Skip to main content

'A Guide for Suckers' from Harry Anderson

To many, con man-turned-actor Anderson remains best known as Judge Harry Stone from the NBC comedy series Night Court. A new DVD collection of the show's first season is out now on Warner Home Video. Anderson began his career as a street performer.


Other segments from the episode on February 24, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 24, 2006: Interview with Drew Carey; Interview with Harry Anderson; Interview with Richard Adler; Commentary on Harold and Fayard Nicholas.


DATE February 24, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Drew Carey discusses his past before "The Drew Carey

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Two TV comics with relatively untamed senses of humor are being showcased next
week in new DVD boxed set collections. One is Drew Carey; the other is Harry
Anderson. Today we revisit Terry's interviews with them both, starting with
Drew Carey.

"The Drew Carey Show" premiered in 1995 on ABC and ran for nine years. Even
though it was a mainstream hit, it had an outsider's sensibility. Carey came
from Cleveland, Ohio, and filled his workplace sitcom with odd-ball talent,
talent like Kathy Kinney who played the abrasive Mimi and Ryan Stiles who
would also be one of the standout stars of Carey's improv comedy series,
"Whose Line Is It Anyway?" As a stand-up comic, Carey loved to push the
envelope with suggestive or potentially offensive material. And even on "The
Drew Carey Show," he made a practice of delighting audiences while aggravating
censors. Here he is taping a workplace video on sexual harassment with help
from co-stars Diedrich Bader and Christa Miller.

(Soundbite from "The Drew Carey Show")

Ms. CHRISTA MILLER: Hey, Drew. Can I talk to you for a minute?

Mr. DREW CAREY: Yeah. Sure. Sit down.

Ms. MILLER: This is kind of hard for me to talk about. But I think my boss
might be coming on to me, and I'm not sure what to do.

Mr. CAREY: I'm sorry. I wasn't listening. I was staring at your breasts.

This is sexual harassment, and I'm Drew Carey. It's important to define what
is and isn't appropriate behavior in the workplace. The difference can be
something as subtle as tone of voice. For example...

Mr. DIEDRICH BADER: Yes, ma'am. You wanted a package delivered?

Ms. MILLER: Yeah. Just one question. Can I get it overnight?

Mr. CAREY: No problem there, but change the tone of voice, and...

Mr. BADER: Yes, ma'am. You wanted a package delivered?

Ms. MILLER: Yeah. Just one question. Can I get it overnight?

Mr. BADER: I don't know.

Ms. MILLER: If I can't get it overnight, can you guarantee it by morning?

Mr. CAREY: Whoa! She's stopped talking about a real package a long time

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: When not on a sitcom, Drew Carey tends to push even further in
several directions. Once when hosting a Television Critics Association awards
show, Carey told some jokes that made "The Aristocrats" seem tame, even though
gentle Fred Rogers was one of the honorees that night sitting right in front
of him. Afterward, Rogers shook it off sweetly saying, `That was just Drew
enjoying being a bad boy.' He does seem to enjoy it, too. His book, "Dirty
Jokes and Beer," is a collection of some very funny jokes and humorous
observations. It also includes some not-so-funny stuff about his suicide
attempts and his father's death.

Terry spoke with Drew Carey in 1997 and talked with him about his TV show, his
books and, of course, dirty jokes.


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

Mr. CAREY: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm not sure what to call it.

Mr. CAREY: That's was it's called. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: It's not what you call it.

Mr. CAREY: That's a good way to put it for radio. Sure.

GROSS: Yeah. And these jokes are really funny.

Mr. CAREY: Yeah, my friends and I started doing them. I started with John
Caponera on "The Good Life" when he showed me his one day as a joke. And I
said, `What do you call that?' I was thinking of jokes about, you know, `Mine
is so big that'--and he went on, `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 everytime that my friends would get together, we'd mention this
thing, they'd always add in their own jokes. And 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.
A lot of them came from my friends. I credited them in the book. They're
really funny.

GROSS: Can you tell a couple of them?

Mr. CAREY: `It's so big, it's right behind you.' `It's so big, there's still
snow on it in the summertime.' `It's so big'--well, I'll 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.' I love that
one. `It's so big, 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

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

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

GROSS: That's really funny.

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

GROSS: Oh, this is another joke I have to ask you to tell.


