GUEST COLUMN

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The Funniest Man in the World

As a comedy writer, I had once written a piece for Carlton Carpenter (of “Aba Daba Honeymoon” fame), and as he was about to perform it in an Off-Broadway show, I went to one of the rehearsals. I arrived late morning and was in time to hear that everyone was terribly excited. “Dom’s coming,” was the buzz. “Dom’s coming to entertain us for lunch.”

I wondered who they were talking about, and learned that he was the funniest man in the world. So, joining everyone, I sat in the theater with a brown bag full of things to eat, and never got to get any of them into my mouth, because you can’t eat if you can’t breathe because you are under the seat laughing. I remember telling Shari Lewis (who I worked with on “Shariland,” creating Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse) that I had just seen the funniest man in the world, but though I remembered “Dom,” the last name hadn’t stuck with me.

A couple of years later I had taken a writing partner, and with Saul Turteltaub-an enormously funny man himself-formed a writing group of 10, all of whom became wonderfully successful almost right away. One day, one of the 10, Jack Urbont, who wrote music as I did, asked me to come to a show he had opening called “All In Love.” He told me that the funniest man in the world was in it. “Not possible,” I said. “I have seen the funniest man in the world,” and I related what I have just told you.

Suffice it to say, that I saw “All in Love” and, of course, it was Dom DeLuise. He ended up as a guest on “Shariland”- his first television appearance-a visit he repeated many times.

It’s interesting that everyone I have ever known, who knows Dom DeLuise, has used the words, “The funniest man in the world.” I have known and loved Dom more than 50 years now, and have worked with him on many things, but though I have known him as a very young man just beginning, all these years later, his simple funny-ness turns me inside out.

You cannot walk in the street with him without seeing strangers waving from cars and truck windows, and others stopping dead in their tracks to look and smile. It’s because he is so accessible. They intuit his sweetness, his vulnerability, his anxiousness to please and entertain.

He has known at least five presidents and every famous star -all of whom would love to work with him … again. He has three excellent sons, each of whom are doing extremely well in show business, and Carol, a wife of immense talent herself, whose company my wife Barbara and I covet, and who is Dom’s best audience.

I have found over the years that people who are funny for money, both comics and writers, are rarely exceptionally funny people, unless they are telling jokes, at which they are professional. Dom DeLuise is completely unique. He is made of funny. Any moment you are in his company becomes memorable, because you simply cannot stop laughing. I often reminisce with Dom about the early years. This following story is his:

“I was living in New York and I had just been in a Neil Simon play on Broadway called, ‘The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.” Soon afterward, I got involved in a TV series called ‘The Entertainers,’ with Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Caterina Valente and John Davidson. It was a time when I was getting a lot of calls from my friends, who all told me that a TV movie was casting, and apparently there was a character in the movie, and that in the description of that character it said, ‘a Dom DeLuise type.’ I thought this was very flattering, and I thought I would contact the producers and tell them that I, Dom DeLuise, was, in fact, available and eager to accommodate them by being in their show. If ever there was a Dom DeLuise type, it was me, so I made arrangements for an audition.

“When I got there I auditioned for the Dom DeLuise type character. I was told they enjoyed my audition but that I was not exactly the type they were looking for. I was ‘amused’ and ‘amazed’ about how close I got to getting it, and to be typed-out flabbergasted me.

“My son Peter was only a year old when it happened. He is now a director, doing a television show called ‘Stargate.’ He helps cast. A part came up and the producers said, ‘How about a Dom DeLuise type?’ My son Peter said, ‘Let me call him. He’s my father.’

“I think that if you have to produce a son, wait for him to grow up and become a director, eventually an opportunity may arise for them to need a ‘Dom DeLuise type.’ If you are me, and he is there, with any luck you could get a job.”

I hope Dom lives forever, because in my saddest moment, I know that there is a well of laughter that I may drink freely of. It’s him.