Alan Colmes left us today. Most people knew him as a radio and TV host, the ultra-liberal co-host of Hannity and Colmes from 1996 until the end of 2008, but many people didn’t know he started out as a stand-up comedian around 1974 at a steak house called Al and Dick’s, where according to Alan, people were more interested in eating their steaks than listening to his jokes.
By the time The Comic Strip opened on June 1, 1976, he was already a radio disc jockey on WABC living in New Haven, CT. and found himself driving into the city 90 minutes each night trying to get on stage at both The Improv, and Catch a Rising Star. According to Alan, most nights he just sat there schmoozing with the other comics, not getting any stage time at all.
He says that all changed when The Comic Strip opened. I think I met Alan around 1980 while I was writing for Rodney Dangerfield, and remember going up to a place he eventually had in Manhattan to hang out and chat about comedy. Many, many years later when I did my book “Laughing Legends” on the history of The Strip I interviewed Alan at The Comic Strip with owner/founder Richie Tienken. It was an experience I will never forget.
Alan showed up wearing his original red satin Comic Strip jacket worn proudly in those early days by comics like Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, and the other regulars of The Strip at that time. It must have been 30 years old and looked brand new. Richie was shocked. Alan told the story of how when he first came to The Strip, Richie was managing a singer at the time named Buddy Traina and asked Alan to play his record on the air. Alan recalls thinking it might be a good way to endear himself to Richie and get stage time.
But then during the interview when I asked Alan to talk more about his early days at The Strip, he described them as follows. “At the other two clubs, mostly The Improv, the general rule was you’d be ignored. And then comes Richie Tienken, with a brand new club, who always treated the comics with respect.” As he said that he broke down in tears. Literally sobbing, as he recalled the loneliness and frustration of new comics in those early days of the clubs, and how difficult it was to get any stage time. It happened several times during the interview. It was a side of Alan I had never seen before and showed how deeply the wounds were for people who had such a need to perform, and how he felt such frustration and personal rejection, even after so many years had passed.
The Strip was literally the first club to give comics a schedule and tell them when they’d go on, and legendary club manager Lucien Hold was a stickler for comics being on time. In those days, they also had music playing the comics on stage. Larry Miller was the drummer, and Alan came on stage accompanied on piano by Broadway lyricist and composer Brian Gari who also happened to be Eddie Cantor’s grandson. Just saw him about a week ago when we both performed at Metropolitan Room owner Bernie Furshpan’s 60th birthday.
Alan was managed by Rory Rosegarten of The Conversation Company who he met in those early days at The Comic Strip. Rory was already managing Joe Bolster and Robert Klein and still has those clients to this very day. And interestingly enough Alan’s wife is Dr. Jocelyn Elise Crowley, the sister of conservative radio and TV personality and political pundit Monica Crowley, which must have made for some highly spirited conversation during family get-togethers. She was present with Alan during a particularly heated conversation with Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor, and afterwards laughingly said, “ I love my brother-in-law, but he’s wrong about everything.”