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American Comedy Archives Oral Histories

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In his one-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, "Weird Al" Yankovic talks about his early years, and his first break, getting his music played on the "Dr. Demento" radio show. He describes the types of parodies he does, and how he tends to stay away from satire and political humor. He recalls his television show, 'AL TV,' and his experiences interviewing guests like Eminem. Yankovic speaks of dealing with fame and celebrity, and what his fan base expects of him. He discusses his 'White & Nerdy' music video, which featured Donny Osmond, as well as his cult classic feature film 'UHF.' He speaks of the challenges of being a comedian in the music industry, and considers the question "Was it worth it?" Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on February 10, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Fame and Celebrity, Pivotal Career Moments, Pop culture, Television Industry, Comedy Series, and Talk Shows. An additional show mentioned during the interview is 'Tomorrow.'

2007-02-10

In his twenty-minute interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Andy Rooney (1919-2011) talks about the use of humor as a device when writing, as well as his writing process. He discusses having written for several television shows, including 'Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scout's and 'The Garry More Show.' He speaks of the development of his "Andy Rooney" persona on '60 Minutes,' and on the business aspect of writing. Rooney concludes with a summary of his career, and his opinion on the word "curmudgeon." Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on October 19, 2005 in New York, NY. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Television Industry, Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials, News & Documentary, and Talk Shows.

2005-10-19

In his one-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Arte Johnson (1929-2019) talks about transitioning from doing publicity at Viking Press to show business and his first audition for "Gentleman Prefer Blondes." He recounts his first experience working with Jack Benny and working on the comedy series "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." He talks about ad-libbing and using double-talk and different dialects to create ethnic characters. He also discusses what makes a comedian, and how it's important to have a back-up career during down-turns in their show business career. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on June 2, 2005 in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Creative Influences and Inspiration, Pivotal Career Moments, Television Industry, Comedy Series, Daytime/Primetime Serials, and Game Shows. Other shows mentioned during the interview include '3-2-1 Contact,' 'The Andy Griffith Show,' 'The Dick Van Dyke Show,' 'The Donna Reed Show,' 'Don’t Call me Charlie,' 'Fantasy Island,' 'The Gong Show,' 'It’s Always Jan,' 'The Jack Benny Program,' 'Knockout,' 'Lost in Space,' 'The Love Boat,' 'Mama,' 'The Partridge Family,' 'Playboy after Dark,' 'Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,' and 'Sally.'

2005-06-02

In their three-hour, joint Emerson Comedy Archive interview, Rocky (1921-2016) and Irma Kalish discuss their backgrounds, and how they met and married. In a free-wheeling discussion, they touch on many of the shows they worked on including 'Colgate Comedy Hour,' 'Meet Corliss Archer,' 'My Three Sons,' 'Family Affair,' 'Gillian’s Island' and 'The Flying Nun.' They recall working on two Norman Lear shows 'All in the Family,' where they wrote the groundbreaking "Edith’s Christmas Story" dealing with breast cancer, and 'Good Times,' where they hired Janet Jackson in the final seasons to play "Penny." They describe working with many luminaries during their time as writers, some of whom became friends, including Selma Diamond, Shelley Berman, Steve Allen, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, and Cloris Leachman. They touch on many problems facing the industry including writers strikes, ageism, and the challenge of longevity for a writer. They speak of their philosophy of comedy and joking writing, including if being funny can be taught, and what goes into constructing a joke. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on February 7, 2007 in Encino, California. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Pivotal Career Moments, Ageism in Television Industry, Writers Guild of America Strikes, and Comedy Series. Other shows mentioned during the interview include 'The Brian Keith Show,' 'Carter Country,' 'F Troop,' 'The Facts of Life,' 'Good Heavens,' 'Gunsmoke,' 'Oh Madeline,' 'The Sarah Silverman Program,' and 'Too Close for Comfort.'

