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Cissie Blumberg On Revitalizing the Catskills

Esterita "Cissie" Blumber writes a monthly column for the Catskill/Hudson Jewish Star. She grew up in a hotel in the Catskills, and later owned and operated it with her husband. Last year her book "Remember the Catskills: Tales by a Recovering Hotelkeeper" was published. (Purple Mountain Press)

16:39

Other segments from the episode on September 7, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 7, 1998: Interview with Drew Carey; Interview with Esterita "Cissie" Blumberg.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 07, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Drew Carey
Sect: Entertainment; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to end the summer season with some good laughs. We have an interview with stand-up comic and TV star Drew Carey. His character on "The Drew Carey Show" is a variation of his comedy club persona. The TV Drew Carey is a likable, overweight, out-of-shape working stiff in Cleveland. Part of what makes this character so winning is his nerdy retro look, complete with crewcut and black glasses. Drew Carey's summer series, "Whose Line is it Anyway?" was such a success that ABC has just ordered 13 more episodes.

Carey's book "Dirty Jokes and Beer" has just come out in paperback. It's a collection of some very funny jokes, personal reminiscences, and some not so funny stuff about his suicide attempts and his father's death. I spoke with Drew Carey last year when the book was first published.

One of the chapters in your book is really a scream. It's 101 very funny jokes about the male member.

DREW CAREY, COMEDIAN: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm not sure how to put it.

CAREY: Yeah, that not what it's called, but...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: That's not what you call it.

CAREY: ... yeah, that's a good way to -- that's a good way to put it for radio, sure.

GROSS: Yeah. And these jokes are really funny. And...

CAREY: Yeah, my friends and I started -- started doin' 'em. It started with John Kempener (ph) on "The Good Life" when he showed me his one day as a joke. And I said: what do you call that? And I was making the jokes about, you know, mine is so big that -- and he went: oh, yeah, well, mine is so big that -- and we started making up these jokes.

And I started remembering all of them in my head. And every time a comic -- my friends would get together we'd mention this thing. They always added in their own jokes. Everybody thought it was so funny they'd try to add in their own jokes. And I started writing all these down and pretty soon I had 101 of them. And most all of them I wrote myself; I lot of them came from my friends, and I credit them in the book. But they're really funny.

GROSS: Can you -- can you tell a couple of them?

CAREY: It's so big it's right behind you.

LAUGHTER

It's so big there's still snow on it in the summer time.

LAUGHTER

It's so big...

LAUGHTER

Oh, well. I'll try to try to clean these up for the radio. It's so
big it graduated a year ahead of me from high school. It's so big
Stephen Hawking has a theory about it.

LAUGHTER

I love that one. It's so big, you know, it has an opening act.
It's so big it only tips with hundreds. It's so big it contains billions and billions of stars. It's so big...

GROSS: ... it doesn't return Spielberg's calls.

CAREY: ... it doesn't return Spielberg's calls. That's pretty
big.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: That's really funny.

CAREY: It's so big my mother was in labor for three extra days.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Oh, there's another joke I have to ask you to tell.

CAREY: OK.

GROSS: This is the one about the beautiful woman who compliments the comic. I love this.

CAREY: Oh...

LAUGHTER

... yeah, I think that's a clean one. That's like a typical comic insecurity joke. There's this comic gets -- he's in the bar Friday night and he's done working and there's really the most stunningly beautiful woman he's ever seen in his life sitting at the bar.

And she says: you were so funny tonight. I never laughed so hard. I think you're the sexiest guy in the world. I want to take you back to my place and make the most -- the hottest love with you and just give you the wildest sexual trip you've ever had in your whole entire life right now.

And he looked at her and he goes: did you see the first show or the second show?

GROSS: That is so great. I've heard that for jazz musicians, too, where the beautiful woman...

CAREY: Oh, have you?

GROSS: ... comes up to a jazz musician and he says: did you hear the first set or the second set?

CAREY: Yeah.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: It's the best joke about self-absorbed artists I've heard.

LAUGHTER

CAREY: There's a lot of those going around.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah. You know, in your book, you seem to really want to communicate that you're not the TV character Drew Carey, that he's a lot more lovable than you...

CAREY: Yeah, he is. He puts...

GROSS: ... than you really are.

CAREY: ... the guy on TV -- the guy on TV puts up with so much more crap than I would ever put up with in my life, and I have so much more ambition in my real life than the guy on TV does. You know, if I was -- if that was the real Drew, I would be -- I would have quit that job and try to start my own business and, you know, I mean, a real business where I could make money. Buzz Beer (ph) isn't going so good on the show.

But yeah, I -- I mean, when you're writing a book, it's like a personal letter, you know, almost to like to you to strangers. And so you want to let them know, like, hey this is me, I'm not, you know -- you want to write it in your own voice instead of try to be some TV guy. Because I think the book, you know, might not have a -- it's scaring me that the book might be around more than the TV show, you know? The book can sit around for a long time after the TV show has come and gone. Could be sitting on somebody's bookshelf, in a library, you know, who knows?

GROSS: Yeah, but the reruns come back to haunt you anyways.

CAREY: Yeah, I know, but, you know, hopefully.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: That's right. If you're lucky.

CAREY: In a perfect world, yeah.

GROSS: Well, another thing you point out in your book is that, you know, comics have to make fun of people, it's hard to be like the nicest guy if you're a comic.

CAREY: They have to. You have to make fun of people and ruffle some feathers or why be a comic? I hate watching comics that have no opinion about anything. 'Cause I'll watch comics on TV and if they have strong opinions, and even if I disagree with the opinion, if I'm laughing I don't care.

