‘It’s Good to Be the King': Richard Lewis on Alan King
That was a Mel Brooks line, and it couldn’t have a better meaning nor a better fit than for the comedic master who just retired into immortality. Right up front, my deepest condolences to his family and thousands of friends who really knew and loved him.
I’m at home, getting ready to hit the road yet again in this, my 34th year as a comedian. When I heard, or rather, shockingly read the news being scrolled underneath some cable news-channel programming, I had to think, even in a sudden state of shock and sadness, that Alan King, a friend and truly a giant and ground-breaking comedian of his and any generation, was somehow, in whatever state of grace he ended up in, already thinking about a joke.
One of the reasons I’m even getting ready to fly to a gig is because of this beloved comedic madman. There are always a handful of inspirations and influences on any young artist that seem to mystically stay put in one’s mind when the time comes to go out there and try the art form for yourself.
Alan King was one of those few for me. His impact and authenticity is not just obvious but essential to know for anyone remotely serious about what the world of stand-up comedy is all about.
When I first watched and listened to Alan King, probably during one of his 10 million appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, it wasn’t just the laughs that filled my family’s TV room that moved me. It was all the amazing “tools of his craft” that he possessed so naturally that made him appear that he not only “owned the stage” but built it single-handedly-and God forbid anyone try to follow him.
Few before or after could ever lay claim to that much talent. Experiencing an Alan King set wasn’t for me that I just laughed my ass off, but as a struggling artist decades later, I intuitively knew that to make any inroads in stand-up, or to just be worthwhile, based on Alan’s persona, I had to “be believable”-and to the best of my recollection, when I experienced his brand of humor, the most side-splitting and essential aspect of it all was that I not only thought that he was talking directly to me, but that he had something to say and nothing would get in the way of his making a point and expressing himself. Nothing.
And thankfully, as hell-bent as Alan King was to humorously vent, he did it with an attitude that historically should be acknowledged as one of the most
masterful, uproarious and near-perfect blends of the art form ever.
Although probably more like 40 years ago, it might as well have been last night as I so vividly recall Alan’s monologue on TV about how much money it cost him to spend an evening out in N.Y.C. His storytelling shredded the city with jokes and premises like the world’s fastest and angriest delicatessen meat-cutter. He was like Wyatt Earp with a yarmulke. His routines were not just insanely funny but usually profound, one-of-a-kind and-like great art-indelible. They sure were that to me.
Alan, God bless you. Although I want you to rest in peace, I’m almost certain that while you’re most probably in heaven, you will raise hell up there like no one else. And God will really need to rest on the Sabbath because, unless he has the ultimate connections that one might think is a lock, most certainly, riddled with divine guilt, he’ll give up his seat to some poor, complaining schmuck. Sadly, since every Alan King gig will be S.R.O., God himself will have no choice but to sleep off the laughter hangover, after most certainly developing arthritic knees from never being able to feel comfortable sitting. I mean, let’s face it, God is the ultimate maître d’. And Alan, the ultimate comedian.
In fact, I have no doubt that if any comedian could, probably only Alan King-and very few others-will have to add a second show, even when he’s immortal. He was that great.
Dressed in several layers of foundation (discreet), that eyeliner (stupendous) and a few buckles (unnecessary), Avril Lavigne (it’s French, O.K.?) huddled with The Transom in the anteroom of Webster Hall, the warty East Village outgrowth of a respectable, early-20th-century art venue (Myrna Loy! Marcel Duchamp!), moments before she took to the stage to launch her sophomore release (Under My Skin) rocket-like into the collective broadband unconsciousness. Sporting a new set of charming-if-Aguilera-esque lowlights and curls, Miss Lavigne had just returned from an afternoon taping of The Late Show with David Letterman with Nicole Kidman to perform a small concert (part charity, part promotion) for AOL’s Broadband Rocks series in front of a few hundred eager, underage and suburban fans.
Never mind that Avril’s label is part of the German media empire Bertelsmann A.G., which AOL Time Warner has been courting passively for years.
So was Miss Lavigne exhausted from the “mall” tour she has recently completed?
“No, I’m O.K. because I totally eat healthy now! I get my energy from that.” Vegan? And would that require new clauses in the rider, like a roving trove of soy candles, barley malt and rooibos tea for green-rooms?
“Pretty much. I mean, I’ll have my moment when I say, ‘Fuck it, I will have that pizza,’ or go to McDonald’s, but like 90 percent of the time I’m eating healthy. My friend Tina,” she said, pointing at a girl ambling about in the distance, “taught me what is more important.”
What is that? asked The Transom.
“Broccoli! I have broccoli for breakfast.”