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

Mr. CAREY: Yeah, I think that's a clean one. That's like a typical comic
insecurity joke. There's a comic. He's in the bar, Friday night, and he's
done working. And this is really the most stunningly beautiful woman he's
ever seen in his life, sitted 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 getting the wildest sexual trip you've ever had in your
whole entire life right now.' And he looks at her and he goes, `Did you see
the first show or the second show?'

GROSS: This is so great. I've heard that for jazz musicians, too...

Mr. CAREY: Oh, have you?

GROSS: ...where the beautiful woman comes up to a jazz musician and he says,
`So, did you hear the first set or the second set?'

Mr. CAREY: Yeah.

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

Mr. 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...

Mr. CAREY: He is.

GROSS: ...than you really are.

Mr. CAREY: 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 that was the real Drew, I would have quit
that job and tried to start my own business, and, you know, I mean, a real
business where I can make money. Buzz Beer isn't going so good on this show.
But, yeah, I mean, when you're writing a book, it's like a personal letter,
you know, almost, to like, for you to leave to strangers. So you want to let
them know, `Hey, this is me.' You want to write it in your own voice and not
try to be some TV guy. Because I think the book, you know, when I was writing
it, it was 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's come and
gone. It can be sitting on somebody's book shelf in a library, you know. Who

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

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

GROSS: That's right. Right, if you're lucky.

Mr. CAREY: In a perfect world, yeah.

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

Mr. CAREY: Maybe. When I first started doing the act, I had the crew cut
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, I got a big, 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 just me in a Goodwill
suit that I'd already bought, you know, before I was interested in stand-up.
It might be a look. I don't know. Who knows?

GROSS: Did the Marines make you wear those glasses?

Mr. CAREY: Those are the official glasses. They have different ones now,
but I think they let guys wear just like kind of wires now, but then those are
the official government-issued glasses, and when you had an inspection and
stuff, that's what you had to wear. During your work day, 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, after the service, they called
them birth control glasses.

GROSS: That's funny.

Mr. CAREY: BCGs, yeah. And that's exactly why, too. They're so ugly, you
become a...(unintelligible).

GROSS: You write in your book that, 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?

Mr. CAREY: No, it's just that, you know, she would. She would buy, like,
the winter stuff on sale during the summer because 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 your 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 gets cold in the winter in
Cleveland. So you have to wear what you can to keep warm. Now 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
going to be wearing a hat.' That was like the big thing in my high school.
Nobody wore a hat no matter what. No matter how cold, they would all let, you
know, I would come home from wrestling practice or from gym, or whatever. My
hair'd be wet still. And I'd walk home. I would refuse to put a hat on
because I didn't want to get hat hair. Icicles in my hair. It was the
stupidest thing. And everybody in my school was like that except for the
nerds, you know? They would wear the hats. Why would you want to be one of

GROSS: Right. Right, right, right. Where would you have fit yourself in in
those days?

Mr. CAREY: Oh, I don't know. I was always pretty well-known and pretty
popular. I mean, I was one of those kids that would walk down the hall in
high school without a pass and everybody knew me.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CAREY: You know? And all my friends were really funny, and I hung out
with a group of guys, 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 you know, I didn't
want to go through high school without trying out for a sport. There was an
announcement one day. Any boys interested in trying out for wrestling, come
to the gym and bring your gym clothes. And so I tried out for wrestling. For
two years I went to wrestling practice, never even wrestling JV. It 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 like a sport
experience in high school. And 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 really
athletic. I didn't do anything great that way, and then academically, I
wasn't so hot. I got like a B average without even trying. I mean, you just
have to show for class and take the test.

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

Mr. 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 had my mom send out all these pictures of me from when I was a kid and
stuff. She has like a little file about, you know, like every mom does. And
so one of the things in this file that she said 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 star in a situation comedy or a play or something like that. It was all
these kinds 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.

Mr. CAREY: You know?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CAREY: Freaked me out. It really freaked me out. I had no idea, you
know, because 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, whatever, however I was old when
I wrote it, I was like, `Wow! It must have been in the back of my mind

GROSS: Maybe you forgot it because it seems like such a long shot that, you
know, you didn't take it seriously when you wrote it down.

