One of the proudest achievements I’ve had in my 30 plus years as a comedian in show business was getting friendly with my boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle. I was hired to emcee a birthday roast for him in the mid-80’s, after which he invited me to participate at no cost in his New York Yankee fantasy baseball camp. This was a dream come true, not only getting to be friends with The Mick, but also to play ball against the players I idolized as a kid. Although I performed with and met some of the biggest stars in the entertainment field, from Johnny Carson to Bob Hope, befriending Mickey Mantle was clearly the top of the chart, according to my many comedian friends.
But one negative incident that occurred impressed my friends more than anything else. About 6 months after I played in Mickey’s camp, I was hired to host the release of his home video, “The All-American Boy,” at his restaurant in New York City. When the event was over and everyone was schmoozing, I started asking Mickey about attending another camp. Apparently I asked him once too often, and he seemed to get a bit irritated.
“Ask Whitey Ford,” snapped Mickey. Whitey, another Yankee legend, was his partner in running the camp. After that I just dropped the subject. But the next day I got a call from my friend who was the publicist for the event, Ira Silverman.
“Mantle’s pissed off at you,” he said over the phone. I couldn’t believe it. Mickey Mantle angry at little ole’ me? I asked why. Ira said it was because I bugged him about going to the camp. At first I was kind of despondent that I angered Mickey, but then I began to giggle to myself about how amazing this actually was!
When I went home and called to tell all of my friends, including John DeBellis and Larry David, two of my closest ones, they were effusive in their compliments.
“That’s the best thing you’ve ever accomplished in your life,” said Larry. “Getting Mickey Mantle pissed off at you. It’s better than all of your Tonight Shows put together!” You see, to them the fact that this iconic baseball player, one of the biggest legends of all time, actually cared enough to acknowledge my existence and get mad at me was a badge of honor. It was a singular accomplishment: how many of us could ever hope that our boyhood sports idol would be irked at us later in life?
And to this day it remains at the top of my list for lifetime achievements. I got Mickey Mantle mad at me!
In 1976 I was still getting my feet wet as a comedian, but I had begun to establish myself on the east coast club circuit and was getting bookings as a headliner. My best friend was Larry David, who although brilliantly funny (at least to all his fellow comics), didn’t translate as well to audiences. He thus didn’t really work the comedy club circuit outside of the New York City area.
I got myself booked at a Philadelphia comedy room called Grandma Minnie’s. Because the owner liked and respected me, I asked if I could bring my friend Larry David with me to open. He said yes and off we went for a week in Philly. The shows were fine and nondescript, but one day we were knocking around the city, sightseeing and hanging around. We decided to go to Independence Hall, the reverent shrine where the both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were signed. Larry and I walked in, and oddly, we were the only tourists in there that day, or that hour. We went down a hallway and came upon a room…THE room…where the actual Declaration was signed. When we walked in we could see the area was cordoned off with a plush velvet rope; on the other side were about 25 rows of ornate 18th century chairs. There was a raised stage with about 8 more chairs, and a lecturn. This was the lecturn at which our founding fathers gave their speeches and signed the declaration. Larry and I looked at each other and marveled how right there, 30 feet away from where we stood, Franklin, Jefferson, Hancock et al spoke and led their brethren to independence. We were in awe. And then, suddenly without warning, Larry climbed over the velvet ropes, romped up onto the stage and up to the lecturn, and began to bellow in a British accent: “My fellow compatriots, we will not allow the British to refuse us our liberty, we must sign our document of independence…” I was laughing uncontrollably at crazy Larry, incredulous and shocked at his nerve. Suddenly a security guard ran into the room and upon seeing Larry started screaming, “You two get the hell out of here before you are put under arrest!” Larry bolted down from the stage and we ran up a staircase and out a door, laughing hysterically, all the while with the security guard in hot pursuit. When we got outside we kept on running. To this day I can still palpably feel the adrenaline of perhaps the craziest stunt I’ve ever been involved in. All thanks to Larry David. It was such a good idea to get him on the show with me. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.