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else could have been in the right place at the right time but not have
performed the same.
I think that it was an interest in this kind of thing that I got.
How did I get it? Well, when I played in a band in the Catskills, I often
ended up as the master of ceremonies, replacing the comic, and
having to emcee and tell stories. I ended up with trying to get people
like Irwin Corey or Josh White, Leadbelly, to come up and perform. I
began to see the art of performance for people as --
The art of performance?
The art of performance. Sam Levenson, we got him his first
job, and Sam was the best raconteur of stories I've ever heard. I used
to keep a list of his punch lines. I had four hundred punch lines. And
Sam would be ready to come to the hospitals, to the nursing homes,
to 1199, to perform, just to talk.
In these interviews, we've been pretty serious, but in my
recollection of times with you, they always involve some laughter. Can
you describe the role your sense of humor has played in your career?
Was it something that diffused situations, that made points in a
For whatever reason, how it came about, I always prided
myself in my sense of humor, and I could take an incident and turn it
around to be funny, and people would listen and they would laugh. It
wasn't like I was a comedian, but I could see very often the irony in
what we were doing.
For example, I'm thinking of Judy Berek in the sit-in at one of the
hospitals when we were organizing there, and locking herself in and
being there alone, and with my phone number. So we would talk all
the time, and I would say, “Judy, you're going to now do the PR. I'm
going to give you the phone numbers. You call the people and say
you're ready to talk to them.” And I trained Judy in these things.
It's hard for me to say where, but first of all, my brother Henry is very
witty. Jack was very witty in some ways, in telling stories.
Your brother Jack.
My brother Jack. Phil was not -- I didn't regard him as funny.
He was serious. Henry, Jack. Eric inherits that kind of thing, so it may
be in the genes. My father was very funny in a cynical way. He was
always -- I don't want to say cracking a joke, but he would say a
phrase that indicated that he looked at something that was wise and it
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