Schimmel’s Shtick … Amercan Express’ Black Op

Schimmel’s Shtick

Robert Schimmel remembered the day that Barry Diller resigned from 20th-Century Fox in 1992.

“That night, I did a big industry showcase in L.A. where you go on in front of everybody–ABC, CBS, NBC, Disney, Sony, Warner, Fox,” he said. “And my opening line was, ‘I have such bad timing in this business. I blew Barry Diller last night.’”

Mr. Schimmel waited a beat. “Well, my agent came over to me and he said, ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?’ I said, ‘Why?’

“‘Because the guy can make a phone call and I won’t even be in show business anymore. Blow someone else!’” Mr. Schimmel’s agent said, adding that if Mr. Diller “finds out, he’s going to go nuts!”

“I said why would he go nuts?” Mr. Schimmel recalled. “I’m blowing him !”

For the 20-year span of his career in comedy, 49-year-old Mr. Schimmel has always wanted to be “the guy where people go, ‘Hey, come here, you gotta hear this.’”

For too long and too often, he said, the response has come back, “Yeah, but where’s he going with that shit?”

Come the week ending Nov. 13, Mr. Schimmel will have gone far. He will have appeared on a week’s worth of Hollywood Squares , and on Nov. 9 he will have appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien , the only stand-up to appear during Mr. O’Brien’s Los Angeles broadcasts. And then on Nov. 13, Mr. Schimmel’s hourlong HBO Comedy Special, Robert Schimmel: Unprotected , will debut (replete with cameos from his parents), a gig that is considered a coronation of sorts in the comedy world.

Those who tune in will see Mr. Schimmel, a man with a shaved head, cool suit and eyes that look that they’re channeling the collective disbelief of his native Bronx, telling jokes that often work like defribillator paddles.

When his wife wonders if Mr. Schimmel is suffering from premature ejaculation, he replies: “Does it look like I’m suffering? Those aren’t tears on your belly.” After getting nitrous oxide from his dentist, Mr. Schimmel hears him say, “‘Robert, you’re going to feel a little prick in your mouth.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not that fucked up yet.’”

On Dec. 7, a compact disk featuring a longer version of the HBO performance will be released. On it, Mr. Schimmel talks about buying a computer for his daughter on which he tries out cybersex. Going into America Online’s “People Connection” chatroom, Mr. Schimmel tells the audience, “It says you are now in Town Square, and I type in, ‘Who wants to suck my dick?’” When one man e-mails him a picture of his genitals, Mr. Schimmel panics, wondering, “How the fuck do I get this dick off my computer before my daughter comes home!” It’s as if Redd Foxx were the paternal head of The Simpsons . Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Mike Scully, who is an executive producer of The Simpsons , is working with Mr. Schimmel to create a series for 20th-Century Fox.

Mr. Schimmel has a lot of heavyweight fans in the comedy business. He’s been on Conan six times in two years by his count. Steve Martin wrote the liner notes to Mr. Schimmel’s last CD, If you buy This cd, I Can get this car , and Howard Stern has also had the comedian on a number of times. When Mr. Schimmel visited the show on Nov. 8, with his 21-year-old daughter Jessica, Mr. Stern praised the comic’s “honesty” and Mr. Schimmel did not disappoint him. He described the allergic reaction he had to a spermicide that his wife was using: “It was like having intercourse with a calzone.” Neither did Mr. Schimmel’s daughter. She talked about the time her father lost control of his bladder when her mother caught him in a cybersex chat. She also alluded to an American Beauty -like moment when Mr. Schimmel, in the hospital recuperating from a heart attack (which figures prominently in his routine), called one of her young friends at a very late hour to keep him company in the hospital.

If actor Jason Alexander was not a fan before the Oct. 1 Friars Club roast of Jerry Stiller, he must be one now. Mr. Alexander did a spit take during Mr. Schimmel’s set, which the comic started off by saying that Mr. Stiller had played “Angela Lansbury’s c–t” in Murder, She Wrote . Mr. Schimmel then stopped and quickly corrected himself by saying that he had meant to say “cousin.” He also worked in a bit, which appears in the HBO special, about sex toys, which includes the line: “You know how hard it is to pick out a dick for your wife? I only could pick the dick that I’d like.”

“Jason Alexander’s lawyer called me and told me that Jason had called him after the roast and said that I had made him use his asthma spray,” Mr. Schimmel said by phone from his Phoenix, Ariz., home, where he was keeping an eye on his 9-month-old daughter while he packed for an East Coast trip.

Yet, even though Mr. Schimmel killed (some even felt he should have closed the roast), his entire performance was cut out of the hourlong version of the roast that aired on Comedy Central a few weeks later. Unfortunately, Mr. Schimmel said he didn’t find this out until he had both of his parents over to watch the show. “It’s a bizarre thing to be treated like that,” Mr. Schimmel said. He was told that he was cut because of time restraints; a Comedy Central source told The Transom that Mr. Schimmel will be reinserted in a 90-minute version of the roast that is being cut for cablecast. Mr. Schimmel remained sanguine about the incident. “If that’s the worst thing that happens to me, then I’m in pretty good shape.”

