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 show.
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 minutes.
Finally I'm let past the wide shouldered security thug and take my seat 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.