Rip Taylor, Live!
by Basam Habal, December 28, 2016
Rip Taylor is a classic comedian whose career in show business spans over 50 years.
He is known to many as the king of confetti for his trademark act of throwing confetti into the audience. First gaining initial prominence as the crying comedian on the Ed Sullivan show, he has worked on various TV shows including the Jackie Gleason show, the Monkees, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, the Gong Show as well as on stage broadway and Las Vegas. He has also been in various films including “Things Are Tough All Over” with actors Cheech and Chong. A new documentary has just come out about him called “Rip Rip Hooray.”
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Rip at his favorite restaurant to talk about his new documentary and his long career in show business.
Taylor with the Interviewer
BH: We are here talking with the one and only comedy legend Rip Taylor.
RT: Hi everybody.
BH: Let me tell you Rip, it’s an honor to meet you.
RT: He’s been drinking folks so don’t blame me.
BH: So there was a new documentary that just came out about you called “Rip Rip Hooray.”
RT: Yes, it came out last week and it was at the silent picture theater which was even funnier that we rented to show it there cause it is not a silent picture and there were like 500 people there, and I did a Q&A for an hour and a half after. Why they were so receptive I was quite surprised. I was very happy and very proud, it was packed. I couldn’t wait to see it.
BH: How long was the documentary in the works for?
RT: I think too long. I don’t wanna embarrass the producers. Four years! Oh, I’m sorry. Did that sneak out? He would have done it in four minutes.
BH: How involved were you?
RT: I just kept talking and filming and we didn’t edit too much from it. But what they did edit was very well received and shown what I wanted to be shown. You know I’m not always on, but I can go on easily. That’s the gift.
BH: Was there anything in the documentary they left out that you wished was in there?
RT: Not necessarily no, except I was quite surprised that the theater was jammed. I don’t know why it was, and they want me to do it again. Show it elsewhere, and that’s what the producers are going to do. And hopefully networks like Amazon and Netflix will buy it.
BH: Any desire to have larger theater runs?
RT: Oh, that’s what they do when they sell it. They show it to bigger theaters. That’s how they do it.
BH: I’d love to see it in the Bay area.
RT: Yes I hope so, I hope so too.
BH: Before the documentary, you did a one man show called “It ain’t all Confetti.”
RT: Yes, I did. I did it in a theater in North Hollywood. I expected no one to show up and there were lines around the block. Very flattered. Wonderful director David Galligan. We did it for 2 to 3 weeks and they want me to do it again.
BH: And how did that come about?
RT: I wanted to do other things cause I didn’t wanna do clubs anymore. I was tired of clubs and I had been asked to do a play. And I said, “Why don’t I do my own play?” and they said, “Can you do that?” And I said, “I Don’t know.” We sat down and we wrote it and we did it. And it was very well received. I was quite surprised and they all liked it. I don’t know, I’m humbled but I’m not stupid. I’m too close to it. That’s why I hoped they liked it and they did. And I’m gonna show it again and do it all over. Called “It ain’t all Confetti.”
BH: Speaking of confetti, how that that shtick originate?
RT: I was doing an act and I had these cue cards cause I don’t remember jokes that well and they were not going well at all. So what I did, I said, “I’m gonna give up” and tore the jokes up and threw them in the air and that’s how confetti started. And they laughed louder at the confetti than they did my jokes, so I kept it up. Something came to me to tear them up and now it’s a trademark. Thank you Jesus.
BH: It’s as much of a trademark for you Rip as one of the most famous handlebar mustaches in American culture.
RT: I was gonna call Lyft limousine service and see if I could get my mustache on the beginning of the car. That’s funny.
BH: Lyft and Rip, a wonderful combo.
RT: Wanna get a lift, call Rip. That’s what I was gonna say. I think they are taking it off but it was a good idea.
BH: When did you grow it out?