2007-02-07

In her one-hour-fifteen minute interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Bea Arthur talks about her early years as an intern in a hospital, doing minstrel shows and her first break in Broadway. She talks about how grateful she is to do what she enjoys for a living, and speaks about working on "Maude," "Golden Girls," and a number of plays. She also discusses her love for her LGBT fan following, her involvement with PETA and how she strives to use her celebrity for social change. She speaks about the challenges of being a woman in the television and performance industry, and considers the question "Was it worth it?" Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on May 31, 2005 in Brentwood, CA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Fame and Celebrity, Pivotal Career Moments, Television Industry, and Comedy Series.

2005-05-31

In her one-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Betty White talks about her early aspirations before setting on a career in television and appearing on several early live and local Los Angeles broadcasts. She describes her first show 'Life with Elizabeth,' and becoming one of the first television stars to form her own production company with the help of producer Don Fedderson. She recounts her time playing "Sue Ann Nivens" on the classic 'Mary Tyler Moore Show,' including the famous "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode. White discusses the importance of humor in her life, and playing "Rose Nylund" for seven seasons on 'The Golden Girls.' She speaks of her "bag of tricks" as an actress, as well as the business side of the entertainment industry. She discusses her prolific career on several game shows including 'Match Game' and 'Password.' She outlines her then-current role as "Catherine Piper" on 'Boston Legal,' and working on that show with co-star William Shatner. She concludes with some words of wisdom for aspiring television performers, and comments on her career longevity. Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on March 11, 2005 at Emerson College in Boston, MA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Characters & Catchphrases, Classic TV series episodes, Comedy, Pop Culture, TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s), Television Industry, and Comedy Series.

2005-03-11

In part one of his two-part interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Bill Dana (1924-2017) discusses the use of humor as a survival tool. He talks about his time at Emerson College, and early comedy partner Gene Wood. He recalls his time on 'The Steve Allen Show,' as well as creating his most famous character, "Jose Jimenez." He details using "Jose" as the main character for 'The Bill Dana Show,' and his eventual decision to kill him off due to cultural sensitivity concerns. He recounts writing the famous 'All in the Family' episode "Sammy Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr., and addresses comedy’s role in society. Jenni Matz conducted part one of the interview on February 21, 2005 at the Cutler Majestic Theater at Emerson College in Boston, MA. Additional topics covered include: Bloopers, Censorship/Standards & Practices, Fame and Celebrity, Pop Culture, Television Industry, Comedy Series, and Talk Shows.

2005-02-21

In part two of his two-part interview for the American Comedy Archives, Bill Dana (1924-2017) talks about comedians learning to deal with their environment and audiences. He describes first learning how to make people laugh, and later using comedy to disarm. He discusses evolving standards for subject matter and language in comedy, and his controversial character "Jose Jimenez" from 'The Bill Dana Show. 'Dana speaks of working with Norman Lear on writing the classic 'All in the Family' episode "Sammy’s Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr., and outlines his own guest shot on 'The Golden Girls.' He sums up by talking about the need for performers to pay their dues, and he answers the question, "Was it worth it?" Jenni Matz conducted part two of the interview on June 3, 2005 in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Fame and Celebrity, Pop Culture, Television Industry, Comedy Series, and Talk Shows.

2005-06-03

In his three-hour interview, Billy Crystal talks about his early life, and becoming interested in comedy at a young age. He describes attending NYU to study film, where he learned from Martin Scorsese, and met Christopher Guest. He recounts getting Buddy Morra to manage him, and his appearances on 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' and 'All in the Family.' He recalls his disappointment at being bumped off the first broadcast of 'Saturday Night Live,' only to be picked up as a regular cast member on ABC’s 'Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell'. Crystal discusses playing the groundbreaking character of "Jodie Dallas" on 'Soap,' the first regular, gay character on a network series, and the show’s dealing with controversial subject matter on a weekly basis. He details his stint on the 1984-85 season of 'Saturday Night Live,' where he was part of a comedy all-star team selected by producer Dick Ebersol, which also included Martin Short, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer. He outlines his popular character "Fernando" from the show, whose catchphrase, "You look marvelous," swept the nation. He recalls his series of successful HBO stand-up comedy specials, and his huge success as a nine-time host of 'The Academy Awards.' Dan Pasternack conducted the interview in partnership with the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College on October 25, 2018 in North Hollywood, CA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Emmy Awards, Historic Events and Social Change, Pivotal Career Moments, Television Industry, Comedy Series, Daytime/Primetime Serials, Late Night, and Music Shows & Variety. Other shows mentioned during the interview include 'The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour,' 'Comic Relief Specials,' 'The Emmy Awards (Primetime and Daytime),' and 'The Grammys.'