I mean, they could have the strongest, most out-there, outrageous, you know, even hateful opinions about, you know, certain types of people or certain groups of people, and if I'm in that group, you know, if I'm still laughing, that's a great comic; that's the kind of stuff I love.

I hate a guy who's -- or a woman either -- who's wishy-washy about their opinion and just doesn't -- takes a middle road and tries not to offend people. Doesn't have to be dirty.

Like, even like Bill Cosby, his albums, when he's telling his stories and stuff, it's such a -- it's a strong point of view and he has this real strong, certain opinion about his brother; about his mom and dad; about, you know, things that scare him; about things he thought when he was a child.

You know, he's telling those kind of stories, or as an adult as a parent. And even then, it's a strong opinion behind it. He's not -- there's no wishy-washiness behind anything he says when he's doing that. It's a real conviction. And that's what you look for, so that that's important to have. And if you don't do that, you shouldn't be in the comedy business.

GROSS: Now comparing the real Drew Carey to the TV character of Drew Carey, you said that you're...

CAREY: OK.

GROSS: ... a lot more ambitious and not quite as lovable as the TV character. What are the other differences?

CAREY: Maybe I'm -- I might be as lovable, but you know, I'm not like...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: We'll be the judge of that.

CAREY: You know -- OK. I mean, I'm a friendly guy.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: The TV Drew has to wear a suit to work every day, and in fact you're wearing a suit on the cover of your book.

CAREY: Yes.

GROSS: But I doubt you wear a suit when you're off the set.

CAREY: Yeah. No, I heard that suit -- the book cover came from wardrobe, actually. That's a borrowed suit. Every time I need something, like when I'm doing a "Tonight Show" or I'm doing an interview where I'm need a suit, I got to the wardrobe department and they dig me up a suit. I own, like, four suits in real life. They sit in my closet.

GROSS: Right.

CAREY: Yeah. And so -- and one of them, what -- I actually went out and bought a Versace jacket and shirt for the ABC premier announcement ceremonies, when they announce their fall shows. And I got away with telling a real bad taste Versace joke in front of all the -- because of it -- in front of all the TV critics at the TV critics award show, at their award ceremony, right in front of Angelica Huston. She looked like I just shot her.

GROSS: What was the joke?

CAREY: I was -- oh, it was really -- really what I thought, too. I bought this Versace jacket. It was 800 bucks. It was the most money I ever spent on a jacket in my life, 'cause I'm not a big suit-buyer, and then I thought -- or a clothes buyer -- I go to the Gap and stuff. So it's a really expensive jacket and I figure, what the hell, I'm going to be in New York, it's ABC, you know, and big things. I bought this shirt and the shirt was real expensive -- a couple -- you know, over $100 and the jacket was $800.

And when I got it up to -- I didn't wear it until I got up to New York. When I got it to New York, I went to try it on, and put it on to go out to this party, and a button fell off in my hand. And so when I heard he got shot, I thought "good."

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Oh, jeez.

LAUGHTER

I could see why this would have bombed.

CAREY: That'll teach him. It got a big laugh. It got a big laugh, actually, but Angelica Huston looked at me like I just shot her.

GROSS: So what are your standards for stuff like that? About when it's just unthinkable to tell a joke like that and when it's a decent idea?

CAREY: That joke I had to tell, like, right after it happened. You know, like right after he got shot I had to tell that joke 'cause then -- 'cause then the attitude is I'm not making such a big deal -- I was happy he was shot just because, you know, his clothing was so cheap that the button came off in my hand. You know, for such a stupid -- that's what made it so funny to me.

Plus, I have a different attitude about death than most people have. It doesn't bother me. You know, I think that, you know, if you believe in heaven and all that stuff, you know, when you die on earth, it shouldn't be -- that's not -- it shouldn't be something to be sad about. It should be a happy thing that you're going on to a better place. I mean, there's nothing really -- there's nothing really to cry about or be sad about, you know.

So I don't -- especially when he lived such a great life. You know, Versace had such a great life. He was loved by everybody, and from what I read about him, he was, you know, really generous to his friends and was happy.

And you know, when you live a life like that, and when it ends, you know, at least he liked lived a good life and had nice things around him. You know, it's not like some, you know, poor starving bum died, never had a chance to do anything and never achieved any goal or knew what a goal was. That's the person we should be sad about. You think, oh, this poor guy died without even knowing what fun was, you know.

So, at least Versace had a good time before he got shot.

GROSS: My guest is Drew Carey. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

My guest is Drew Carey.

Now, in your book, you say that, you know, another difference between you and the TV version of you is that in real life you date strippers, now that you can. Now, is it...

CAREY: Now, that I can, yeah.

GROSS: ... is it hard to date strippers?

CAREY: They're -- no. I don't get -- I don't have a -- I'm not the jealous type of person. If you jeal -- really a jealous-type of guy, a stripper would be a bad person for you to date 'cause you'd go -- you'd be all over her to quit her job and not do anything.

I mean I don't date just strippers, you know, but I have dated strippers. They're really fun, I think generally all in all. I think strippers are -- really, they're fun; they're open-minded; they're always out for a laugh and a good time, you know. They don't mind being naked.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Drew Carey, in your book you confess that you had your nipples pierced, and you know...

CAREY: Yes.

GROSS: ... you didn't strike me as the nipple-piercing kind of guy.

CAREY: I know. They're always -- that always shocks people. I was just -- I was -- I -- it was just after I did the pilot of the show, and waiting to hear if it got picked up or not. And it's really like a -- just gray-zone limbo that you're in, you know. And you never know what's going to happen to you. Like, your whole career is on the line. And I was just in this weird mood.

And I was with some friend of mind who's a stripper. And she thought it'd be great if I got my nipples pierced. And so she was beautiful and she said "hey, pierce your nipples" and that's all it took. And I said: "yeah, sure, whatever you say."