“Noooo! I have, like, avocados. And tomatoes, too. I do a lot of tofu and hummus. And nuts! And soymilk and vegetables. Because meat is crap! What you put in your body is so important. It’s my job to take care of that, because I have so much to do.”
She said she’s been feeling distinctly uncrappy these days.
“Yeah, it’s been a while. Like at least a week. I feel toooooooootally better. Very different. I’m all into herbal stuff now, and I take liquid vitamins because I can’t swallow pills!” She giggled. “I also put pH drops in my water.”
The Transom asked whether she was carrying litmus paper around as well.
“Do you know what happens to an animal when it dies?! All its urine and its crap filters through its body and it’s toxic!” she said.
Speaking of toxic, what about that SNL skit, hosted by the walloping Lindsay Lohan a few weeks ago?
“You know, I thought they exaggerated a little-a lot-on my character. So when I actually played the following week, and talked to the girl who did the impersonation of me-her name was either Rachel or Amy, and I totally gave her shit, and then she was laughing and she was like, ‘It’s all in good fun!’ And then I gave her a hug.”
The mercury hit 85 degrees on May 24, but at the American Museum of Natural History, where 20th Century Fox held the premiere for its summer blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, everything was done to make an instant climatological shift covering New York City in ice seem plausible.
Real snowdrifts had been created by ice machines and dumped so that they flanked the white carpet-but reality trumped Hollywood when the incongruous mounds began to melt.
Making the best of it was the movie’s star, Jake Gyllenhaal; the indie Boy Wonder did his best imitation of a Hollywood bad boy when he told reporters, “I like screwing around!”
Co-star Austin Nichols turned to The Transom and began to offer his assessment of Mr. Gyllenhaal:
“I can’t say enough good things about Jake-”
POW! A snowball hit him in the face. A few yards away, Mr. Gyllenhaal cackled impenitently.
“So, I take that back,” Mr. Nichols said.
“I meant to hit Teddy Roosevelt,” the film’s star protested by way of an excuse, gesturing to the statue in front of the museum. “I almost managed to hit his ass, but I don’t think I got it.”
Meanwhile, more faux snow blasted the crowd from above, but before long it was clear the stuff was actually made from soap bubbles. Paparazzi yowled that their lenses were going be ruined; reporters donned sunglasses during interviews to keep the suds from burning their eyes as several of the movie’s stars walked the white carpet under umbrellas held by attendants.
“We all look like we have dandruff!” Mr. Gyllenhaal cracked.
A reporter asked actress Sela Ward the disaster-themed question of whether she had any regrets in her life.
“Only standing in this!” she said of the ice water and soap that blanketed the floor-a Mini-Me version of the mass of dirty water that sweeps Manhattan in the movie.
When it began to rain on the premiere, the cast recalled the three months they spent shooting in a giant water tank.
“Wet and cold!” said Emmy Rossum of her time spent in the tank. She plays Mr. Gyllenhaal’s love interest. “We were shivering a lot of the time-lots of toweling off-but I can’t tell you how fun it was!”
“I think I may have been guilty of urinating in the tank,” Mr. Nichols confided.
“I think there’s something cathartic about disaster films,” said Mr. Gyllenhaal. “You walk out of the theater and say, ‘Oh, thank God-it’s still here!'”
In the movie, Mr. Gyllenhaal manages to save his love interest from impending doom (oh, as if you didn’t know!), but how about in real life? What if he could only save one thing? “A cucumber,” the former Columbia student deadpanned. “It’s an important vege-er, fruit!”
Suddenly he bent down and scooped up some snow. “Want me to throw another one?” he asked. And with that, he formed a tight little ball, cocked his arm back and shouted, “Incoming!”
“I think a lot of editors in chief would have done a first book that was a novel, gazing at their navel,” Men’s Health editor in chief David Zinczenko told The Transom at a party to celebrate his new book, The Abs Diet: The Six Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life. “I prefer as a first book to gaze at other people’s navels.”
Spinach and feta pockets, greasy ham and cheese triangles, roast beef with horseradish mayo and skewered shrimp atop some lettuce shreds circulated at the May 24 book party, held at Elaine’s.
Not in the diet book, the tall, twinkly-eyed Mr. Zinczenko conceded. But built into his recommended eating and fitness plan is one cheat meal per week, and Mr. Zinczenko was partying with cheaters tonight.
The book proposes a fat-fighting, high-protein, high-fiber diet, coupled with a strenuous workout regime that emphasizes the muscles that, he writes on the book jacket cover, are the “ultimate symbol of sex appeal.”
The abs, he says.