Asked what prompted him to go into comedy, Mr. Schimmel recalled that growing up, he used to listen to his parents, who are Holocaust survivors, and their friends laughing behind closed doors as they listened to the blue humor records of Rusty Warren and Belle Barth. “The way they were laughing was a laugh I’d never heard before,” Mr. Schimmel recalled. “It was really good.”

He doesn’t wait for another question. “The next time you go to a drugstore, you got to look at this,” he said. “On the box of the Fleet enema –this shows you how stupid they think we really are–it says, ‘Caution’ in big, broad letters. ‘Remove the orange tip off the bottle before inserting into the rectum.’” Mr. Schimmel paused. “Which means that somebody actually stuck that up their ass and squeezed the bottle and shot the cap up into their spleen and had to go to the emergency room.”

Then Mr. Schimmel fired off a series of discussions that he swore he had had with celebrities. “I went up to Jane Fonda. I met her at some party with Ted Turner, and I walked over to her and I said, ‘Miss Fonda, I don’t want to bother you, but I just want to say that my wife’s favorite movie is Fried Green Tomatoes .’ She said, ‘I wasn’t in that.’ I said, ‘I know, but that’s her favorite movie.’ She looked at me like, What the fuck is your problem ?

“I love doing stuff like that, because celebrities, when you fuck with them like that, they’re always expecting the suck-up and when you don’t do it, they don’t know how to react,” Mr. Schimmel said.

He talked about the time he met the actor and Citizen Kane co-star Joseph Cotten at an awards show, where Mr. Cotten was being given a lifetime achievement award. “I was sitting at a table with Milton Berle, Caesar Romero” and another actor who played a doctor on a successful 1960′s sitcom. The actor who played the doctor was with a young man, whom he introduced, according to Mr. Schimmel, as his “ward.”

“I said, ‘Ward? What are you, fucking Bruce Wayne? Your ward? You mean the kid you’re blowing. Anybody else here have a ward tonight?’”

Mr. Schimmel said that Mr. Cotten came to the table after receiving his award. “I said, ‘Mr. Cotten, I know tonight’s your night, but I just wanted to tell you that I’ve seen Citizen Kane like 35 times and I don’t get it. That whole thing was about a sled?’ I said, ‘Man, you’re lucky you made that movie then, because I’ll tell you, today, that shit wouldn’t fly. There’s no special effects, and it turns out to be a sled at the end. Nobody’s gettin’ laid.’”

According to Mr. Schimmel, Mr. Berle took him for a walk. “He said, ‘You don’t do that to Joseph Cotten when he gets a lifetime achievement award.’”

Mr. Schimmel is cruising now. Right past a Santa Monica Boulevard hot-dog stand, where he says, “All the male prostitutes hang out in L.A.” Mr. Schimmel explained, “I went on stage one night and everybody was there, industry people, and I said, ‘I just passed this place and maybe it’s just me, but if I was a male prostitute and I was blowing guys for a living eight hours a day, the last place I’d want to hang out on a break would be a hot-dog stand.’”

The comic paused for a second, then added: “Here comes my agent …”

American Express’ Black Op

For years, there have been rumors that American Express issued black charge cards to a handful of its most valued customers. For the last few weeks, those rumors have been true. In mid-October, American began issuing the black-faced cards, which it is calling its Centurion Card, to a select list of its existing members. The cards are issued on an invitation-only basis, according to American Experess spokesman Judy Tenzer, although she declined to divulge how many of these cards will be issued. (The Transom hears that the invites are going to the top 1 percent of Platinum cardholders). They also cost the holder an annual fee of $1,000, but, according to Ms. Tenzer, the privileges are even more deluxe than the Platinum card: each holder of a black card gets his or her own personal concierge and travel counselor. Also, Centurion Card holders buying a first-class, full-fare New York-London route on British Airways are automatically upgraded to the Concorde. “There’s a really, really in-depth list of benefits,” said Ms. Tenzer.

American Express initially rolled out its black cards in Britain in May, but Ms. Tenzer said the company won’t be advertising them. New Yorkers probably won’t have trouble seeing one, though. Given the instant status symbol that these invitation-only cards will become, we can certainly expect the insecure rich to begin flaunting them any day now. (One has already been spotted at a Manhattan restaurant).

Before we signed off with Ms. Tenzer, we asked her if American Express had indeed issued special black cards prior to the Centurion Card. “There have always been rumors floating around about a black card,” she said. “This is the first time that a black charge card is being offered in the marketplace. There was something many years ago that was not a charge card,” Ms. Tenzer said. “It was some sort of identification card. It was not a card that you could use for payment.” Stay tuned.