Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sammy Meets Duke and They Are On Their Way

What some people don't realize about any straight man, is how important he is. Did you know that Sammy Petrillo originally worked with somebody else? This was George DeWitt, and according to Freddie Bass, who was a well known club booker on the Coast, "this was not an act destined for greatness. George didn't have that great timing that you need. It's in the timing. The great comedians have it. The funniest joke is nothing without timing. Timing can't be learned. It can't even be explained.

"Another thing is the set-up. Remember, the difference between a straight man and a comic. A comic says funny things. A straight man sets up so the comic can say things funny. If you forget to remember this, you go nowhere. Who ever heard of George DeWitt?

"George was a quiz show host on "Name That Tune." He didn't look like Dean Martin or anything like that, and so he'd let Sammy roam around doing all kinds of undisciplined things. One of Sammy's big things was to break out in song like Johnny Ray. He'd do the whole manic Johnny Ray bit, and George would just let him go. It was when Sammy hooked up with Duke, God rest his weary soul, that the greatness began to sweat through the fabric."

"As I remember it, they made their own breaks. Sammy was very aggressive, Duke was more of a gentleman. Before Sammy ever met Duke, he used his Jerry Lewis imitation to break the ice. He once turned up backstage and put a headlock on Milton Berle, and for a minute, Berle thought it was actually Jerry. He was yelling, "Jerry you asshole, I'll kill you...I'll kill you," and boy was he surprised when he put Sammy at arm's length and realized it wasn't Jerry at all. Was Miltie mad? No, he was in awe. I forget his manager. Herb somebody. He called this Herb somebody, and I think it was Herb who arranged for Sammy and Duke to meet Jerry and Dean, who were at the top of their game. Jerry used Sammy in a skit, with Sammy playing Jerry's baby in a baby carriage. But when the reviews came out in Variety praising Sammy's genius, Jerry became livid. Then Jerry became crafty. He had Sammy sign with an agency, and ordered the agency to never get work for Sammy. That put Sammy out of the way! Finally Sammy got wise. Then Sammy re-started his career and got his revenge by joining Duke in becoming rivals to the great Martin and Lewis!"

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