And I had a couple of margaritas and we went down to this place and I got 'em both done. I only have one now 'cause the other one was put in like too close to the skin, I think, and it hurt all the time so I had it taken out. But the other one I have in. It's still in there. I figured I'd put up with that. I put up with the initial pain, I'm not going to get rid of it now.

GROSS: Do you think you've managed to transform the 1950s square look into something really hip?

CAREY: Maybe. You know, the only reason I have -- I mean, when I first started doing the act, I had the crewcut already and the glasses already from the Marine Corps Reserves. And I wore contact lenses when I was at work being a waiter, and then when I got off work I'd take the contacts out and I'd put on my goofy glasses. I never knew how bad they looked until I started going on stage with them and people would laugh at me.

The suit, I bought at a Goodwill and because that movie "Stop Making Sense" had just been out, and I thought: oh, if I got a big, you know, old-style suit, that would be really hip to wear, and I looked so bad in it, I could never wear it out. And I only wore it on stage to see if it would get a laugh for me and it did.

And so I mean, it's not like I really tried all that hard to create a character, because it was pretty much -- that was pretty much just me in a Goodwill suit that I'd already bought, you know, before I drifted into stand-up.

It might be -- I mean, it was -- it might be a look. I don't know. Who knows?

GROSS: Did the Marines make you wear those glasses?

CAREY: Those are the official glasses. They have different ones now, but I think they let guys wear it. They're kind of wireless now, but then those were the official government-issued glasses and when you had an inspection and stuff that's what you had to wear. And during your workday, you could wear wire rims, you know. But for inspections and stuff like that, you had to wear the black ugly -- in the Marines they called them -- all through the service -- they called them birth control glasses.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: That's funny.

CAREY: BCGs. Yeah. And that's exactly why, too. They're so ugly (unintelligible).

GROSS: You write in your book that you, you know, you don't know what humiliation is until you've shown up on your first day of junior high with moon boots and a snowsuit that your mother got on sale during the summer. Did your mother dress you badly when you were young?

CAREY: No, it's just that -- you know, she would. She'd buy, like, the winter stuff on sale during the summer 'cause that's when it's the cheapest and she'd buy, you know, Christmas stuff for next year after Christmas when it all goes on sale, before it gets all put away.

And so, you know, you don't get the coolest stuff all the time when you mom's shopping like that because, you know, we didn't have a lot of money growing up and so -- but it's cold. Man, I'm telling you it's get cold in the winter in Cleveland so you have to wear what you can to keep warm.

I remember mom used to say: do you want to look good, or do you want to stay warm? And then, after you get to be about 14 or 15, you think, heck, you know, I'm not even wearing a hat. That was like the big thing at my high school -- nobody wore a hat no matter what; no matter how cold, they would all, like, you know.

I would come home from wrestling practice or gym or whatever, and my hair would be wet still and I'd walk home and I would refuse to put a hat on 'cause I didn't want to get hat hair. I'd have icicles in my hair. It would be like the stupidest thing. And everybody was like -- everybody in my school was like that, except for the nerds. You know, they would wear the hats, and I didn't want to be one of them.

GROSS: Right. Right. Right. Right. Well, where would you have fit yourself in in those days?

CAREY: Oh, I don't know. I never -- I was always pretty well-known and pretty popular. I mean, I could -- I was one of those kids that walked down the hall in high school without a pass and everybody knew me.

GROSS: Right.

CAREY: You know? And all my friends were really funny and I hung out with a group of guys that were all -- we were all really funny and liked to joke around a lot and play pranks and stuff. So I was in -- whatever that group is that's the group I was in.

And I wasn't very athletic, you know, and I'd -- I didn't want to go through high school without trying out for a sport. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker one day: any boy who's interested in trying out for wrestling, come to the gym and bring your gym clothes. And so I -- that's -- I tried out for wrestling. For two years, I went to wrestling practice; never even wrestled JV. I was really bad.

But I really liked it. It taught me a lot, you know, about sticking to it and stuff. But it was like -- I'm glad I had a, like a sport experience in high school. Then I graduated a year early, so I only had the two years and I skipped my senior year.

You know, so I wasn't very athletic. I didn't do anything great that way. And then academically, I wasn't so hot and I got a, like, a "B" average without even trying. I mean, you just have to show up for class and take the tests.

GROSS: You were funny in high school. Did you say to yourself I could do this professionally?

CAREY: I always say no in interviews, but then when I -- I had a development deal at Disney once and they were thinking of doing a show about me, and I had my mom send out all these pictures of me from when I was a kid and all this stuff. She has a little file about, you know, like every mom does.

And so one of the things in this file that she sent was -- I think I wrote it when I was 14 or so, judging from the handwriting. And it was on steno paper. And I wrote down like things I wanted to do with my life, you know.

And on this list was stuff like "I want to be on the Johnny Carson Show," "I want to be a stand-up," "I want to be a nightclub comic," "I want to have a sitcom," "I want to" -- you know -- "I want to star in a situation comedy or a play" or something like that. It was all these kind of things that I'm doing now that I wrote down when I was 14, and then I just forgot about.

GROSS: That's interesting.

CAREY: You know.

GROSS: Yeah.

CAREY: It freaked me out. It really freaked me out. I had no idea, you know, 'cause I didn't know what I wanted to do. When I started doing stand-up comedy in my late 20s, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I had no goals, no direction, nothing. I just kind of fell into it.

And so to see that list from when I was like 14 or 15 or whatever -- however I was old when I wrote it, and I was like wow. You know, it must have been in the back of my mind somewhere.

GROSS: Maybe you forgot it because it seems like such a longshot that it, you know, you didn't take it seriously even though you wrote it down.