2018-10-25

In his one-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Budd Friedman talks about opening his comedy club, the Improv in New York City, and discovering Andy Kaufman. He recalls several luminaires who worked at his club, including Bette Midler, Milton Berle, Eddie Murphy, Steven Wright, and Chris Rock. He discusses what it takes for young comedians to make it as a stand-up comedian, and the challenge of finding wider audiences. Friedman describes what he feels is the then-current state of comedy, and speculates where it might go in the then-future. He concludes with one of his favorite jokes. Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on January 25, 2006 at the Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Television Industry, Comedy Clubs, Comedians, and Performers.

2006-01-25

In his one-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Carlos Mencia talks about growing up in East Los Angeles, and how his early experiences shaped his comedy. He describes developing his racially based stand-up act, and finding healing in making people laugh at our differences. He recounts working with his writers on his show 'Mind of Mencia,' and gives his reaction to political correctness in comedy. Mencia discusses how humor evolves over time, as well as his use of "blue" material in his act. He speaks at length about accusations of his having stolen jokes from other comedians, and sums up his career. Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on February 15, 2007 in Hollywood, CA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Diversity in Television, Historic Events and Social Change, Minorities, Television Industry, and Comedy Series. Other shows mentioned during the interview include 'Mind of Mencia' and 'Seinfeld.'

2007-02-15

In his one-and-a-half-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Charles Grodin talks about his writing career, and writing for specific audiences. He describes his acting training under Uta Hagen, who taught the importance of listening and knowing your lines cold. He speaks of appearing in several feature films, including "Rosemary’s Baby," "King Kong," and "Catch-22." He discusses his talk show "persona," perfected on 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' and 'Late Night with David Letterman.' Grodin details his experiences as the host of his own show, 'The Charles Grodin Show,' on CNBC, as well as his time as a commentator for '60 Minutes.' He chronicles his many dealings with agents and managers over the years, and opines on the role of comedy in history. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on February 23, 2005 in New York, NY. Additional topics covered include: Creative Influences and Inspiration, Pivotal Career Moments, Television Industry, News and Documentary, and Talk Shows

2005-02-23

In his two-and-a-half hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Chuck McCann (1934-2018) talks about his early life, and seeing many performers on stage as a child, including Danny Thomas and Abbott and Costello, due to his father being a musician. He speaks of his early television work, including 'The Rootie Kazootie Club,' 'The Sandy Becker Show,' and 'Today,' which led to him hosting his own local children’s show on WPIX in New York City. McCann recalls his friendships with many luminaries, including Jerry Lewis, Stan Laurel, Mae West, Ernie Kovacs, and Steve Allen. He discusses the power of laughter to make us heal, and the then-current state of comedy. Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on February 13, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Bloopers, Comedy-Variety, and TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s), Technological Innovation, Television Industry, Children's Programming, News and Documentary, and Talk Shows. Other shows mentioned during the interview include 'Captain Kangaroo' and 'The Steve Allen Show' (1956-61).