Mr. CAREY: Yeah, it's like, you know, there was also stuff like pet a pony,
you know? So--but 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 comic.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAREY: And I always looked at the TV Guide if that comedian's so and so.
I'd always make sure I'd watch and see who the comic was. I think that's
where I got the idea that, `Oh, I'd love to do that someday.' And I wrote
down, you know, `be a nightclub comic. Be on the Johnny Carson show. And
then it all came true. You know, it's weird.

BIANCULLI: Drew Carey speaking with Terry Gross in 1997. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1997 interview with Drew Carey. A new
DVD called "Television Favorites, The Drew Carey Show" collects some of his
favorite episodes.

GROSS: You enlisted in the Marine Reserve Corps.

Mr. CAREY: Right.

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

Mr. CAREY: I was like 23. I must have been. It was in '80. I needed
money. I needed a job. It was always in the back of, you know--I must have
been playing with Army men when I was a kid or something, but it's always--you
know, being in the military's 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, 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, 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 LA to stay with my brother who lived in
Mission Vallejo. 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, he didn't want relatives
working for relatives because it'd be easy to steal from the place then. And
so my brother had to fire me.

GROSS: Oh, no.

Mr. CAREY: So I was in Mission Vallejo, my brother had to fire me, and I
didn't want to mooch off him, you know. And 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 didn't have anything when I showed up at his door because
everything was stolen out of my car after I got kicked out of my hotel room.
And so I thought, `Oh, I'll just join the service.' And I went to the
recruiting office, and I went to the Navy thing and I talked to those guys.
And 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
and visited with the Marine guy. And he--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--I don't want to take the easy way out
because I'm just doing this this one time, you know. Because, like, you can't
just switch branches of the service throughout your life and go through boot
camp and from boot camps. So I joined the Marines, and it was great. I
really, really liked it.

GROSS: What was great about it?

Mr. CAREY: Well, first of all, I got three meals a day. I was earning my
own money. I was so happy after that, you know, mooching off my brother and
get kicked out of my motel in Vegas, I was so happy just to have a job, but
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. 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, 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 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
and I trusted them, you know. And a lot of people think you go to boot camp,
the drill instructors are out to try to hurt you. That's his job. It's not
his job. The drill instructors' job is to make you into a Marine and to get
you through this training. And all you have to do is--and I'm telling you. I
did. I just totally trusted him. I thought this guy's really not going to
hurt me. You know, I just got to do what he says. And so that's all I did.
And it worked out really well. I graduated from boot camp with a meritorious
PFC. They give guys in the top 10 percent of the platoon meritorious
promotions. So I got meritorious PFC out of boot camp and had a really good
time. Really liked the reserves. I had a lot of friends. I liked the life,
you know. It was really fun.

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

Mr. CAREY: Yeah. Yeah. I know, the Marines were pretty good to me. I'm
telling you, man, I'd still be in the Marine reserves if I wasn't doing
stand-up. I quit because I saw the money I 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. I said, why would I give up that $300, you know,
for the 125. So I quit joining the Marines.

GROSS: What was your first brush with professional comedy?

Mr. CAREY: Oh, just working in one club Canton. I lived in Cleveland, and
the guy who owned the Cleveland club owned a club in Canton, and he put me in
his Canton club for a week. Nine shows for 100 bucks. That was my first
professional paid gig. I got like $10 a show.

GROSS: What was your first time on stage like?

Mr. CAREY: Oh, the very first time I ever told jokes on stage, I was living
in Las Vegas, and it was horrible. I was terrible. 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 saved and, oh, my
God, the worst. I can't even tell you how bad. That was like in '79 and I
just did it as a goof, just to see what it would be like. It was the Sahara
Talent Showcase at the Sahara Hotel, their lounge. They let anybody get up
there, and then I--you know, I went to Cleveland in '80 and there was a guy
starting a comedy club there, late '79, early '80, and he wanted local comics,
and he just put me on just because I could breathe and stand up and talk. And
I remember the very first time, he didn't pay the MCs, he only paid the
headliners. 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. Let's say 10 minutes. Then Friday, they
said, `Why don't you just do five?' And then Saturday, they said, `Look, don't
do any time. Just bring the other guys up.' They cut me down. They didn't
want me to do anything because I was that bad. I think I did it twice. And
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. And I thought, you know, I did it as a goof. I got it out of my
system. I'm going to 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, in late '85
when my friend said, `Hey'--he remembered from when I used to be--I met him
when I tried to do stand-up. He always thought it was funny. And when I was
having trouble, you know, paying rent, I got in 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.' And I went, `Oh, how much?; And he goes, `20
bucks a joke' or so. And I said, `Oh, I can make an extra 100 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 can write jokes.'

