A Kid’s show, Jersey Style!
Back in the early eighties I was busy crossing the country and headlining in comedy clubs in nearly every state. It was a busy and enjoyable period of my life and resulted in many memorable highlights. This is one of them.
I often seemed to end up in New Jersey and played nearly every club in the state. The most prosperous and prestigious club was in the city of Orange and it was quite a feather in the cap for a magician to headline there. This is where my story begins.
This particular club boasted a menu that included gourmet Italian entrees that cost upwards of forty dollars: quite a change from the nachos and chicken wings that usually predominated in comedy clubs from coast to coast. There was a general feeling among performers that this particular club was a little different from most of the others we played.
There were a great many ‘Goodfella’s’ and mob jokes that disappeared like magic from comedian’s acts when they performed in the club. It wasn’t anything you knew for certain but it certainly was a widely held view that this was a smart step for performers to follow. Nobody spoke about it, it just happened. I’m sure you catch my drift.
In the middle of one of my engagements the owner of the club approached me after the show and asked me if I performed a kid’s birthday party show. I said that I hadn’t done so for years; he replied that I was doing one on Saturday afternoon. I tried to look happy as I said “OK.”
The next day I made a fast visit to Tannen’s and picked up modeling balloons, mouth coils and a set of ‘Hippity Hop Bunnies.’ I now felt somewhat prepared for my first kid’s show in many years. I wasn’t looking forward to it but I did feel prepared. Now if I could just remember how to twist a darn poodle!
Saturday afternoon arrived and at the appointed time so did a long black limousine. I jumped in the back and we drove several miles to the party location. As soon as we pulled up at our destination I gulped and felt slightly sick.
We were parked in front of a large empty space with a small Italian restaurant situated in the very center of the lot. At each of the four corners of the lot was a large black sedan. Standing next to each vehicle was a brace of burly men wearing dark glasses and dark suits. Even a casual glance at them was intimidating.
As we pulled into the lot two of the burly men came over to the limo and looked inside. I was motioned to get out of the car and then escorted to the door of the restaurant. Inside the entrance were two more burly men dressed in the same uniform. One of these men escorted me to a small room next to the kitchen and said; “I’ll get you when we’re ready.”
I peeped out into the dark restaurant and it was filled with expensively dressed men and women. There was a head table that ran crosswise at one edge of the room. It looked a little like the last supper recreated by Martin Scorsese. At the centre of the table was a powerful looking elderly gentleman who looked just like all the other men in the room but more so.
When the man who had escorted me to the room returned to tell me it was showtime I took the opportunity to ask him where the birthday girl was. “Sitting right there,” and he indicated with a jerk of his thumb, a lady on the head table. She looked like she was in her early to mid-forties but the way she was sitting next to that focal figure of power at the center of the table spoke volumes. On the table In front of her was an elaborate birthday cake complete with candles. It was apparent that his was very much Daddy’s little girl!
I performed my show, minus the ‘Hippity Hop Bunnies,’ but I did make my very best fancy poodle and presented it to the birthday girl. She seemed very happy to receive it and even more importantly her dad grunted in approval as I handed it over.
Minutes after my performance had ended to polite applause I was escorted out of the restaurant. As I left I noticed a nervous looking juggler, complete with clubs in hand, peering out of the small room next to the kitchen that I had recently vacated. “Good luck ” I thought as I made my exit from the scene.
The man who escorted me out of the restaurant to the waiting limo spoke only four words; “You done good kid.” and he slipped a hundred dollar bill into my hand. I got into the limo and we sped away into the hot New Jersey night like something from a Bruce Springsteen song. I breathed a sigh of relief. I still have slight shudders anytime I see a set of ‘Hippity Hop Bunnies.’