CAREY: You know, it's like one of these -- like -- it's like, you know, there was also stuff like, you know, "pet a pony," you know, so.

LAUGHTER

But it was like -- I used to watch -- when I was -- when I was in junior high and high school, I used to watch the Tonight Show all the time if there was a comic on. I wouldn't watch the Johnny Carson show normally, only if there was a comic. And I'd look -- I always looked at the TV Guide.

If there was a comedian so and so, I would always make sure I'd watch and see who the comic was. I think that's where I got the idea that "oh, I would love to do that someday" and I wrote down, you know, be a nightclub comic, be on the Johnny Carson Show. And it all came true. I can't believe -- you know, it's weird.

GROSS: What was your first brush with professional comedy?

CAREY: Oh, just doing a -- working at one club in Canton. I lived in Cleveland, and the guy that owned the Cleveland club owned a club in Canton, he put me in his Canton club for a week. Nine shows for a hundred bucks. That was my first professional paid gig. I got like $10 a show.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What was your first time on stage like?

CAREY: Oh, the very first time I ever tried to do jokes on stage, I was living in Las Vegas and it was horrible. I was terrible. I tried -- you know, I didn't have any -- I didn't know how to write jokes. I just, you know, kind of like jokes that I kind of heard and, you know, observations that weren't funny, that were like, oh, my God, it was like the worst.

I still have notes from those days that I save. And, oh, my God, the worst. Ugh, I can't tell you how bad. That was in like in '79, and then like in '80 -- I just did it as a goof, just to see what it would be like. It was a -- the Sahara Talent Showcase at the Sahara Hotel, their lounge. They let anybody get up there.

And then I, you know, I worked at Cleveland in '80 and there was a guy starting a comedy club there and -- late '79 and early '80. And he needed -- he wanted local comics and he just put me on just for -- 'cause I could breathe and stand up and talk.

And I remember the very first time, I -- he didn't pay the emcees, he only paid the headliners, so I didn't get any money. But he worked me once, and I remember the first night I did, it was Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and the first night I did five minutes -- or 10 minutes, supposed to be 10 minutes. Then Friday, they said: why don't you do just five? And then Saturday, they said: look, don't do any time, just bring the other guys up.

LAUGHTER

They cut me out. They didn't want me to do anything because I was -- oh, I was that bad. I think I did it twice. Then I said: well, I can't do this, this is silly, you know. At least I tried it and got it out of my system. I was going to college then and everything. I thought I'll just, you know, I did it as a goof. I got it out of my system. I won't try it again. And I never did. And I thought, well, that was just it.

So then later on, in '86, when my -- you know -- late '85, my friend said "hey" -- he remembered from when I used to be a -- when I -- I met him when I tried to stand -- he always thought I was funny. And when I was having trouble, you know, paying rent -- I got into a fight with my boss where I was waiting tables -- and he said: "hey, if you want to think of any jokes for my radio show, I'll pay you." I went, "Oh, how much?" And he goes, "20 bucks a jokes or so." And I though, oh, I could make an extra hundred bucks a week.

And I went to the library and I finally got a book on how to write jokes. And from reading that book, that's what really started me. I thought, oh, wow, there's a formula to this. I could write jokes.

GROSS: How did the book help you write jokes?

CAREY: There's formulas for every kind of joke writing. There really is, and it's ease...

GROSS: Give me an example.

CAREY: ... easily learned. Well, the -- like, the example they used in the book, for example, usually they take driving, then you'd write "driving" at the top of the page. And then you write down -- it's all -- it's all about list-making, joke writing, writing one-liners, it's all about list-making.

So you write "driving." Then you write down everything you could think of that relates to driving, you know -- you know, angry drivers, slow drivers, fast drivers, you know, new cars, old cars, junk cars, you know, car washes, you know, red lights.

And you write all this stuff down, and then you try to -- there's -- you try to exaggerate something to make it bigger than it is; you try to use, you know, plays on words. There's words that sounds like other words. You try to make puns up that way. You can make jokes like that.

And you use all these different techniques to take these little -- all these little lists you made, you know. And even angry drivers -- angry women drivers, angry men drivers, you know. And you try to -- when you detail it down, you try to make every little thing exaggerated or minimalize it or twist it around.

And then you try to make like, you know, 20 jokes; try to get one good joke out of that. And that's how you come up with one good joke; should take, you know, if you're starting out, it takes you like three hours.

GROSS: Hmm. I can't believe you actually honed your technique through a book.

CAREY: Yeah, yeah. I'm really big on self-help, you know, so I always try to get a book at the library or a book on -- whatever I want to learn, I try to learn it from a -- some kind of book.

GROSS: Now, I know when you were younger you studied accordion, trumpet, and you sang in the school choir. Do you still play anything?

CAREY: Right. I bought -- I don't know why -- the last couple of years I've had this bug to go to everything I did when I was in high school that I quit doing...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

CAREY: ...'cause I just got bored with it or for whatever reason. And I bought a really expensive accordion. I bought a midi-accordion (ph) which I can hook up to a midi-board and make it sound like, you know, trumpets and violins and all that stuff. And I went and I bought a real expensive trumpet. I practice my trumpet all the time. I just -- I played the trumpet on the show on an episode that's coming up pretty soon. I got to play "A Taste of Honey" by Herb Alpert.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Oh, no. God, I remember that version of it, too.

CAREY: Yeah, yeah. We tried to get Herb Alpert to do the show. He wasn't available. We tried to get him on as a cameo -- we were going to show him just looking up at the bar while I was playing, and just walking out really sad.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Drew Carey, recorded last year. His book Dirty Jokes and Beer has just come out in paperback. We'll hear more of the interview in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with (AUDIOGAP) interview with Drew Carey, recorded last year after the publication of his book Dirty Jokes and Beer. The book's just been published in paperback.

