The week of November 11, 2002 was a milestone for
me. On that Monday, I went to the famed Apollo Theater on 125th
Street in Harlem. This was my first time attending this legendary
Mecca of soul and it was a real treat. Nancy had won two tickets
to see "Harlem Song", a kind of musical travelogue for
the historical Manhattan neighborhood. We both enjoyed the show,
but the main thrill was sitting in the balcony, looking down on
that stage and just imagining what it must have been like to see
all those amazing artists who've performed there in the past.
If that wasn't enough, on Wednesday I was interviewed
by Joe Franklin for his radio show on WOR. Joe Franklin, for the
few of you who may not know, hosted one of the longest running TV
talk shows in NYC. He no longer has that program, Joe Franklin's
Memory Lane, but broadcasts his radio show from his Memory Lane
restaurant on Eighth Avenue and 45th Street. To me, Joe has always
been an enigma. Even in his prime, he seemed a little out of it.
Not quite there mentally during interviews, but that was part of
his appeal. When I was a kid, I used to wonder, why does that man
have a TV show? In all fairness, though, he was quite knowledgeable
about old show biz nostalgia.
Since I have a book and a CD out, Nancy has been plugging
away, getting me radio and press interviews, and somehow she landed
me on Joe Franklin.
Every radio interview I've done has been well organized and professionally
handled. The interviewer has familiarized him or herself with my
work and has a list of questions and topics to discuss. These interviews
are usually conducted in a quiet radio broadcast studio or by telephone
from my home.
As we entered Joe Franklin's Memory Lane restaurant, I knew this
was going to be something completely different. Sitting on a raised
platform in the middle of this noisy bustling eatery, dressed in
full formal evening wear, is old Joe, and I mean old. This man was
old back in the 60's, so I figure he's got to be hitting triple
digits. That said, he doesn't look too bad. I check his hair, which
is dyed a respectable orange and determine it's not a piece. I tower
over Mr. Franklin, and I'm 5'9". I estimate five foot zilch.
The place is packed, and I realize after Joe walks by me that he
has no clue I'm on the show or who I am. I'm told by the producer
that I will be on at precisely 9:15. The show kicks off with an
in-depth interview with ex-professional wrestler, Captain Lou Albano,
known mostly as someone who knew Cyndi Lauper. The witty repartee
consists of Lou yelling at the top of his lungs into the microphone
how much he loves Joe and misses his TV show, while Joe acts as
if he's doing one of his commercials for Hoffman beverages. This
bit of inanity goes on for a quarter of an hour, until some incredibly
skinny seventeen-year-old chick comes up out of the crowd and sings
a cappella Mariah-style into a wireless mic. Next up is the one
and only Karen Lynn Gorney. Name doesn't ring a bell? How about
more than a woman to me? Need another hint? She may have John Travolta's
phone number, but he's not taking her calls. She's that girl from
"Saturday Night Fever". The dancer, love interest. It
starts to dawn on me -- this is has-beens on parade. This is Joe's
A List. After she plugs her new album, in which she kinda sounds
like Billie Holliday on the cut Joe played, at least through the
din of exuberant restaurant chatter, she departs to make room for
a real star. Sylvia Miles. I know she was in "Midnight Cowboy"
and probably something else, but I couldn't tell you what. Again,
and I don't mean to sound like an age-ist (I'm getting up there
myself), but this broad is ancient. I could have sworn I saw rings
around her like a tree. She had a high pitch squeal three decades
ago and now can only let out a squeak.
About this point, the producer points to me and signals for me
to stand at the entrance to Joe's platform, which is a corral leading
to three steps blocked by a beefy black bouncer. There are scores
of other people crowded into this area and I notice, like me, they're
all clutching onto books and CDs. What's going on here? It all becomes
crystal clear, now that the has-beens have come and gone, we're
down to the never-have-beens and even worse, the never-will-be's,
and I'm in the middle of this stampede of pushing and jockeying
for position melee. These are the kind of desperate people who will
do anything for their fifteen minutes of fame, or their three minutes
with Joe. There's no schedule. I'm not going on at 9:15. It's the
old pick-and-choose, like in gym class when the popular kid decides
who he wants on his team, and I was always that kid still standing
there with the other two or three nerds, praying I wouldn't be the
last one deemed acceptable for the bombardment team.