GROSS: How did the book help you write jokes?

Mr. CAREY: There's formulas for every kind of joke writing. I mean, there
really is.

GROSS: Give me an example.

Mr. CAREY: Easy to learn. Like the example they used in the book, the first
example is usually take driving. And you write "driving" at the top of the
page. And then you write--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 can 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 exaggerate something to make it bigger than it
is. You try to use, you know, plays on words if there's words that sound like
others words and try to make puns up that way. You can make jokes like that.
And you can use these different techniques to take all these little lists you
made, you know. And even angry driver, angry women drivers, angry men
drivers, you know, and when you detail it down, you try to make every little
thing and exaggerate 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. If you're starting out, it takes
you, like, three hours. Yeah.

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

Mr. CAREY: Yeah. Yeah. I'm really big on self-help, so, you know, 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 some kind of book.

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

Mr. CAREY: Oh, thank you.

BIANCULLI: Drew Carey speaking with Terry Gross in 1997.

A new Warner Brothers home video release called "Television Favorites, The
Drew Carey Show" comes out next week, presenting six of the show's best

I'm David Bianculli. And this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Coming up, composer and lyricist Richard Adler tells us about
writing "The Pajama Game," which is currently back on Broadway. Also, how did
a con man end up playing a judge on TV? Harry Anderson tells us. Selections
from his sitcom "Night Court" are now out on DVD. And Lloyd Schwartz tells us
about some stunning performances now available on DVD by the tap dance team,
the Nicholas Brothers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Harry Anderson discusses his past before "Night Court"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

Warner Brothers Home Video is releasing two boxed sets next week starring TV
comedians featured on today's show. We've already heard a mouthful from Drew
Carey. Now we hear from Harry Anderson, who from 1984 to 1992 played Judge
Harry Stone on the sitcom "Night Court." Before starring in his own series,
Anderson appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and on the streets of several
cities doing card tricks, magic tricks and con artists' stunts. Now he's gone
legit. Last year he opened a club called Oswald's Speakeasy in New Orleans
and weathered the storm of Katrina with significant damage but more determined
than ever to make it a success. He's also written books about how to cheat at
cards and pull other cons, including "Games You Can't Lose" which was
published in 1989. That's when Terry spoke with him and asked about one of
his early stunts as a street performer in San Francisco where he chopped off
his own hand.

Mr. HARRY ANDERSON: What you do is you buy a phony hand at the magic shop,
and you get a loaf of French bread, and you hollow out one end of the French
bread and you stick the phony hand in there. It's a, you know, a baguette, a
long loaf, about the diameter of an arm. And then in the other end, you take
a turkey baster, and you fill it with stage blood, and you stick that in the
other end. Then you take an old shirt, you cut the sleeve off, and you put
that around the bread. Now standing at my table, and on the street, I used to
wear this big robe, I would reach over with one hand and get this ugly-looking
cleaver, and at the same time using that distraction, I would grab this phony
hand and pull my arm up into the robe, bring the phony hand down on the table,
bring the meat cleaver through the bread, and a cleaver going through crunchy
French bread really does--if you think you're going through somebody's arm
does give you the sound of gristle and bone. It's remarkable. Then I would
hit this turkey baster a couple of times and the stage blood would go
everywhere, and it was sensational. And I thought, this is really going to
kill them. So I did it once. I got it all set, went out there, did it once.
The crowd absolutely freaked out, turned on me, a guy came up and punched me
in the face. And I didn't do it anymore.


They must have thought you were psychotic.

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, they were waiting to see "Jaws." I mean, I thought I was
playing the crowd. They didn't throw a lot of money at me, no.

GROSS: Is there a lesson in this about how extreme you can get?

Mr. ANDERSON: You can't get that extreme. I think that's the lesson.

GROSS: Did you ever run real swindles before it actually became an act?

