Comics span generations at Lyric

Friday, October 30, 2015

Shelley Koppel
Staff writer/Your Voice News & Views
Oct. 30, 2015

STUART – Did you hear the one about the Jew, the old Jew and the Guy from Jersey?

No, it’s not a joke, but it is funny. It’s an evening billed as “clean stand-up comedy,” and comics Bruce Smirnoff, Freddie Roman and Jeff Norris will supply the laughs at the Lyric Theatre Nov. 13.

The three performances have almost a century of combined comedy experience. Roman is a legendary Borscht Belt comic who branched into acting and is Dean Emeritus of the New York Friars Club. Smirnoff has worked in comedy for several decades and has written a critically acclaimed one-man show. Norris, who does many voices, has appeared in New York and Las Vegas and as a headliner on cruises.
Roman spoke by phone from his home in New Jersey about a career that has spanned more than 50 years.

Roman began his career as a teen in the Catskill Mountains, where family owned a hotel. It was a time and place where many Jewish comedians began their careers.

“There was a lot of anti-Semitism in America,” he said. The Catskills were a wonderful place for us to be accepted. The stand-up comedy world started in the Catskills and so many went on to other things.”

Roman had the opportunity to watch Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett and others at work.

“For a kid that wanted to become a comedian, I just fell in love,” he said. “I patterned myself after Alan King, doing monologues about reality. On my nights off, I’d go to another hotel to see someone else work. If you were a guest at a hotel there was a different show every night at no charge. If you were a comedian on the 5th night of the week, they’d seen four others — you’d better be funny or they’d walk out.”
Roman went to NYU because his mother wanted him to have a fallback plan if show business didn’t work out. He planned to be a teacher of dramatic arts.

“My acting partner was Lou Gossett Jr., who went on to win an Academy Award,” he said. “I was working at Kutcher’s (Hotel) on Wednesday nights.”

Roman went on to celebrate the era of the great Catskill hotels in his show, “Catskills on Broadway. He can now be seen in new series that streams on Amazon called “Red Oaks.”

“It’s about a country club in New Jersey,” he said. “It’s an ensemble cast with Paul Reiser, Jennifer Grey, Richard Kind and little old me. I play Herb, a crotchety old member of the club and I piss everyone off.”
For his Lyric show, Roman will be the host.

“We all perform separately,” he said. “I host the show and come back and close it. It’s similar to ‘Catskills on Broadway’ and it works very well. It’s for people 20 to deceased.”

Roman has appeared in Stuart several times. In fact, he and his wife live in Boynton Beach for five months out of the year. He even asked if the same ice cream parlor was there and I assured him it is.

“It’s always fun to be in Stuart,” he said. “I love John Loesser for keeping that theater going.”
Roman said there have been changes in how comedians make names for themselves.

“In the last 20 years, there has been an amazing explosion,” he said. “Once the Catskills weakened, they were replaced by Comedy Clubs. Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser and all of that era had to be somewhere to be bad before (they) could be good.

“The most interesting thing is the explosion of women. In stand-up then, you just had Totie Fields, Joan Rivers and Lily Tomlin. Totie Fields was responsible for a lot of my success. She got me my first job in Las Vegas. Someone told her they were looking for an opener for (dancer) Juliet Prowse. She said, ‘Give him $1,500 and a room.’ She got me the job and then I got Steve and Eydie (Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, American pop vocal duet, said Roman. “I had 14 wonderful years at Caesar’s Palace. I had a wonderful run.”

Roman served as president of the Friars Club for many years. The organization is known for its roasts and for money it raises for charitable ventures and scholarships. He recently took on the title Emeritus because he’s in Florida so much.
The comic said that a new generation of friars is emerging.

“Jimmy Fallon joined and brought 16 of his writers as members,” Roman said. “It’s becoming a new blood thing. We do a roast every year. We had one recently. The Friars invented the roast form. We’re doing different people. We did Quentin Tarantino and it was a hell of a roast. We have a deal with ESPN to do a sports roast before the Super Bowl. We’re cooking.”
Or is that roasting?

The Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave, Stuart, presents “The Jew, The Old Jew and The Guy from Jersey”Nov. 13 at 7 P.M.
Tickets are $42.

Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or visit the website