Drew Carey, I like the way your book shifts tones successfully, I think, between telling, you know, dirty jokes and so on and talking, you know, pretty candidly about more depressing things like your suicide attempts.

CAREY: Yeah.

GROSS: You know, I really think that so many comics are depressives.

CAREY: Yeah, maybe they are, yeah. I mean, I don't know why that is, but yeah, that's probably right. I wouldn't be -- yeah. I'd have to say you're right when you say that.

GROSS: What sent you over the edge with the suicide attempts?

CAREY: Umm, (unintelligible)...

GROSS: This was years ago, like when you were in college?

CAREY: Yeah, it was really -- I was 18 and then the other time I was like 21. And you just -- a lot of it to me had to do with like I didn't have any goals in life. I didn't have any direction. And, you know, when you're like that, you know, you have nothing to work for, nothing to live for, you figure why live anymore.

And you just feel like you're the biggest creep in the, you know, you're a loser. You're not going anywhere. You know, nothing's happening for you, know. Nobody'd miss you if you did kill yourself. You're just taking up space, you know. You're just -- why are you living your life? You're just going day to day for nothing. You know, you have to go to this crummy job. You have to -- you know, what are you working for? What are you living for? Nothing -- you know, you have nothing going on; no plans.

So when you're like that, you know, it's -- killing yourself's like a good option, you know. Seemed like a good thing to do.

GROSS: What did you choose to end it with?

CAREY: Oh, sissy sleeping pills.

LAUGHTER

It probably wouldn't have worked anyway, if I didn't -- like the first time I took a bunch of -- like a whole bottle of Sominex and I -- who knows if that would have killed me, but it might have put me to sleep for a weekend. But I -- as soon as I swallowed them, you know, I told my friends -- my fraternity brothers -- I said "I just tried to kill myself, you got to get me to the" -- I swallowed a big -- couple glasses of beer, and they took me to the health center and they gave me ipecac, you know, and I -- that -- I mean, it was over. I stayed in the health center like overnight and stuff and they called my parents. But, you know.

And then the second time, it was a lot more serious. I took another bottle of sleeping pills and alcohol. And I called this one girl I was dating to say good-bye, and she figured out what I was doing and called somebody. But I just remember waking up in the hospital. So they just -- you know, they came and got me. It was a lot more serious attempt the second time.

The first time as soon as I took the pills, I thought: "what the hell am I doing? What if I die?" You know, I mean, that was the idea, to die, then I thought: "wow, if I die, what's going to happen to me?" You know, that scared me so much, you know, the thought of going to hell or any of that kind of -- like, so unsure about that kind of thing that I got somebody to help me right away.

GROSS: Have you ever done suicide jokes?

CAREY: Yeah. I joke around about everything. I joked around my dad dying when I would -- before I was a comedian, you know, it was just in college and high school, I used to make jokes about my dad being dead and how people always thought I was really sick. But I mean, that's how people deal with -- that's how a lot of people deal with bad things and bad news, is they make jokes about it.

GROSS: Yeah.

CAREY: And that's how they can cope with it, 'cause there's so much bad news in the world all the time. You know, especially nowadays with -- when you have all this information coming at you.

know, I don't think we were built to have so much negative information coming at us and bombarding us through the day with the newspaper and the TV and the radio, and bad news always leads off every half-hour. You know, you'll never see the -- if a -- you'll never see the "Good News Network." That would be off the air, wouldn't exist, nobody would watch it.

But like, you know, you know -- so you'd come up with these coping mechanisms, and one of the ways to cope is to laugh about it. That's why you make Versace jokes and space shuttle jokes after the space shuttle blew up. I remember friends of mine called me within five minutes of the space shuttle blowing up with jokes about it blowing up.

GROSS: Hmm.

CAREY: And you know, if I knew -- it's just, you know, it's just a sad, a big disaster, and that's the way people cope with these kind of things.

GROSS: Drew Carey is my guest. Star, of course, of The Drew Carey Show and author of the new bestseller Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined.

You enlisted in the Marine Reserve Corps.

CAREY: Right.

GROSS: How old were you when you did it? What was your motivation?

CAREY: I was like 23, I must have been. That was in '80. I needed money.

LAUGHTER

It was a job. I was -- it was always in the back of my -- you know, it must have been from playing with Army men when I was a kid or something, but it's always, you know, being in the military was always in the back of my mind as a last resort. If nothing else ever worked out, you could always join the army. You know, that's always how I thought.

And I was living in Las Vegas and having a really bad time, and I got thrown out of my motel room that I was living in because I couldn't pay the rent. And I had my car that was totaled in the first place; had everything stolen out of it. So all that was left of it was really was like the clothes on my back and a few other things they didn't take.

And so my buddy gave me a ride to L.A. to stay with my brother who lived in Mission Viejo. And my brother took me in and got me a job, bought me some clothes. And he worked for a Porsche-Audi dealer, and I would deliver parts in Southern California in this van. That was my job. And he was the parts manager.

When the owner of the place found out that he -- a relative was -- he didn't want relatives working for relatives 'cause it would be easy to steal from the place then. And so, my brother had to fire me.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Oh, no.

CAREY: So I was in Mission Viejo, my brother had to fire me, and I didn't want to mooch off of him, you know, and I -- all I had was a little bit of clothes that he'd bought me. I mean, he had to buy me underwear and everything. I was -- I didn't have anything when I showed up at his door, 'cause everything was stolen out of my car after I got kicked out of my motel room.

