupulous con man who holds his fellow man in contempt; capable of an off-color remark.

Sitcom: Harry Stone in Night Court: High-minded, if not naive, judge who is sickeningly nice; capable of a puppyish wiggling of the eyebrows.

Freddie Prinze
Stand-up: Gained attention for being the first Hispanic comedian to do the kind of ethnically self-deprecating routines Italians and Jews had long performed; his act turned to darker subjects just before his death.

Sitcom: Chico Rodriguez in Chico and the Man: Pleasant, sunny fellow whose best lines came from Prinze’s routines: after his suicide, it took two people, Gabriel Melgar and Charo, to replace him.

Bob Saget
Stand-up: David Letterman without the edginess.
Typical line: “This is special. I want to strip naked and sing the theme song from Fame. I want to cartwheel and fart.”

Sitcom: Danny Tanner in Full House: Alan Thicke without the edginess.
Typical line [to a small child spreading goop on Tanner’s trousers]: “Can you say dry cleaning?”

Paul Reiser
Stand-up: A Billy Crystal who whines.
Typical line: “The first thing that changes when you get married is that you lose your ability to get dressed by yourself. You’re heading out the door, and your wife says, ‘You’re not going to wear that, are you?'”

Sitcom: Michael Taylor in My Two Dads: A nebbish, not quite Woody Allen-class, but still ineffectual.
Typical line: “I’m a type-A personality. You live a long life; I make it to lunch.”

Don Rickles
Stand-up: The famous insult-humor pioneer.
Typical line: “You dummy!”

Sitcom: Otto Sharkey in C.P.O. Sharkey: Bland and cranky, like an exasperated TV dad in uniform.
Typical line: “You hockey puck!”

Jimmie Walker
Stand-up: Jive-talking beanpole whose self-deprecating humor fed on, and often made fun of, ghetto life.

Sitcom: J.J. Evans in Good Times: Strutting, perpetually plotting urban adolescent. Wore that stupid denim tennis hat. Posing him as a budding artist strained credibility–as he came across less like an aesthete than a vulgar nightelub comic–but possing him as a successful lady’s man blew out the wiring.
Typical line: “Kid DY-NO-Mite!”

Marsha Warfield
Stand-up: Member of an oppressed gender and minority group with an aggressive, don’t-fuck-with-me attitude.
Typical line: “How can anybody sleep with Prince? He’s so little. I guess you sort of grab him by his feet and use his whole body as a vibrator.”

Sitcom: Roz Russell in Night Court: Member of the uniformed civil service with who-wants-to-have-anything-to-do-with-her personality.
Typical line: “Oh, Bull!”

Andy Kaufman
Stand-up: Incredibly inventive comic capable of pushing his surreal routines past the point where the audience was befuddled but amused to where it was uncomfortable and antagonistic.
Typical routine: Standing onstage while The Mighty Mouse theme song played and at the right moment lip-syncing, “Here I come to save the day!”

Sitcom Latka Gravas in Taxi: Only one of Kaufman’s many personas; very cute, extremely precious, almost never annoyed anyone, almost never required to be creative, though Latka’s schizophrenic self, Vic Ferarri, was a tad bold.
Typical line: “Thank you veddy much.”

Redd Foxx
Stand-up: For a long time Foxx was America’s raunchiest comedian, though his records are positively demure compared with what is routine now.
Well-spoken typical line: “A woman in a butcher shop pointed at the case and said, ‘Give me fifty-five cents’ worth of bologna.’ ‘The butcher said, ‘I don’t have no bologna–oops!’ ” [Zipping noise.]

Sitcom: Fred Sanford in Sanford and Son: Television’s first grouchy old black man. Well-spoken onstage, a mush mouth here.
Typical line: “Liz ‘beth, I’m coming! This is the big one!”

Howie Mandel
Stand-up: Clumsy, tongue-tied, dumpy, an escapee from Geek World.
Typical line [while lying on the floor to speak into a microphone he has dropped]: “I’m not your typical stand-up comedian.” When in doubt, tells a fart joke.

Sitcom: Dr. Wayne Fiscus in St. Elsewhere: Earnest, reliable, likable, Like Mandel’s stage act in that he is never funny.
Typical line: “Hemoglobin, stat!”

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