Mr. ANDERSON: Did I run real swindles? Oh, yeah. I mean, on the street, I
did not begin as a performer. I began running the shell game. And again,
another experience with a dissatisfied customer who decided that I was not
playing a game of chance, and that was another punch. Broke my jaw. Got me
sitting down and wondering if there was an easier way to make a living. What
I did was I took the stuff I knew, which was essentially cheating at cards and
picking locks and running the shell game and turned it into an act and made
less money initially but I had a better chance at survival. And then I've
just been in the process of becoming more and more legitimate through the
years. And now I'm a judge. Who would have thought?

GROSS: So how did you learn to pick locks and run a shell game?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, it was the stuff that fascinated me. When I was a kid
in Chicago, I hung around a place called the Ambassador Hotel, and they had a
room there called The Pump Room. And that's where the old guys would come and
play cards. And my dad was a salesman, and I don't recall exactly why I was
spending afternoons there, but I do recall watching these old guys play cards
and Chicago is a big town for magicians and card hustlers. So when I was very
young, a fellow sat me down and taught me the three-card Monte. And that kind
of pointed me towards easy money. And I just learned what I could to become
what they call a wise guy. Unfortunately, that was the early '50s, and the
day of the wise guy was really ending. The day of the street entrepreneur was
kind of vanishing. They flourished in the post-war era, but then,
fortunately, the history of it overlapped neatly with street performers, who
made a comeback in the '60s when I was a teenager, and so I was able to step
right into that.

GROSS: So you learned how to do shell games. You also learned how to pick
locks. Did you use that to rob people?

Mr. ANDERSON: Oh, no. No, I didn't. Really my only run-ins with the law
were over hustling on the streets. I did get busted once in New Orleans for a
couple of nights, and the irony was that that was after I had stopped actually
hustling with the shell game and was doing it as a kind of a bunko

GROSS: What was your rap when you were running the shell game?

Mr. ANDERSON: A little game of hanky poo, two for me and one for you. Hey,
diddle diddle, it's the one in the middle. Which one is it now? And on and
on, as the game required.

GROSS: So how are you discovered, after playing the streets and then playing
casinos, how did you make it onto television?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, it all happened kind of quick. I was in town with my
wife. She was raised in Los Angeles, and we were in town visiting her folks
and playing the Magic Castle which is a nightclub for magicians here in town.
And I was doing my act, which at that time consisted of a stage version of the
three-card Monte and the demonstration of the holdout. And Kenny Rogers'
manager, Ken Kragen, saw me, and at that time, Kenny's big song was "The
Gambler." And he thought that my material was very appropriate to go along
with Kenny's hit, and he asked me to open for Kenny in Las Vegas, which I did,
and I was seen there, asked to do "Saturday Night Live," which I did nine or
10 times over the years. The Charles Brothers had a new show. Glenn and Les
Charles had a new show in mind called "Cheers," and they thought that a con
man would be a very natural character in the bar. So they hired me to do the
first season of "Cheers," and somebody saw me on "Cheers" and thought that I
was an actor playing a part as opposed to a guy just doing what he knew, and
they gave me "Night Court." And by the time they realized I wasn't an actor, I
had already signed a five-year contract. Joke's on them.

GROSS: Do you think of yourself as having used any cons to get your role on
"Night Court"?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, based on that story, I'd say that's exactly how I did
it. I mean, it was a little inadvertent, but it was by playing a con man. I
mean, I hadn't acted. I hadn't taken lessons. And I hadn't auditioned. I'd
simply done what I knew, and that led to playing Judge Harry Stone.

BIANCULLI: Harry Anderson, speaking to Terry Gross in 1989. Six episodes of
his quirky sitcom are being released next week in a DVD collection called
"Television Favorites: Night Court."

Coming up, "The Pajama Game." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Composer Richard Adler discusses writing "The Pajama
Game" and "Damn Yankees" and the loss of his writing partner

A revival of the classic musical comedy "The Pajama Game" opened on Broadway
last night to great reviews. New York Times critic Ben Brantley called it a
delicious reinvention. Terry Teachout, writing in The Wall Street Journal
said the staging is a knockout, the sets and costumes are good-looking, the
cast is uniformly appealing, and everybody knows how to sing.

Well, that part of the rave you could have anticipated because the singing
star on stage is Harry Connick Jr.

(Soundbite of "Hey There")

Mr. HARRY CONNICK Jr.: (Singing) "Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes.
Love never made a fool of you. You used to be too wise. Hey there, you on
that high flying cloud, though she won't throw a crumb to you, you think some
day she'll come to you. Better forget her."

