By Jerry Waxman
“Comedy is a serious business. A serious business with only one purpose-to make you laugh” W.C.Fields
If you’re of a certain age you remember the Hungry i, the legendary San Francisco club where a whole slew of comedians and musicians got their start. Founded in 1950 the club operated through the mid sixties until the political scene, comedy and music started to change. Performers who either got their start or enhanced their careers include (although not limited to) Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce The Kingston Trio, Mort Sahl, Glenn Yarborough, Tom Lehrer, The Limelighters, Vince Guaraldi, Godfrey Cambridge, Professor Irwin Corey, Dick Cavett, Woody Allen, Orson Bean, Shelley Berman and Barbra Streisand. Many of them recorded live albums there so the name became synonymous with comedy and folk music. John Phillips prior to founding the Mamas and the Papas led the house band. The room itself was just that; bare walls with a performance area.
It was supposed to be an Orange County Democratic Party social event with a hook. If you bought a raffle ticket for $25.00 you could win a dinner with the congressman. The place was a beer and wine bar near upscale Baldwin Park in Orlando. It was supposed to last an hour and a half from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM. The back room of the place reminded me of the Hungry i. The place was packed with anticipation. I was there as a participant in the event and I had no intention of writing about it. I’ve written about Alan Grayson many times. It’s not that hard. He’s a newsmaker and he’s never boring; you also never know what to expect from him which makes him very interesting. He’s become Alan Grayson 3.0, the humorist.
A humorist is different from a comedian. Sure, he can match one-liners and punch lines with aplomb like a comedian yet, like a good storyteller, he sets up situations and keeps you interested until the final moment, reminiscent of O Henry or Mark Twain. He evokes images of Myron Cohen, Sam Levenson, Willie (I’m not Rappaport!) Howard and Lou (Sam, you made the pants too long!) Holtz (not the football coach). If he were to become a writer he would easily fit into the Mark Twain mold. He has developed that demeanor. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he riffed on the bestowment of his title “The most Effective Member of Congress” for close to fifteen minutes. The heavily partisan crowd applauded his remarks and booed rather loudly at the mentions of Rick Scott and Marco Rubio as if on cue; well, it really was on cue because he served as his own prompter. He took advantage of the situation and remarked “I can see the Fox News headlines tomorrow, Democrats boo Grayson.” I wish I had recorded the event I wasn’t prepared to record the proceedings or take notes so it is difficult to recreate his remarks accurately. His topics ranged from his legislative accomplishments to health care, Medicaid, Social Security, the paid sick time fiasco and the Republicans in congress being mathematically challenged. On a serious note he did reflect on his hand delivery to the White House of three million petitions telling the President to keep his hands off of Social Security and Medicare. It was effective because the White House doesn’t talk about it anymore. If he ever decided to give up the congress gig he could take his act on the road and “lay them in the aisles”.
Finally, the raffle winner, a young woman got her picture taken with him and he remarked kiddingly about his grass roots fundraising from small donors (and I’m paraphrasing) “You mean to tell me I can be bought for $25.00? What if you don’t want to have dinner with me? For $2500.00 I can arrange that.” Wild applause and laughter followed and after that his final quip was “For $5000.00 I’ll never speak to you again!”
Have Letterman’s people called yet?