Well-wishers lined up to sock Mr. Zinczenko with a playful punch in the gut, well aware that the boyish charmer is the magazine’s best salesman-and the embodiment of its message: working out four times a week, dating curvaceous actress Rose McGowan, dressing in slim-fitting Dolce & Gabbana suits and slick Prada shirts. Of course, he protests.
“If I ended up under a bus, this magazine and brand would be in great shape,” he said.
He attached his name to the book, he said, because a book “has to have an author.”
The doll-faced Ms. McGowan, sporting ample décolletage, listened incredulously as she shimmered in a beaded top by Temperly, and not because she had rushed into the room three-quarters of the way into the party, pleading that her driver got lost on the way there.
“Brand Zinczenko: Watch out!” she said. “He makes me feel incredibly lousy for only having one job.”
Not one to be pushed into a dog-and-pony show for the press, she demurred when a Post reporter asked her describe her boyfriend’s abs, angling for some salacious details.
“It’s cheesy,” she whispered to the publicist, finally delivering an assessment that sounded something like, “He’s looking good.”
Mr. Zinczenko’s mother, Janice Sobieski, visiting from Allentown, Penn., confided that while the nuns in his Bethlehem, Penn., Catholic school had complained about her son’s boisterousness, she knew he was “driven.”
“He wanted to excel at everything,” she explained.
Meanwhile, restaurant owner Elaine Kaufman could be seen near the end of the party, hunched over at a table in a black and white schmatte, inspecting the HazMat-orange book.
“My whole life is a diet book,” she said, promising to try Mr. Zinczenko’s version herself.
“We were on our way over here and the radio was up and it said, ‘Radio City, pretty busy because of Harry Potter,'” chirped James Phelps, the tall redhead Briton who plays Fred Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise. “And I was like, ‘O.K., pretty busy,’ and then we turned the corner and it was like, ‘Oh, my!'”
The sight of 500 screaming Potterheads outside Radio City Music Hall waiting to get a look at their Hogwarts idols on the way into the premiere of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban must have been something for the young thespian to behold. There was chanting (Har-RY Pot-TER! Har-RY Pot-TER! ); two kids held up an impressive homemade Dementor (the soul-sucking demons that play a large role in the film); a young girl held a poster that read “Marry me, Dan!” with a heart encircling the face of Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe. And, rather more obscurely, there was the sign that read: “Harry Potter is Jewish! Take pride in Israel-Harry does!”
Witches, ghosts and wizards sent by central casting to roam the red carpet mingled improbably with ER’s Anthony Edwards, actresses Natalie Portman, Gina Gershon and Cynthia Nixon, who was back to her natural blond hair and being led down the red carpet by her daughter.
Toothy model Christie Brinkley posed with her family; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins rushed past with theirs. Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas brought his model wife, Marisol Maldonado, a dead-ringer for actress Claire Forlani.
“I’m 10 right now!” she said, looking around.
Nearby, Emma Watson, better known as Azkaban’s witchy know-it-all Hermione Granger, was correcting a reporter who’d gotten her age wrong. “Fourteen, actually,” she said, sounding not unlike her smartypants character.
“I’ve spent two years denying that I’m anything like her!” she laughed when confronted with the comparison. “But now I think I might be as bossy as her!”
She was, however, looking decidedly un-Hermione-wrapped in a glamorous strapless Lanvin gown the color of chocolate milk, paired with Marc by Marc Jacobs bejeweled pointy white flats.
Also looking quite dapper was 14-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, who’s been playing the title character for three years. In a spiffing pinstriped suit and pocket square (and wearing makeup!), he reminded us that Harry isn’t the only one growing up. “I’ve been short for so long and now I’m growing, which is great! I’m still really short for my year. I don’t care, I’m growing, dammit!” he cursed.
Ten points from Gryffindor!
The Harry Potter dynasty has made Mr. Radcliffe the second-richest teenager in the U.K. (another Harry, the Prince, is the titleholder). Nevertheless, he was just as awestruck by the fans.
“Insane, totally insane, but brilliant!” he stammered, looking out at the crowd.
Tom Felton (a.k.a. Draco Malfoy) showed up-all 6-foot-1 of him-his signature platinum locks cut close and reduced to a muted ashy hue. We asked the 16-year-old how he handles the bleach.
“I don’t! Ugh! Can’t handle that. I’ve cut it off now, obviously. I can handle it when I’m filming, that’s it though.”
So is his personality anything like the bad-boy wizard he plays onscreen?
“It’s the complete opposite, really,” he said. “I’m not half as immature or half as slimy as Draco, except maybe with my older brothers.”
He has three.
“I do try, though!”
His charmingly spotted face was intent as he glanced around excitedly.
“I’ve never been to a New York premiere,” he said. “This is my first. The ladies are more eager!”