(End soundbite)

BIANCULLI: "The Pajama Game" is set in 1954 in a pajama factory in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, where the workers are preparing to strike if they don't get a
raise. The show also stars Kelli O'Hara. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote
the music and lyrics for the "The Pajama Game," which also includes the
popular number "Hernando's Hideaway." Adler and Ross quickly followed that
with "Damn Yankees." Both shows were directed by George Abbott. In 1955, The
New York Times called Adler and Ross "Broadway's hottest young composers." But
later that year, everything changed for Adler when his songwriting partner,
Jerry Ross, died at the age of 29.

In 1999, Terry Gross spoke with Richard Adler about the original production of
"The Pajama Game," which starred John Raitt.


You worked collaboratively with Jerry Ross, and you both wrote words and
music, right?


GROSS: What were the mechanics of the relationship?

Mr. ADLER: Well, there were no mechanics to the relationship. We wrote
every which way imaginable. Sometimes I would come in with a lyric or a
melody, he would elaborate on it. Sometimes, he would. Like for instance
with "Steam Heat," I went to the bathroom one day, and when I got in there, I
decided, `I'm not leaving this room until I've written a song about something
in the room.' So there were certain things you can't write about in a
bathroom. Then, all of a sudden, the radiator started clanging and hissing.
And I got the idea for "Steam Heat." I wrote out a full chorus of it. Got out
of the bathroom, called Jerry, sang it to him over the phone. We got together
the next day and elaborated on it. That's one way that we wrote.

(Soundbite of "Steam Heat")

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing in unison) "I got steam heat. I got
steam heat. I got steam heat. But I need your love to keep away the cold. I
got steam heat. I got steam heat. I got steam heat. But I can't get warm
without your hand to hold. The radiator's hissin', still I need your kissin'
to keep me from freezin' each night. I got a hot water bottle but nothing I
got will take the place of you holding me tight. I got steam heat. I got...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: When you wrote a song for "The Pajama Game," who would you have to
play the song for before it got OK'd?

Mr. ADLER: George Abbot. Period.

GROSS: Oh, really.

Mr. ADLER: Um-hmm.

GROSS: What kind of critiques would he give you?

Mr. ADLER: Critiques? None. He would say yes or no. For the Dictaphone
song, he wanted a song that could be dictated into a Dictaphone machine. They
didn't have tapes in those days. They had Dictaphone machines. So we wrote a
terrible song called "Dear Babe." And he thought it was terrible. We thought
it was terrible, too. He said, `Give me something a little bit more unique.'
Then we wrote, "Hey There." And he liked that a lot. It went into the show.
Then when it was in the show, being a young idiotic and compulsive man, I
suddenly thought, `Gee, this song, it's very lovely. But it maybe isn't
commercial enough.' And I wrote six songs trying to write around "Hey There"
to get it out of the show, and Abbot kept saying, `Don't bother me. I like
"Hey There."'

(Soundbite of "Hey There")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) "Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes.
Love never made a fool of you. You used to be too wise. Hey there, you on
that high flying cloud, though she won't throw a crumb to you, you think some
day she'll come to you. Better forget her. Her with her nose in the air.
She had you dancing on a string. Break it, and she won't care. Will you take
this advice I hand you like a brother? Or are you not seeing too clear? Are
you just too far gone to hear? Is it all going in one ear and out the other?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: After the success of "Pajama Game," you very quickly got involved in
writing the words and music for "Damn Yankees." How did "Damn Yankees" happen
so quickly on the heels of "Pajama Game"?

Mr. ADLER: Well, "Pajama Game" was a big hit, and Mr. Abbot wanted to get
the same team together and write another show, and he had the boys, that is
Hal Prince and Bobby Griffith, came up with a book called "The Year the
Yankees Lost the Pennant." Now we knew that baseball was singularly
unsuccessful in the theater, motion pictures, etc. There'd never been a hit.
It was a taboo. But we tackled it anyway. We all liked the property. And we
wrote "Damn Yankees" following on the heels of "Pajama Game."

GROSS: Was it easier to write a Broadway show the second time around?

Mr. ADLER: No. Much harder.

GROSS: Why was it harder?

Mr. ADLER: First of all, we had written with much greater abandon when we
wrote "Pajama Game" because we didn't know what to be afraid of like the
critics. Though the critics were all marvelous to us in "Pajama Game," we
began to fear that they might not be in "Damn Yankees." So we got a little bit
apprehensive about that.