RT: So long ago I don’t remember. I didn’t do it as a joke. I just didn’t shave for a while and then people started staring at me and they said “What’s that hair on your lip?” and I said, “It’s called a mustache, not a hair lip.” How rude. And that’s how it happened and I kept it. I didn’t know it was gonna become a trademark but it kind of became one. Thank you Jesus. And it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t itch. And it looks good when I mug a lot and make funny faces, so that’s why I kept it.
BH: I was gonna say yours and pitcher Rollie Fingers are probably the two most famous mustaches. … Did you have a desire to become a comedian as a kid?
RT: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I wanted to go into politics. I got a job in the kitchen in the United States Senate and I had to go to school when I was working in the kitchen. So I went to school with the other pageboys. They were a trip, little snotty boys and I was a busboy in the kitchen. One day there was a vacancy and I said, “Can I become a page?” “But you’re a busboy” and I said, “I wasn’t always a busboy.” And it ain’t hard to be a page. They snap their fingers, you run to the senator, you go get the document and you go back to the congress and you sit and wait. They snap there fingers and you go get another document. I remember saying to the Secretary of the Senate, “There’s a vacancy,” and they said, “Where are you from?” I said, “Washington DC,” and they said, “You can’t vote, you can’t be a page.” And I said, “But you can give me patronage, Mr. Biffle,” and he did. Look at how all it takes is just ask. All they can do is say no… in life.
BH: I think that’s how I got this interview
RT: Isn’t that amazing?
BH: So how do you go from being a page into comedy?
RT: I got drafted into the army, shut up, our side.
BH: And from the army?
RT: Korea, special services. I didn’t wanna do shows in the front. They were shooting the people in the front. We did shows and I got discharged and stayed in Tokyo and did shows. Got an act together, the record “Pantomime.” You play the record, you mouth the words. Umm umm yumm. One day the record broke and I haven’t shut up in 50 years. That’s how it happened and I’m still at it.
BH: Who were some of your comedic inspirations?
RT: Red Skelton was the only one. He wasn’t dirty, neither was I. He made faces and laughed at his own jokes. I did too at the time and one day the record Pantomime broke and I haven’t shut up since. And you end up buying jokes from writers and that doesn’t work and you end up thinking up jokes yourself. That was a gift but you still need writers, people to help you with things and that’s how it happened. And then one day Ed Sullivan saw me. And I got to the Ed Sullivan Show, people saw me and put me on TV, the Jackie Gleason show. Then Merv Griffin saw me and put me on all the talk shows and all the Johnny Carsons. And that’s how it happened. This and that and then the Monkees, and then from the Monkees into the movies and then the movies into television and that’s how it happened. And then Vegas into reviews. People see you, Debbie Reynolds saw me and made me a co-star in all her nightclub engagements. We still work with Debbie Reynolds, we still do our night club act. We’ve been doing it for (mumbles) years. And that’s how it happens and we’re still at it. God gave me the gift of comedy. And the sad thing is, I laugh at the jokes more than the people sometimes.
BH: Now on Ed Sullivan, you became known as the crying comedian. How did that shtick happen?
RT: One day the jokes didn’t work. They weren’t laughing. So I sobbed, “They were funny to me,” and then I tore the jokes up and threw them in the air, crying. So crying and the jokes in the air, I became the crying comedian which is what Ed Sullivan called me, after that it stuck. “Get the guy that cries.” “Oh not Rip Torn, Rip Taylor.” And that’s how it happened, amazing isn’t it? You couldn’t make that up.
BH: Who do you fondly remember working with on the Sullivan show?
RT: Everybody. Because it wasn’t my choice of who to work with. It was his bookings and you get on whenever he called you. Then Gleason saw me and I became a regular on Gleason and then people see you and get you in a series and that’s how it happens. Word of mouth. After the Monkees, it was something else. And then it was the $1.98 beauty show, Chuck Barris and the Gong Show and the game shows and the knock knock show, the poo poo show. Then I became that character and still am. Get the guy that makes you laugh and I was it. That’s how you did it.
BH: I always wanted to know, Were there people who got gonged who were legitimately upset they got gonged and confronted the panelists after the show?