And so I thought I'll just join the service. And I went to the -- I went to the recruiting office and I went to the Navy thing and I talked to those guys. And I was in the -- before I could go in, I was in the lobby and the Marine guy came out and saw me, and he looked really squared away and everything. He said: "make sure you see me before you leave."

So after I saw the Navy guys, I went over to visit with the Marine guy, and he was, you know, he was just a good salesman, man. He talked me into joining the Marines, and I thought if I'm going to join the service, I just want to join the toughest one, you know, and get it over with. I don't want it said -- don't want to take the easy way out. I'm just doing this this one time, you know, 'cause I can't -- you just can't like switch branches of the service throughout your life and go through boot camp after boot camp.

So I joined the Marines and it was great.

GROSS: What was great about it?

CAREY: I really liked it. Well, first of all, I got three meals a day.

LAUGHTER

I was earning my own money. I was so happy. I mean, after that, you know, mooching -- off my brother and getting kicked out of my motel in Vegas, I was so happy just to have a job and -- but -- they really like build a -- they really are good at building like a team spirit and a camaraderie, you know. And every day you get done, you really feel like you've been doing something, you know, and accomplishing something.

And I was running and getting in shape and, you know. And I was older than a lot of the guys in the platoon, you know, so I -- and I knew what they were doing, like psychologically, when they were doing stuff to me. So I mean, they could yell. I just stood there. It didn't bother me, you know. And I -- you know, I knew they weren't out to hurt me, so everything they said to do, I would just do it as fast as I could, right away. I trusted them, you know.

And a lot of people think you go to boot camp, and they, oh, the drill instructor's out to really -- he's going to try to hurt you. That's his job. That's not his job. The drill instructor's job is to make you into a Marine and to get you through this training. And all you have to do is -- I remembering telling -- I did -- I just totally trusted him. I thought this guy's really not going to hurt me. You know, I just gotta do what he says. And so that's all I did.

And it came out -- it worked out really well. I got a -- I graduated with a -- graduated from boot camp with a meritorious PFC; got a top 10 percent of my -- they give the guys in the top 10 percent of the platoon a meritorious promotion. So I got meritorious PFC out of boot camp and really had a good time -- really liked the reserves. I had a lot of friends. I liked the life, you know.

GROSS: This is great -- the Marines kind of gave you a sense of accomplishment; a sense of self-esteem; and a look.

CAREY: Yeah.

LAUGHTER

Yeah. I know, the Marines were pretty good to me. I'd still -- I'm telling you, man, I'd still be in the Marine Reserves if I wasn't doing stand-up. You know, I quit because I was making -- you know, I saw the money you could make doing weekends and I was only making like 125 bucks a weekend in the reserves as a sergeant, you know. And I thought, you know, I can make 300 on a weekend if I was a stand-up comic starting out. So why would I give up that $300, you know, for the 120? So I quit doing the Marines.

GROSS: Hmm. So before we have to let you go, are you beloved in Parma?

CAREY: They -- oh, man -- people in Cleveland-Parma, they, you know, I really -- I mean, I don't want to brag on myself or anything, but I'm very, very popular. Yeah, it's insane when I go back home, how people treat me. Like "thank you for everything you've done for Cleveland;" "Gee, we love your show" -- everywhere I go. It's the greatest. I mean, my fans in Cleveland are the greatest, I'm telling you. I try to give them as much love back as they give me. It really makes it all worthwhile.

'Cause when I -- I'm telling you, man, when you grow up in Cleveland and you have Cleveland made fun of all the time, when you're growing up you hear Cleveland jokes on TV and stuff like that. And then you go to, like, go to college "you're from Cleveland, ha, ha, ha" -- and people make fun of you just 'cause of the town you're from.

That's why I couldn't wait to get a -- you know, when I got my show, I couldn't wait to have it set in Cleveland and promote Cleveland, and just -- I just want to shove Cleveland down everybody's throats now; get back at them, you know, to get back at them for making a -- I just want to cram it down everybody's throat and make them chew it.

And so, yeah, it's great. So people in Cleveland know exactly what I'm talking about, and so they're really grateful and I'm grateful to them.

GROSS: Well, Drew Carey it's really been fun having you on the show. Thank you so much for talking with us.

CAREY: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: Drew Carey, recorded last October. He stars in The Drew Carey Show, which enters its fourth season this fall.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Drew Carey
High: Comedian Drew Carey is the star of the ABC hit sitcom "The Drew Carey Show." Carey's 1997 book, "Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined," has just come out in paperback. It's his autobiography as well as a joke book.
Spec: Entertainment; Television; Books; Lifestyle

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Drew Carey

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 07, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Remember the Catskills
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: For most of Cissie Blumberg's life, Labor Day meant the end of the busy season, the last big weekend at Green Acres, her family's hotel in the Catskills. Her father bought the hotel in 1920. After he died in the late '40s, Cissie and her husband took it over. They sold it in 1975.

During most of that period, the Catskill Mountains of New York
were famous for being the largest resort area in the U.S., with more than 500 hotels plus countless bungalow colonies. Few of the hotels remain.

Cissie Blumberg is part of a group trying to revitalize the Catskills as an arts and entertainment center. I spoke with her last year after the publication of her memoir "Remember the Catskills."

Part of what drew vacationers to the Catskills was the big-name entertainment. But the stars performed at the big-name hotels. Blumberg's hotel was small and couldn't afford name talent.

ESTERITA "CISSIE" BLUMBERG, AUTHOR, "REMEMBER THE CATSKILLS:
TALES BY A RECOVERING HOTELKEEPER": Well, I'll tell you. We had the big names before they became the big names. I can think offhand of Irwin Corey (ph), who was a busboy at the hotel, Professor Irwin Corey. But we also had what would have been the newcomers.