GROSS: One of the best-known songs from "Damn Yankees" is "You've Got to Have

Mr. ADLER: "You've Got to Have Heart" is the best-known song, I think,
probably I've ever written, and it became this, really, a tremendous hit in
the show. It stopped the show from the first performance on.

(Soundbite of "You've Got to Have Heart")

Unidentified Man #2: Now, listen to me, you guys. This game of baseball is
only one half skill. The other half is something else, something bigger.

(Singing) "You've got to have heart. All you really need is heart. When the
odds are saying you'll never win, that's when the grin should start. You got
to have heart."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Your songwriting partner, Jerry Ross, died after "Damn Yankees" at the
age of 29. You were devastated by that.

Mr. ADLER: I certainly was. I was devastated, and that was 35 years ago.
And I'm still devastated by it. You know, he was like my brother. He was my
beloved friend, my younger brother, my collaborator. He was everything to me
at the time.

GROSS: Cole Porter gave you the advice of, you know, `Just write by yourself
now.' You know, `Your partner's gone. Write by yourself.' Why was it so
difficult for you to write by yourself?

Mr. ADLER: Well, if you're married and you lose your spouse, it's difficult
to adjust to single life. If you're writing as a team, successfully, very
successfully after a lot of hard work, and suddenly, half of the team is
nevermore, it's difficult. It's hard to adjust. It's hard to explain. So I
took Mr. Porter's advice, and it took many years of struggle before I was
able to succeed once again. I really literally had to start all over.

GROSS: What did the new success come with?

Mr. ADLER: Well, it came with songs like "Everybody Loves a Lover" which
came about two and a half years later. It came with the writing of probably
the most successful jingles. At the prices I got to be charging, I called
them advertising musicals. It came later on with the writing of--with the
commissioning of classical pieces like "Wilderness Suite," the Statue of
Liberty centennial piece, "The Lady Remembers," the sesquicentennial of
Chicago piece, and other things.

BIANCULLI: Composer and lyricist Richard Adler speaking with Terry Gross in
1990. The musical "The Pajama Game" which he wrote with Jerry Ross, opened on
Broadway in a new revival last night to rave reviews.

Coming up, taps' greatest duo. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews new DVD
releases featuring black entertainers of the 20th century

Films starring some of the great black entertainers of the 20th century are
now available on DVD. They include performances by Ethel Waters, Fats Waller,
Lena Horne, Bill Bojangles Robinson and Cab Calloway. Classical music critic
Lloyd Schwartz says that some of the best of these new releases show off the
amazing dance team of Harold and Fayard Nicholas, better known as the Nicholas
Brothers. Fayard Nicholas died last month. He was 91. Harold Nicholas died
in 2000 at the age of 79.

Mr. LLOYD SCHWARTZ: At the end of "The Pirate," a 1948 MGM Technicolor
musical starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, there's a marvelous dance
routine to Cole Porter's "Be A Clown." Kelly is joined by two black dancers,
Harold and Fayard Nicholas, who leap and tumble over one another. Yet what at
first seems merely acrobatic is done with the grace and elegance, the musical
invention and interaction of the highest level of dancing. In "The Pirate,"
the brothers had nothing else to do earlier in the film. To its eternal
shame, Hollywood did not allow African-American entertainers to appear as
major characters in films with primarily white casts. They could play
wise-cracking or dim-witted servants, or they could go to Europe, like
Josephine Baker, whose electrifying talent and beauty were more important
there than her race. Her three films made in France are now on DVD. In this
country, the only chance these performers had to do any real acting was either
in the low-budget subculture of so-called race films or in a handful of
high-minded, big-budget Hollywood landmarks with all black casts, made by
white directors. A 1943 musical called "Stormy Weather," just issued on DVD
by Fox, is a flimsy excuse to string together some of the most remarkable song
and dance numbers ever filmed. It's significant that on the three new DVDs
from Warner, King Vidor's "Hallelujah," Marc Connelly's movie version of his
Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Green Pastures" and "Cabin in the Sky," the
first film directed by Vincente Minnelli, there's a written disclaimer that
reminds us that these films are the product of their time and warns us not to
forget our tradition of racism, even in the entertainment industry. Yet the
best moments transcend painful issues, like when the extraordinary Ethel
Waters in "Cabin in the Sky" sings one of the great songs introduced, Vernon
Duke's "Taking a Chance on Love."