RT: Pal, the whole thing was a joke. Period. That answers your question. You figure it out. Was it a set up? I don’t know (said jokingly). But wasn’t it a successful show? You better believe it. So who cares how it worked? They are bringing it back, you know.
BH: With someone else.
BH: What is your take on Chuck Barris, host of the Gong Show, being a CIA agent?
RT: I think it’s wonderful. I hope it’s true. I do. I hope its true. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Cause he was so daring anyway. He got the show on, didn’t he?
BH: From there he liked to put you on as the host of the $1.98 beauty show.
RT: Which was more fun cause we never made the girls cry, cause they knew it was all a joke. The whole thing was a joke. It was outrageous.
BH: People often confuse you with Rip Torn; do you remember the second time you got confused with being Rip Torn?
RT: No. I would correct them. Not mean. “No, I’m Rip Taylor.” There was never any conflict at all. There could have been. It was a joke if nothing else. It’s not important. I had the caricature and he didn’t. He was a serious actor and a good one.
BH: Now you went on tour with Judy Garland in ’66? Was that your first time in Vegas?
RT: First time in Vegas was with Eleanor Powell, movie star. That was the first time. Judy was sensational. Fun to work with. Connie Francis wouldn’t talk to me. I was the opening act. You don’t talk to the opening act. Shut up.
BH: What was Judy like on the road?
BH: What do you remember about working as the character Sheldon on the show, “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” (which also featured actors Billy Barty and Johnny Whitaker)?
RT: What was that, a cartoon?
BH: The Sid and Marty Kroft…
RT: Oh yeah, yeah yeah. They were wonderful. They did a lot of shows. We did a scene once on the Columbia lot in which behind me, cameras shooting, there was a fire that started on the set behind me. So the cameraman said, “Was there a fire in this scene?” I said, “No.” And he said, “Well look behind you.” There was a fire. And then they had made the set this way instead of that way which wasn’t fireproof. Weird. The whole set started catching on fire. Everybody is running out of the building. I picked up Billy Barty, helped him get out. We all got out safely, Johnny Whitaker. We all got out. Now I was staying at the Continental Hyatt House which is fifteen blocks from Columbia studios right down Santa Monica Boulevard. I had to walk to the hotel in the full conch suit, the green costume, the green makeup, the green suit, the green shoes, the green hair. I’m hitchhiking down Santa Monica Boulevard in this costume. It was 15 blocks to the hotel. People yelling “Faggot,” screaming “Queer.” They wouldn’t pick me up. They wouldn’t give me a lift. Cabs wouldn’t stop for me. I had to walk all the way to the hotel. Got to the front desk, and the front clerk said, “Hey Rip, you want your key?” — dressed like that. I was furious. So that’s it. That was hysterical. But those things happen. I just remember them.
BH: What are your memories of Billy Barty?
RT: An angel. A professional actor. Angel. He was wonderful. Sweet man. His whole family was wonderful.
BH: So tell me about your involvement with the Monkees as the famous Evil Wizard Glick?
RT: They called me to do it. Ward Sylvester was the producer and we did it. We rehearsed, we shot the scenes and they never spoke to me.
BH: The directors?
RT: No, the directors did, but not the cast. So I had to work with those conditions. When there was a scene I would do the scene and sit back in my dressing room and they would call me back. I’d do a scene again. And that was my experience with the Monkees. Thank you. Next question.
BH: You worked with all the members of the Rat Pack, Frank, Dino, and Sammy?
RT: A long tour with Sammy. Long tour. He was the funniest man. He was so funny. He was so giving. He would go on stage first, and come out and introduce me. Usually the comic opens the show to set it up for the star. He said, “No. No, my name is on top and I’m introducing my dear friend, a funny guy, bring out Rip Taylor.” And that’s how he did it. Sensational. You never heard of that before in show business. Then the parties with all the names, Liza. Jesus. Everybody. It was phenomenal. And they accepted me and let me in. Cosby, we all worked together. It was just wonderful. Then we did Sugar Babies on Broadway with Anne Miller. That was a breakthrough theater to me, musical theater. Cause they didn’t think I would stick to the script cause I was always that funny comedian who cries. Well, I stuck to the script and tap-danced with Anne Miller. Then when she left the show they put Carol Lawrence in and we toured with Carol Lawrence in Sugar Babies. And then Juliet Prowse. We did it in Lake Tahoe, Reno and Vegas, all over the country. Unbelieavable, that crying comedian.