You know, now the names are established, but in those days, they weren't. I would think of Freddie Roman (ph), Alan King, Myron Cohen, Red Buttons -- they were names only in the small area in which we existed and later on went on to become very famous.

My brother had tried out a young man named Lenny Bruce, and another one named Jackie Mason. But at that time, they were known only to an agent and to a limited number of hotel keepers.

GROSS: But did you brother try out Jackie Mason and Lenny Bruce and then reject them?

BLUMBERG: Oh, no, no, no. We liked them.

GROSS: Oh, so they actually performed at your place?

BLUMBERG: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I mean -- when I say "try out," I mean we booked them. We didn't have time during a season to go looking for them.

You know, initially, all of our entertainment started with live-in staffs. Our parents hired an entire staff, which took care of the hotel for a whole season. There may have been a comedian and a singer -- a soprano, a tenor -- and they would bring forth shows which really were remarkably well done.

They also couldn't repeat. That's why we became kind of a -- almost a school for entertainers. And we had some very distinguished people who came out of the mountains. Moss Hart, for instance, was at the Flagler Hotel. Dore Schary was there as well, and then became the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

But we had people like Buddy Hackett, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar -- these are the caliber of people who came through our stages, but were not necessarily stars at the time. We couldn't afford them once they got to be stars, certainly not the little hotels.

GROSS: Now, you grew up in your hotel because your parents owned it when you were a child.

BLUMBERG: Right.

GROSS: How did you father first come to the Catskills?

BLUMBERG: My father was a labor leader in New York City. He as a matter of fact was the first vice president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and at that time did a great deal of public speaking and a great deal of work and had his first heart attack when he was about 35.

And the doctors advised him that he should find an easier way to live. And believe it or not, he chose a farm hotel in Lake Huntington, New York, to find that "easier" life. He came up there in 1920, by the way.

GROSS: When your father took over the farm hotel, what was the area like?

BLUMBERG: The area that he settled in, and probably this was true of much of upstate New York in the smaller communities, was extremely restrictive and very resistant to someone of another ethnic group.

Lake Huntington at the time that my father bought there had a going Ku Klux Klan, a German-American Bund, and they also had a gentleman's agreement not to sell property to Jews.

GROSS: Which is really interesting, considering the Catskills became famous for Jewish resorts.

BLUMBERG: Yes, it did. But you know, one of the things -- you know, you hear Catskills and you think Jewish. The truth of the matter is, we were never, at any time, more than 15 percent of the year-round population. And that pretty much, my experience -- my parents' experiences, the experience of others who came into the area.

Now, eventually we became a very strong economic factor, but there was tremendous resistance when we first got there.

GROSS: My parents took me to the Catskills a few times when I was young, and I loved going there. It was just -- it smelled so good.

BLUMBERG: It still does.

GROSS: And the mountains were so beautiful. And, you know, you were at this hotel and it was kind of like your job to have pleasure. You know, your parents are always on your case to, like, work hard and do good in school and so -- and here you are on vacation, and it's like you were supposed to have a good time, you know?

And so everything was about just enjoying yourself, and it was so much fun to be there. What was it like for you growing up in the Catskills, running one of the resort hotels?

BLUMBERG: Well, when I was growing up, I think that we had an absolutely marvelous time at the hotel. First of all, it wasn't yet a parent-child resort when we were growing up, so we were kind of featured by the staff and the guests, and felt very special.

I think the other thing was that we were star-struck, and there were already all of these entertainers putting on shows every night, so that we would stay and watch them. And we were uncritical and delirious about being with them.

Running it, of course, was another story. That was a kind of slavery. And I'm interested in your reaction, that you knew that your job was to have fun, and our job was to make you comfortable. And of course hospitality was the thing that came through loud and clear.

I don't think there was a hotelman from the largest to the smallest who wasn't always visible. I wonder if you remember who ran the hotel, for instance, that you may have gone to?

There was someone who would greet you by name; who knew what your parents did for a living; who knew how many children there were in the family; which room you had the year before; and what you liked for breakfast.

This kind of hospitality, I guess, is a thing of the past. But we were really steeped in it, and it was part of what we did and what we did well.

GROSS: During the period when a lot of really talented people were blacklisted, you brought some of those people up to the Catskills to perform at your hotel. Tell me how you went about doing that? I mean, how did you know, officially, who was blacklisted? And how were you able to help them and help yourself by booking them?

BLUMBERG: It was pretty much in the news, who was blacklisted. We didn't look for them individually. Again, it was the agent that you were working with.

GROSS: Were there agents who specialized in people who were blacklisted?

BLUMBERG: Not really, but if they had some progressive tendency, they would know who those people were and bring them to you. During the period, we developed an entertainment regimen which we never could have afforded, because they were willing to take less, and we were willing to give them as much as we could.

But we had some very, very interesting -- Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi (ph), Irwin Corey, Martha Schlum (ph) -- people of this ilk were on our stages. Paul Draper, Larry Adler, Ellie Stone -- on the -- on that was on the stage thing.

And then we also had theater groups, that would be Lionel Stander and Phoebe Brand (ph), and Howard da Silva (ph), people of that caliber. And then of course some lesser lights as well. But the overall tenor of the entertainment took a big jump up when we got those people.

GROSS: My guest is Cissie Blumberg. She's written a memoir called Remember the Catskills. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest is Cissie Blumberg. She's written a memoir called Remember the Catskills about the hotel that her family owned.

Let's talk a little bit about the dining room that you created...

LAUGHTER

... when you took it over. I mean, food was such an important part of the Catskills vacation. And all the guests would eat together in a dining room.

BLUMBERG: Right.

GROSS: And there'd be several courses for each meal. Even breakfast, there were lots of options.

BLUMBERG: Many, many courses.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah. So how would you prepare the menu? And how important was the food, in your opinion, to, you know, to the vacation?

