In this third part of our conversation with the Old Jewish Comedians artist, we discuss real Jewish names, fake Jews, and “The Incredible Shrinking Joe Franklin.
You mentioned the concept of “working Jewish.”
Yeah, Jack Carter says he doesn’t “work Jewish,” meaning doing a Jewish schtick. Like Myron Cohen does a Jewish schtick. Jack Carter never did. He’s like an anglo-saxon. He doesn’t work Jewish. He real name is Jacob Chakrin, I think. So he was like, “why even bring up the fact that I’m a Jew?”
It seems strange that some of the comedians would mask that—these are some of the most Jewish guys, ever.
You’re right. And some of them are real proud of it. Freddie Roman’s real name is Fred Kirschenbaum, and that’s the name he uses, aside from when he performs at clubs. When I send him anything, it’s to Fred Kirschenbaum. That’s the name on his apartment building. That’s how people know him. Mickey Freeman changed his name, too—well, his real name is Irving Freeman. Mickey’s just a nickname. It’s pretty close. He was just proud to be Jewish. A lot of them are. But a lot of them don’t want to center on that. Even a Don Rickles, the Jewish stuff never comes up in his act. He doesn’t need it. He’d prefer to leave that stuff behind him.
You mentioned Joey Faye in an interview with FMU. He ended up not making the cut for the second book because he wasn’t Jewish.
Yep. You might now him because he was very big on sneezing. He was in movies and television commercials, and that was his big schtick, sneezing. He dates back to burlesque and vaudeville. He had a big career. He played a lot of Jewish waiters, like in the Woody Allen movie, The Front, with Zero Mostel. He’s a Jewish waiter in that. They keep going into the delicatessen, and there’s Joey Faey, doing Jewish schtick.
So I drew him, assuming he was Jewish, and then I found out at the last second, when the book was at the printer, that his real last name was Paladino. He was a Jew poseur, so I had to pull him out at the last minute, and that’s when I put Freddie Roman in, because I had a little rule for myself with the first book that I wanted to draw these guys who were born between 1930. I relaxed that rule for the second book. Woody Allen was born in 1935, Joan Rivers was born in ’35 or ’37.
And now I have guys who are younger old Jewish comedians. Richard Belzer just turned 65. He’s a senior citizen.
He gets the discount.
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I have him in there and his dog. And David Brenner, who’s actually in his mid-70s now. You wouldn’t think it. You think of these guys as kind of the young, contemporary comedians. The younger gys are in there now. Another reason I want to quit these books is that there’s always younger comedians coming up, and I just can’t keep up. Howard Stern’s gonna be an old guy in a couple of years.
Richard Lewis is up there.
I think he’s in his early-60s. He’s the exact same age as Larry David. He’s about 63, 64, something like that. I’m not crazy about some of them, and I just don’t want to think about drawing Adam Sandler when he’s an old man, or Ben Stiller, or even Jerry Seinfeld. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
Joe Franklin was at the last Friars Club event.
Are you guys friends now?
Yeah, we’re pals. It’s about as friendly as you can get with Joe Franklin. He’s going to be at the next party, too, and I’m going to have him give a little speech. I go to his house too, and I bring guests. It’s the thing to do, go to his office. It’s like an episode of Hoarders, with stuff piled high. And there’s a little path leading to his desk. It’s an amazing thing to behold. And he’s only been there for five or six years—it’s not like he’s been that for 40 years.
When the hurricane was going to hit, I asked people to stop by his office to make sure he didn’t get buried by his stuff.
We’ve become pals. We don’t talk about certain things. He loves the books. He fancies himself a Jewish comedian now. When he does live shows, he tells jokes. If Joe Franklin and I can become friends, anything is possible.
Can you give a little background or your relationship with Joe?
This is ancient news at this point, but 25 years ago, I did a comic strip called “The Incredible Shrinking Joe Franklin.” It was in Heavy Metal. It was a one-page strip. It was a parody of The Incredible Shrinking Man,” but it was Joe Franklin. Panel by panel, he would start shrinking. It was part one. He’s not miniscule at the end. He’s just getting smaller and smaller.
He saw it and he sued Heavy Metal and me and National Lampoon company for $40 million. It was a reasonable sum at the time, I thought. If I had it, I’d give it to him. Unfortunately, I only had $9 in my bank account at the time. It didn’t go to trial, but it got some publicity in The New York Times and The New York Post. It was dismissed by a judge, because it was obviously a parody. It’s water under the bridge. It happens.
It’s the only time I’ve been sued. The stuff is clearly a parody. But Joe is a little touchy about his height. That’s all. He’s a little guy. But I love him. All I ever wanted to do as a kid was watch Our Gang, The Three Stooges, Popeye, Soupy Sales, F-Troop, and Joe Franklin.
[Concluded in Part Four]