Sunday, 12 April 2015

Honestly, Fans, I'm Not Cheap

You wouldn’t think a big star would need a warm-up act prior to going on the air in front of a live audience, but I gather that’s pretty much the case.

Sometimes, the act included the star himself. There are copies circulating of “The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show” where Philsey himself is cracking jokes (albeit the same ones before each show). And both Jack Benny and Fred Allen talked to their audiences before their broadcasts, as earlier posts here have shown.

Here’s a story dealing with Jack’s final TV special. If you’ve ever seen it, and wonder if he’s actually in front of an audience, you’ll see the answer is “yes” (though I strongly suspect an augmenting laugh track is employed at certain moments). I’ve mentioned before that Jack seems obsessed that people thought he was actually cheap; he brought it up continually in interviews and he mentions it in this audience warm up.

This unbylined feature appeared in newspapers on January 20, 1974. The photo appeared in one paper along with the story, though I believe it’s from 1968 and was pulled from the paper’s photo archive.

Jack Benny And The Audience Warm Up To Each Other
There will be lots of laughs for viewers of the upcoming Jack Benny special. And there were lots of laughs that will never get on the air.
These are the laughs that occurred when the star faced the audience during the taping of “RCA Presents Jack Benny’s Second Farewell Special,” to be colorcast on the NBC Television Network, airing Thursday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m.
First, announcer Bill Baldwin introduced Benny to the audience and then informed the star that there was a lady in the audience celebrating her 84th birthday. “I’m breathing right down your neck,” Benny told the woman.
Since he had a few more minutes before taping the first number, Benny discussed his stinginess.
"I’m supposed to be stingy but, honestly, I’m not,” he told the audience. “I really tip very big, especially cab drivers and waiters.”
He proceeded to discuss an incident recently in Las Vegas to make the point.
“I hate to take a cab in Vegas and go just a short distance,” he said. “When I do, I usually tip very big. Well, I took a cab from the Sahara to the Riviera. Now, when I do that, I get embarrassed. The fare was $1.10 so I gave the driver $3 and told him to keep the change.”
The cabbie thanked the star but, as Benny tells it, said, “I wish you hadn’t done that.”
“Why?” asked Benny.
“Because,” said the cabbie. “I wanted to go home and tell my wife what a cheapskate you are.”
“You can still do that,” said Benny. “Give me back my tip.”
The audience wanted to know about Jack’s violin playing.
“I get $100 a ticket for concerts because I play lousy,” Benny explained. If I played well, I wouldn’t be able to get $2.”
Benny indicated that he does not collect a dime from these concerts — they are all benefits.
What about his wife Mary?
“On January 14 we will have been married 47 years,” said Benny. “That just shows you it can happen even in Hollywood. If I told you we never had an argument, I would be lying. But we never had an argument where the word ‘divorce’ was used. ‘Murder’ yes!”
“One minute to show time,” the stage manager announced.
“This is the moment that scares the hell out of me,” said Benny.
Benny walks out, throws the audience a kiss.
“May we start once again,” the director interrupts. “The lights weren’t on.”
Benny’s look breaks up the audience.
“Can you imagine a mistake happening that soon?” he asks. “I didn’t even start the show. For goodness sake, when we have to do things over, just remember where you laughed!”


  1. I remember Jack Benny’s “farewell” specials. I think he had at least two of them. They were hilarious! One of the funniest routines (I’m almost certain it was on one of these specials) featured Benny standing in center stage talking to the audience. Suddenly, a penguin on roller skates comes out onto the stage. Benny stopped talking immediately and, with his signature dead pan look on his face, watched silently as the penguin awkwardly “skated” past him. The moment the penguin exited the stage on the other side, Benny, not cracking a smile, turned his attention back to the audience and resumed talking, just as if nothing had happened. Believe me, you really had to see it. Words don’t do it justice.

  2. I was watching this (live on tv) with my father, a 2nd generation German. The only time I can remember watching him laugh uncontrollably. I found your post above 3 years after you wrote it, trying to find a youtube clip of that very event.