BLUMBERG: Extremely important, I think.

GROSS: Yeah.

BLUMBERG: Very important. I think that people looked forward to it. As a matter of fact, it's one of the things, you know, that I resent, and one of the reasons that I wrote the book was to correct the impression that there was anything vulgar about the amount of food that we served.

You know, we were always being compared to other areas, and one of the overriding kinds of things is this great gorging of food, which really wasn't so. It was American Plan. It was nicely done. And we did it, really, with a full heart.

You know, food is part of hospitality. Hospitality was the underlying theme for everything we did. And menus were created by the ownership, along with a whole series of chefs.

And we had to do a great deal of improvisation, first of all because of the availability of foods; and secondly because people stayed for a long time, so that you couldn't give them a dull menu where every Monday you served exactly the same thing. So there was a great deal of improvising.

We discovered that you could have all of the wonderful things that your grandmother made, and then add to that lobster and Chinese food and Italian food. And we had a very wide variety.

GROSS: So you were not Kosher.

BLUMBERG: No, we weren't. Incidentally, the one other misinformation about our area is that they talk about "a hotel" as if they were talking about all of the hotels. Each of these hotels was family-owned and operated and reflected the personality of the people who were running it.

So there really was no cookie-cutter hotel. They were all different. They featured different things. We had many, many things in common, but there was also a personality to each of the places that people attended.

GROSS: What would you do if a summer was particularly rainy, because so much of the hotel revolved around outdoor activities, whether it was, you know, calisthenics or swimming or tennis or shuffleboard. These were things that happened outside during the day.

BLUMBERG: I cried a lot. A rainy day was a disaster. We brought in anything that we could think of to distract them. We had lectures. We had musical groups come in. We had antique dealers demonstrate; flower arrangers; beekeepers -- whatever we could think of to distract them.

Of course, within a period of time, most of the hotels became year-round resorts and had indoor facilities -- the indoor pools and health clubs and that kind of thing for distraction -- but rain was a tragedy, whether or not you had the indoor facilities.

I remember once a man stood at my desk and he said: "it's raining in your hotel." And I felt so guilty. It took me 10 minutes to realize it was also raining at Grossinger's.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: In order to stay competitive, you had to renovate your hotel...

BLUMBERG: Right.

GROSS: ... in the '60s. So in 1963, very expensive renovation. Three years later, the whole hotel was destroyed by fire. I think lightning struck the main building?

BLUMBERG: It was 11 bolts of lightning, and...

GROSS: Struck 11 times?

BLUMBERG: Eleven times, and it burnt from the inside out, which made it impossible to put out. We were on top of a hill, and I must say, part of the problem was mine because I had not written the insurance properly. We also didn't have a sprinkler system yet. That was scheduled for the next year. And there was no saving it.

The underinsurance, of course, nobody knew that night, except I knew it. And I knew that what we were in for, if we were ever going to be solvent again. So that we did, we were able, to buy another resort, and it was then in the hands of the bank.

We bought the New Roxy (ph) Hotel in Lake Sheldrake (ph) and we renovated it completely, and it became Green Acres, you know, which we affectionately called Green Acres East. And that was a place that already had winterization in it, and I think in the long run made it possible for us to really operate very successfully.

But the loss of the first property was a terrible, terrible blow. It was as if your life was burning. All of the economies I thought about as that smoke was going up, you know. Everything was in the hotel. That was our theory, that, you know, we should build our business and that it would take care of us.

GROSS: God, you must have felt so guilty, knowing that you had made a decision to buy less insurance because you couldn't really afford to buy more -- and you say you were a quarter of a million dollars underinsured when the building burned.

BLUMBERG: Yeah. Took us 10 years to pay that off. Ten years at hard labor, but we did pay it off and people were good enough to give us the space to pay it off. At any point, three creditors could have pushed us into a bankruptcy, but they didn't.

And people were very good to us. Not everybody, but a lot of people were very good to us. So, we were able to do it and we were very successful in the new property.

GROSS: How did you end up selling in 1975?

BLUMBERG: Well, I think -- well, one of the things that happened was that we never, ever put the place on the market because we always thought that we were going to die at our desks, and hopefully not on a weekend because we didn't want to spoil anything.

LAUGHTER

We became an attraction. The mountain hotels, particularly as business receded in other areas, became a very big bargain for people looking for large properties to be used for other purposes.

In our case, people came around to look, and I became so annoyed with the looking that I never even got out of my chair. I would just tell them everything is for sale at a price, and if you wish to look, go look. And one of those people -- one of those committees turned out to be a real buyer.

Now, we consulted with our children, who were then in college, who had no desire to follow in our footsteps. And so we happily sold. And this is my time-off for good behavior.

GROSS: When you sold in 1975, you sold to an owner that turned the hotel into a home for mildly mentally retarded adults.

BLUMBERG: Right. Those with developmental disabilities, yes. And it still is that, and it's an absolutely wonderful -- and I won't call it an "institution" because we've now gone to smaller homes and the whole thrust is toward normalization. I sit on that board. I'm very proud of what the hotel became.

GROSS: Well, Cissie Blumberg, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

BLUMBERG: My pleasure.

GROSS: Cissie Blumberg, recorded in July of last year. Her memoir is called Remember the Catskills.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Cissie Blumberg
High: Esterita "Cissie" Blumberg writes a monthly column for the Catskill/Hudson Jewish Star. She grew up in a hotel in the Catskills and later owned and operated it with her husband. Last year, her book Remember the Catskills: Tales by a Recovering Hotelkeeper was published.
Spec: Hotels; Business; Tourism; Catskills; Culture; Lifestyle

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Remember the Catskills
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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