Saturday, August 7, 2010
Published Aug. 4, 2010 in Boca Raton Forum
By Joanie Cox
London Lee packed New York Comedy Club in Boca Raton July 30-31. The stand up comedian has appeared on more than 250 television shows throughout his career including “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Mike Douglas Show” and many others. In 1974, he scored some big screen fame getting a part in The Gambler opposite James Caan and Paul Sorvino. Now 70, Lee has lived a life most comedians only dream about. After opening for legends such as Tom Jones and Sammy Davis Jr., he has enough tales of life on the road to fill at least two autobiographies. But what I love about Lee is he sticks to what he knows. He’s funny and he uses witty lines in lieu of vulgarity to get laughs. This is something comedians half his age could learn a thing or two about.
Growing up in a wealthy family, Lee earned the nickname “Rich Kid” when he started appearing at coffeehouses in the early ‘60s in Greenwich Village, New York. “I was making $28 a week and working at a club with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara,” Lee says. “Down the street, Tiny Tim would be doing his act and Richard Pryor and Woody Allen would be at another club down a few doors down.”
I’m sort of blown away by Lee’s ease on stage. He doesn’t riff on the front row of his audience sitting in the comedy club, which is something I’ve seen every young comedian do. He cracks jokes about Paris Hilton, getting older and a trip to Mexico he refers to as the “Kaopectate festival.” He only recently considered adding a couple of expletives into his act six months ago and his words are strategically placed--not tossed around out of habit. “My father worked in the garment business and we were really rich. He wanted me to go into the business too, but I decided it wasn’t for me,” Lee explains. “They sent me to a psychiatrist and it was there I decided to become a comedian. I went home and told my father and he said the psychiatrist needed more help then I did.”
Joking about his wealthy upbringing and family members, Lee created a clever act that caught the attention of comedian Lenny Bruce’s mother who took Lee home to meet her son. “Lenny and I became friends and I ended up moving in with him,” Lee says. “He told me ‘Don’t ever lose that Rich Kid act. It’s your identity and makes you different.’”
Lee appeared on “Talent Scouts” in 1963 and Carol Burnett ended up discovering him. “I was a very mixed up kid,” Lee adds. “From ages 10 to 18, I didn’t want to go to school. I stuttered so bad I asked to go to the bathroom every time the teacher asked me to read because the kids would all laugh at me. I decided to try to make a career out of people laughing at me then.”
Lee went on to play a golf game that led him to meet Davis Jr., and he ended up opening for him in Las Vegas. “There was nothing Sammy couldn’t do. I would watch him rehearse with a 36-piece orchestra and he had such a good ear. He’d be able to say, ‘The second trumpet in the fourth row hit a bad note.’ Let’s start over.’ The man played seven instruments, could sing, dance and do impressions.”
While opening for Davis Jr., Lee says he has fond memories of looking out in the front row which would often include Ann Margaret, Anthony Quinn and Paul Newman.
“Every time I had a chance to do a movie, I’d turn it down and to do stand up in Vegas, which I think was a mistake,” Lee says. “But I am the best I’ve ever been in my whole career...right now.”
Lee is set to appear at New York Comedy Club’s new location, 4116 N. Ocean Drive, in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea in September. Call 561-470-6887 or visit Nyccboca.com for details.