The comedians who populate the ranks of the New York Friars Club have endured beyond their expiration date. When we ask “how old is he” the answer is “deceased.” George Burns passed on at 100; Henny Youngman departed at 92.
Even comedians’ marriages last forever. Ginny and Bob Newhart have been married 50 years; Barbara and Don Rickles, 48 years. Newhart has a theory: “I think if you can keep laughing you will stay together.”
I’m no comedian but my Nina hasn’t stopped laughing since the day I smashed the glass under the chupah 36 years ago.
After a robust effort to recruit fresh blood, there is now an infusion of youthful merrymakers swelling the club’s showbiz ranks. This mixture of the young and the old was evident at a recent Friars affair.
When the Friars Foundation, which supports various charities, presented a lifetime achievement award last month to the acerbic and insulting Don Rickles—the elder statesman of the comedy racket—his octogenarian colleagues, those not tethered to their wheelchairs, found their way to the Waldorf-Astoria to pay tribute to their fearless mentor.
Among the usual suspects were Tony Bennett , 86 in August; Bob Newhart, 83 in September; Regis Philbin, 82 in August; Lewis Black, 65 in August; Tony Danza, 62; sportscaster Bob Costas, 62; Billy Crystal, 65; and Bette Midler, 67.
Newhart, of Oak Park, Illinois, said proudly that he started at the Sahara in Las Vegas. Rickles, of Queens, New York, added, “I started on a wagon train going west. “
That prompted Joan Rivers who turned 80 in June to crack, “This looks like a walking bucket list.” Not to be outdone, Robert De Niro, 70 in August, remarked, “This is an impressive lineup for the Don Rickles memorial service.”
“I’m only irritated,” De Niro added, “that when I was in Israel celebrating Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday, I wasted my prayer at the Wailing Wall on Don’s memory.”
At some point during all this merriment the Friars Foundation managed to bestow an Applause Award upon Barry R. Feirstein of Feirstein Capital Management Corporation, an investment management firm. A Brooklyn College graduate, he’s president of the Friars Foundation and a supporter of Manhattan’s Center for Jewish History.
Joan Rivers said she loved to watch Bob Newhart sitting among so many Jews. “He looks like Sarah Palin in a library.”
Newhart mentioned that he and his wife vacation a lot with Rickles. “After that we take a vacation.”
On a trip to Israel they stayed at the King David Hotel. While driving around Jerusalem Don flattered himself with his keen knowledge of local landmarks. “I know that building. It’s where they keep Palestinian terrorists.”
“No, Don,” the guide said. “That’s the national library.”
On the Golan Heights Don was excited to see a row of tall poles on the mountain. “Those poles are high so they can spy on the troops in Syria.”
“No, Don. Those are telephone poles.”
Jimmy Fallon, part of the new generation of Friars who proved their mettle, proposed a toast. “Here’s to Don, not for another 80 years, just 40 years. More than that is just overkill.”
At the end Rickles looked heavenward and dedicated the evening of fun to his Yiddish speaking mother Etta, and his son Larry, an Emmy Award-winning producer who died of pneumonia at age 41 in 2011. “Larry, Dad was a hit tonight!”