First up out of this pathetic bunch of wanna-bes is a woman who
claims to be the world's fastest talker. And she must be, to have
gotten herself on this show. After reciting Goldilocks and the Three
Bears in about twenty-two seconds, I'm convinced she's not only
the world's fastest talker, but possibly the highlight of the entire
A black singer, an author and an assortment of people whose reason
for being there weren't even clear during their interviews are all
chosen ahead of me. I start frantically waving at my wife, who's
sitting at a ringside table to please let me go home. But she shakes
her head and motions to give it a little more time.
Joe stands up, gazes into the throng of hopeful faces and points
to a woman with blonde hair piled up half a foot above her head.
After her, the crowd parts like the Red Sea because another celeb
has graced the premises. An actress who is portraying Jacqueline
Kennedy Onassis in an off-Broadway play has shown up and is ushered
immediately to Joe's desk. A few more questionable singers and authors
are given the go-ahead and I notice the clock on the wall says ten
minutes to eleven. I've been standing here like an idiot among these
rabid mongrels for nearly three hours and the show is over in ten
Finally I'm let past the wide shouldered security thug and take
across from the man. What I didn't expect was the level of noise
up there -- loud dinner yakking, glasses and dishes clanking, to
the point where I can barely hear Joe. I have my book, "Boom
Harangue", my bio and my CD "Basic Glee", all of
which Joe ignores. I also have a CD single of "Manhattan Night",
a song I thought Joe would maybe get a kick out of. He glances at
the cover of that and begins the interview. "We're here with
Richard..." pauses and focuses his eyes on my middle initial
"...K. Hyman. It's good to have you back on the show,"
I think I hear him say. So I just say it's great to be here, even
though I've never met Joe before. "So tell me, what's it like
to be a young comedian here in New York? Give me some funny anecdotes
about the city." Now, it's noisy, but I'm pretty sure this
is what I've just heard and a chill goes up my spine. Not only does
he not know who I am, but he thinks I'm somebody else. Do I correct
Joe? Do I say, Joe, there's been a terrible mix-up, I'm not a young
comedian, I'm a not-so-young Jewish folk rock pop singer and I'm
here to promote my new book and CD? Between the din and pure exhaustion
of having waited three hours, I decide on a middle-ground tactic.
I simply respond with my standard answer. "Well, Joe, I started
playing drums when I was five years old and have been playing in
rock'n'roll bands around New Jersey and New York ever since..."
Joe interjects, "Give me three of your favorite comedy songs."
The interview in my mind is a complete washout, but there's no turning
back. I amiably reply, "Manhattan Night is kind of funny."
So Joe plays the song and it seeps into his muddled brain that something
isn't quite right. Thirty seconds into the song, he looks at me
and says "I have you mixed up with someone else. Where's the
song parodist with the funny words?" and the producer points
out the guy, who then runs up the three stairs and is now sitting
next to me. Joe fades down "Manhattan Night" a quarter
of the way through, and starts talking to the young comedian, who
cracks a joke about how he didn't know his clone was going to be
here tonight, referring to me. Which is an insult because this dude
ain't exactly Tom Cruise. But he has the same dark curly hair as
me, only his is balding above a nose that rivals Jimmy Durante.
He does a horribly unamusing tribute to Joe to the tune of some
Gilbert & Sullivan song, and then Joe looks at the two of us
and gives us a double heave-ho with his thumbs, and we're out of
there. The ridiculously thin seventeen-year-old girl closes out
the evening with another song belted out with those awful trills
that make you want to slap her silly. Nancy and I walk out into
the cool November air and I tell her I'm glad I stuck it out. I
think I have another story to write.