2007-02-13

In her two-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Diane English discusses her upbringing in Buffalo, New York, where she first worked as an English and drama teacher before moving to New York City to pursue a career in playwriting. She describes how she instead landed her first industry job at public television station WNET, and began writing for the small screen --penning PBS' first television movie, 'The Lathe of Heaven.' English outlines her first forays into half-hour comedies as a writer for 'Foley Square' and for 'My Sister Sam,' and speaks at length on the creation and production of her hit series, 'Murphy Brown.' She divulges which actress she asked to play "Murphy Brown" before Candice Bergen won the role, and sheds light on the infamous debate on single-motherhood sparked by then Vice President, Dan Quayle. She chronicles the formation of her production company, Shukovsky/English, with husband Joel Shukovsky, and details her film and television work ('The Women,' 'Love & War,' 'Ink') since 'Murphy Brown' went off the air. Jenni Matz conducted the interview in a joint venture with The American Comedy Archives (at Emerson College) in North Hollywood, CA on February 8, 2007. Additional topics covered include: Creative Influences and Inspiration, Characters & Catchphrases, Diversity in Television, Women, Emmy Awards, and Comedy Series. Other shows mentioned during the interview include 'Double Rush,' 'Her Life as a Man,' and 'Living in Captivity.'

2007-02-08

In his two-and-a-half-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Dick Gregory (1932-2017) talks extensively about the history of racism in America, and on his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. He recalls his groundbreaking appearances on 'Tonight Starring Jack Paar' where he was the first African-American comedian to sit on Paar’s couch. He discusses the role of Hugh Hefner in getting him into mainstream nightclubs, and how he developed his act over the years. Gregory speaks of many aspects of doing stand-up comedy, including coming up with material, techniques, and using real life experiences as fodder for his act. He covers a number of societal issues, and relates how things changed during his lifetime. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on October 15, 2005 in Washington D.C. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Diversity in Television, Historic Events and Social Change, Minorities, Television Industry, and Late Night.

2005-10-15

In his one-and-a-half-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Dick Van Dyke talks about his early years, and how being an announcer in World War II kindled his passion for show business. Van Dyke speaks about working on projects such as "Bye Bye Birdie" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and reminisces on his time in the industry with fond anecdotes. He discusses the ups and down of showbusiness, and briefly discusses his battle with alcoholism brought on by his shyness. He speaks of the challenges of being a performer and considers the question "Was it worth it?" Bill Dana and Jenni Matz conducted the interview on January 5, 2006 in Santa Monica, CA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Fame and Celebrity, Pivotal Career Moments, Television Industry, Comedy Series, and Talk Shows.

2006-01-05

In his one-hour-and-ten-minute interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Doug Herzog talks about his time at Emerson College, and the early influence of 'Saturday Night Live.' He describes his early career working at CNN on the daily talk series 'People Now,' as well as 'Entertainment Tonight,' before landing at MTV. He chronicles his rise at MTV, eventually becoming Vice President of Programming, and later Vice President of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group. Herzog recounts his years programming at Comedy Central, bringing 'South Park,' 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,' 'The Colbert Report,' and 'The Sarah Silverman Program' to the air. He discusses the evolving standards of comedy over the years at Comedy Central, and outlines the business of programming a cable network. He concludes by speaking of his proudest career achievement, and his then-future. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on February 5, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Network Creation, Television Industry, Comedy Series, Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials, and News and Documentary.

2007-02-05

In his one-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Ed Begley, Jr. talks about being cast on 'St. Elsewhere,' and recalls his father, Ed Begley, Sr. allowing him to make the choice to be an actor. He recounts realizing he had a flair for comedy at a young age, as well as his very first acting job on 'My Three Sons.' Begley describes his early standup act with a young Michael Richards, and expounds on his philosophy of comedy, and on his style. He touches on his favorite comedians, as well as the importance of managers and agents in a comedian’s career. He outlines his long-standing environmental advocacy, and offers advice to aspiring comedians. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on May 31, 2005 in Los Angeles, CA. Additional topics covered include: Advice, Creative Influences and Inspiration, Pivotal Career Moments, Television Industry, Comedy Series, Medical Dramas, and Talk Shows. Other shows mentioned during the interview include 'Maude' and 'The Steve Allen Show' (1956-61).

2005-05-31

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