SHECKY GREENE - A DAY AT THE RACES - CD - $12.99
1. In The Service
2. Religious Stories
5. Shecky G
6. The Opera
10. Interior Designer
11. Lake Tahoe
12. My Wife
(Sheldon Greenfield) April 8, 1925
The ultimate "Vegas Comedian," Shecky Greene came to the resort town back in the 50's. Born in Chicago, he had worked in resorts near Milwaulkee and gotten a break playing Miami Beach as Martha Raye's opening act. He wasn't particularly well known when he arrived in Vegas, but he and the town seemed to grow wild together. The more free-wheeling and splashy Vegas became, the more frenzied was Greene's ad-libbing and clowning with ringsiders.
Ralph Pearl, a major Las Vegas reporter in Greene's heyday, recalled, "Though small in stature (5'7") Shecky is almost that wide. He could easily have passed for a large fire hydrant. And, when aroused, he could have ripped a phone book into small pieces with his bare hands with ease. Or a Ralph Pearl into just as many pieces."
Shecky's explosions of comic violence were legend -- like the time he drove his car into the fountain in front of the Caesar's Palace casino. "No spray wax, please," he said. His admitted "drinking, carousing, gambling, turning over crap tables and busting up entire casinos" was tolerated, even encouraged in the "anything goes" Vegas atmosphere. He was soon earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, joining the elite company of Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett as "must see" attractions for tourists.
Like a cactus in the desert, the formidable Greene needed a special location in which to thrive. His prickly barbs and blitz of ad-libs, old gags, impressions, song parodies, dialect and old-fashioned face-making didn't come across on albums. He couldn't "tummel" in seven tight minutes before a TV variety show audience and "work the crowd" up to a fever pitch of hilarity. The magic of Green was best appreciated in the live, party atmosphere of the casinos and similar nightclubs around the country. His career slowed only after throat surgery, cancer surgery, and in 1990 a hip transplant that sidelined him for a year.
Though many comedy critics frowned on the tuxedo-wearing Vegas stand-ups and their whiz bang gags punctuated by drum "rim shots," Greene was clearly the best of the lot, a riot for the blue-collar types, middle-Americans and the "velvet painting and capodamonte" crowd that came to see him. A stand-up whose roots were in the "lay it in their laps" style of Abbott & Costello (Greene often pointed out his physical resemblance to Lou Costello), Greene's style wasn't subtle or cerebral -- he simply wanted to kill the audience with laughter and was strong enough and manic enough, to be able to use the bludgeon approach. No one watching him work could deny his overpowering charisma. Jerry Lewis called him "the epitome of comic genius," and many had to agree. If critics never considered him a classy diamond, he was at least a brightly polished zircon, shining in a casino setting.
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