BH: Crying Comedian takes to Broadway. Who would you say of Frank, Sammy and Dino, Sammy was your favorite?
RT: Well, my favorite was Sammy cause I worked with him more. More than the others. The others were very wonderful people and fun and laughing and always having fun. But Sammy was the longest. We did a bus tour in Florida, hotels. He drove the bus. Unheard of. It’s unheard of.
BH: You did voice acting work. Was your first the Addams family?
RT: They were wonderful
BH: You did Uncle Fester
RT: That was fun too. I didn’t know I could to do those voices but the sound director said, “You can do that” and I did it. I don’t know how but we did it.
BH: You’ve done a lot of great movies and scenes. What are your memories about working with Cheech and Chong?
RT: Oh god, they were hysterical. We drove from Vegas to LA in an open convertible with all of my props. I have the damnedest props in the back seat and Cheech is driving. People staring at us, honking at the car, all the way, four hours. And I’m throwing confetti in the air over the highway and people just screaming, laughing. They recognize Cheech and Chong in an open convertible Cadillac. There’s a picture of it somewhere. Fun fun fun. I never smoked with them but you had to inhale when you did the scene to get through it.
BH: Was there anyone you never got to work with that you wished you did?
RT: Well it isn’t over yet for me. No, there’s none yet that I’m waiting for. I like the next page to be a surprise. I’m on hold waiting for the phone to ring and the phone rings and I go. And that’s what the fun about it is, the unexpected, improvised or not. And because they see me as the character that they see me as that I play, that I have no discipline. And then when I get into the studio and the doors close, and the discipline shows, they’re surprised. You see it in their faces — “I didn’t know you could do that.” Well I did. You know what I mean? And still at it. That’s even more amazing.
BH: You got a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. What year was that?
RT: I really don’t know. A few years back. You can look it up. It’s in the Chamber of Commerce. Debbie Reynolds was supposed to present the star to me on the street. Of course, she got sick that day. So she got Zsa Zsa Gabor to come. Now Zsa Zsa’s gonna introduce, big crowd on the street. “Now ladies and gentleman, it’s a pleasure to give the star on Hollywood boulevard to my dear friend.” And she forgot my name. Forgot my name on Hollywood Boulevard in front of all those people. I’m saying “Holy Jesus.” So she turns to her husband and he says “Rip Taylor.” She says, “Of course, darling, Rip Taylor.” So then Rip Taylor comes up and I say, “Thank you Gaga, it’s a pleasure.” And that’s how it happened and the star’s on the boulevard. It’s such an honor. I clean it every week and the humor of the chamber of commerce is they put the star in front of the ugliest wig shop on Hollywood Boulevard. That’s funny. And I go and clean the damn thing once a month on my hands and knees. People flock around me. Course you don’t get that honor. A comic?
BH: Who is your star next to?
RT: I don’t care. I look at mine. Let them clean their own.
BH: Well, Rip, it was an absolute pleasure to speak with you.
RT: Well, you’re on drugs anyway, what do you know? The man drinks 15 ice teas and two pieces of cheese sticks and feels like he’s happy. Jesus.
BH: Finally, How would you like to be remembered?
RT: What an old question. Someone who is funny and kept people happy. And it’s not easy. Course, now they’re all jaded and know everything and don’t know anything. You can spot them a mile away so you steer away from those people. Not that I’m always on, cause I’m not. I don’t wanna be. It’s boring. Not for me, for them. He’s always on. No, he’s not. He’s very serious sometimes and serious doesn’t mean boring. It means you’re serious. You carry on a conversation without throwing paper. You know what I mean?
BH: Absolutely. And the final question, what changes in your lifetime have you seen in the history of comedy and what would those be?
RT: Donald Trump.