(Soundbite of "Cabin in the Sky")

Ms. ETHEL WATERS: (Singing) "Here I go again. I'm hearing those trumpets
blow again. All aglow again, taking a chance on love. Here I slide again,
about to take that ride again. I'm starry-eyed again, taking a chance on
love. I thought the cards were a frame-up, I never would try. But now I'm
taking the game up, and the ace of hearts is high. Things are mending now, I
see a rainbow blending now, we'll have our happy ending now. Taking a chance
on love."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Special bonus features on the new Warner DVDs include some
real rarities, three short films made by the Nicholas Brothers when they were
still kids. They were amazing. In "Pie, Pie Blackbird," from 1932,
11-year-old Harold and 18-year-old Fayard do a tap dance that's so hot, the
blackbird pie, which opens up to reveal the great Eubie Blake and his
orchestra inside, begins to sizzle and smoke. Their big number in "Stormy
Weather" was admired by both Fred Astaire and George Balanchine. At the
climax, the brothers play leapfrog down a flight of high steps and land in a
series of hair-raising splits, from which they rise in slow motion without
using their hands to push themselves up. In "Orchestra Wives," one of only
two films featuring Glenn Miller and his orchestra, they sing "I've Got a Gal
in Kalamazoo" and do a dance in which Harold does a double spin in the air,
lands in a split, then literally walks up the side of a column into a
somersault and another split.

(Soundbite of "Orchestra Wives")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got a gal."

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) "Where?"

Man #1: (Singing) "In Kalamazoo."

Man #2: (Singing) "Kalamazoo?"

Man #1: (Singing) "I don't want to boast, but I know she's the toast of

Man #2: (Singing) "Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo."

Man #1: (Singing) "Years have gone by. My, my, how she grew."

Man #2: (Singing) "Man, did she grew."

Man #1: (Singing) "I liked her looks when I carried her book in Kalamazoo."

Man #2: (Singing) "Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo."

Man #1: (Singing) "I'm going to send a wire..."

Man #2: (Singing) "Hopping on a flyer..."

Man #1: (Singing) "Leaving today. Am I dreaming?"

Man #2: (Singing) "I can hear her screaming, `Hi, ya, Mr. Jackson.'"

Man #1: (Singing) "Everything's OK."

Man #2: (Singing) "A."

Man #1: (Singing) "L."

Man #2: (Singing) "A."

Man #1: (Singing) "M."

Man #2: (Singing) "A. Z."

Man #1: (Singing) "O. Oh, what a gal! A real pipperoo."

Man #2: (Singing) "She's a fine chick."

Man #1: (Singing) "I'm going to make my bid for that freckle-faced kid, I'm
hurryin' to. Going to Michigan to see the sweetest gal in Kalamazoo."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. SCHWARTZ: There are very few films in which either of the Nicholas
Brothers played an actual character. The only one I've seen is Robert
Townsend's 1991, "The Five Heartbeats," about a group of black kids who form a
singing group that makes it all the way to the top. Harold Nicholas plays a
retired hoofer, who helps them polish their dance movements and ends up the
group's mascot. It's a touching performance, and it's great to see his
character throw down his cane and do an eye-popping little routine. It also
underlines all those wasted years when he and his brother should have been
playing the leading roles.

BIANCULLI: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix and
teaches English at the University of Massachusetts Boston.


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


'In The Heights' Star Anthony Ramos Says The Movie Sees 'Good In Every Hood'

The first time actor Antony Ramos saw In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway production about a Latinx community in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, he was floored. Now Ramos is starring — and singing and dancing and rapping — in the film adaptation of In the Heights.


Inner Workings Of DarkSide Cybergang Reveal It's Run Like Any Other Business

New York Times investigative reporter Michael Schwirtz gained access to the dashboard of DarkSide, a Russian ransomware operation that's pulled in more than $90 million since it began last August.


'Mercury Rising' Explores The U.S.'s Treacherous Attempts to Control Space

In his new book, Mercury Rising, Jeff Shesol writes about Friendship 7, the United States' first mission to put an astronaut in orbit around the Earth and, more broadly, about how Cold War fears fueled the early days of the space program.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.


Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue