It’s 11 a.m., and the call goes through to Rip Taylor, a k a the King of Confetti, in his West Los Angeles home. “May I speak to Rip Taylor?” I ask, used to assistants and other intermediaries answering star’s phones. “You better,” said the voice now piping up to shtick level. “Getting me up so early in the morning I haven’t even got my shoes on or even picked out my toupee.”
This is more like it: disrespect from the man who debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show and as the result of a gaffe, became “The Crying Comic” in the late 1950s. We know him better as the arch-flamboyant, bad-joke-telling, dumb-prop-wielding camp comic who heckled a dead man in the film Amazon Women on the Moon, among countless other wacky performances. Surely, I reply, a man of your accomplishment must get up early mornings to work on new material. “I’m talking to a nobody here,” says Taylor, mock offended. “I’m wondering just where this conversation will go next?”
Before I could mock apologize, Taylor was off again. “Wait. Something serious I want to tell you. You know there are 12 comedy clubs in this town, and every one of them has a sign up right now for Robin Williams, one of them just screamed in big letters, R.I.P. And I thought, my God, I got top billing. You know I’ve died onstage before but never like that. Can I get a cab out of here? This isn’t going anywhere,” he said.
A little dumbfounded, I wonder which of the comedy clubs in town he likes playing best. “I never play them, never did. I tell you, the crowds are just heckling; it’s terrible.”
“Then where do you play? What kind of audience do you like?”
“Cleveland!” he said, loud and campy. “Now leave me alone; it’s too early for this.”
“On the whole you would rather be in Cleveland.”
“Oh, so now you’re doing the jokes. This is terrible.”
“How about this documentary they are filming about you?” (His appearance at the LOL Festival will be a filmed Q&A session meant to be included in the doc.)
“It’s about where I come from, what I do, my problems, but it’s not a pity party. Some people approached me, and they’ve been following me around. I don’t want to tell you everything, or people won’t come to the performance.”
“Perhaps we can get one or two previews. Real questions. Like how much confetti you go through in one year.”
“You know,” he said seriously. “I’m not sure about that. But I can tell you I employ three nuns who work all day making it for me. I’d stop and ask them, but I don’t want them to get out of the habit. I hope you’re taping this.”
After my groaning stopped, Taylor returned to a serious topic. “You know, I really am sad about Robin Williams. We were friends. We did work together. But I think this depression thing is I just don’t think it’s true that every comedian is sad when you close the door. I knew a lot of the big names, and you know some of them were just mean old men.”
“But not you.”
“No. I’m doing what I want to do and getting paid for it,” he said, then hand covering the receiver. “Hey, Sister, keep working.”
Rip Taylor, Tuesday, September 2, at 8 p.m. Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St. $18-$25. Call the box office at 963-4408 or see lolcomedyfestival.com.