It Ain’t All Confetti opens May 21; plays Thurs.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 3 pm; through May 30. Tickets: $35. Forum Theatre at the El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; 818.508.4200.
So, today, I’m interviewing Rip Taylor, aka The Prince of Pandemonium, The King of Confetti, The Crying Comedian, The Count of Chaos, among other monikers he has earned from a show business career that has spanned 50+ years.
You know who he is. He’s hard to miss, orÂ confuse with any other human being on the planet. Surely you have seen him in any one of his over 2,000 television appearances that include The Gong Show, Password, The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman and the coveted center square on Hollywood Squares. He also has the distinction of having hosted “the world’s tackiest television show” called The $1.98 Beauty Show.
Or maybe you caught him headlining a show in Las Vegas where he has been named “Entertainer of the Year” three times in a row. He spent a year headlining The Flamingo Hotel’s Rockettes Extravaganza and Rip Taylor’s Christmas Spectacular at the Rio in 2002. Yes. Him. That mad man, running through the audience, his shock-headed mop of hair, of dubious origin, blowing like a flag in the wind, a huge mustache, twitching. “Hello!” he yells as he reaches into a paper bag under his left arm, clutching handfuls of confetti that he blankets the audience with as he runs down the aisle of the theater. Yes. That him.
He asks me to meet him at the IHOP on Santa Monica Blvd. Perfect. I arrive and am steered by a waitress to a back table (he’s a regular). Not exactly the back table at Joe Allen’s but if you squint and tilt your head…it could possibly be. Just seeing him puts a smile on my face because I’m reminded of all the laughs he has contributed to my life with his anarchistic, take no prisoners comedy style. He’s a great clown, in the best sense of the word. An original.
“Hello!” he says. He’s just come from rehearsing his one-man show, It Ain’t All Confetti. “I’m exhausted,” Taylor says. I settle into the booth with him. He tells me about his knee replacement which still plagues him two years later. But true to the warrior code, he refuses to surrender to it.
How’s rehearsal going? “Don’t ask!” he says. “All those words. I’m a wreck! An absolute wreck!” There’s always the confetti, I say. “Yeah,” he says. “I don’t use as much these days because I have to clean it up. But there are three nuns sequestered in a room right now, tearing up the paper.”
How did the show evolve? “It’s been an ongoing process. I had done a version of it at the University of Las Vegas several years ago. It went over very well. Then I did a reading of it here in Los Angeles for friends at the Globe Theater. Recently, I had some bookings in Florida that had been canceled so I decided to finally put up or shut up.
“I’m 76. I better hurry up and do it now, while I still can. The cake’s in the oven, if you catch my drift. I’m working in the smaller theater at the El Portal. It’s a jewel box of a theater. David Galligan is directing.
“You know, I’ve created a monster with my persona,” Taylor explains. “People always expect me to be funny, even if I’m just riding on an escalator. I decided it was time to share other parts of me. I open the show with the jokes and the rest is about my life. I’ve lightened it up a bit. It ain’t Doctor Zhivago.” I suggest to him he’s at the same age Elaine Stritch was when she did her solo piece, At Liberty. “Actually, it was Elaine who encouraged me to do this. I smell a Tony!” he laughs.
Although Rip Taylor has nothing to cry about, it was an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that earned him the moniker “The Crying Comedian.” How did it happened? “Well,” he replies, “Sullivan couldn’t make out my name on the cue card, for whatever reason, and he said, ‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, here he is, the crying comedian!’ It stuck like glue. As part of my act, I used to cry, make that sob, into a handkerchief the size of Rhode Island. I love props. I’m the prop king.”
Taylor has worked with the who’s who of show business and it’s an endless list. “I always wanted to play Vegas. I wanted to be the second banana, ya know? ” he says, his eyes brightening. I urge him to drop some names. “Ya got a week?” he asks. “I worked with Sinatra. He called me Ripper. Let’s see. Sammy Davis, Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland, Ann Margret…so many.” Who inspired you when you were a budding artist? “Red Skelton. I loved his characters. When I met him, he didn’t disappoint. He was so sweet.”
You were born in Washington D.C. Is that right? “Yes,” he says, “me and Chita Rivera. We have the same birthday. Siamese twins, separated at birth. When we found each other years later, we wept openly in each other’s arms.” Just as I’m about to wipe away a tear, he says, “No, seriously. My mother gave birth to me when she was 14. My father took off and my mother couldn’t afford to raise me. I grew up in various foster homes.” Talk about making lemonade out of lemons. “I learned very early how to manipulate to get what I needed. I learned how to survive.”
Well…it’s great training for a career in showbiz , which you have survived very well. “I love what I do!” he exclaims.
What are some things about you that people don’t know? “Well… I was married to a showgirl named Rusty who was part of Jimmy Durante’s show in Las Vegas. Put your eyebrows down!” he says. “It’s true! I was in the Army in the Signal Corps but they put me in Special Services where I got to put on shows in Tokyo and Korea. After I got out I spent two years over there doing clubs and television. I also worked as a page in the U.S. Senate.” Tell me about that, I say. “No. It’s a great story in my show and I don’t want to reveal the details.”
Rip Taylor has a bone to pick and he explained to me exactly what it is. “I want to clear something up, if you don’t mind.” Not at all, I say. “Well… I’m very upset. You see, I’ve been getting phone calls and some people have canceled their reservations because they are very upset with me for having robbed a bank! People! That’s Rip Torn! Rip Torn! I’m not Rip Torn. I’m Rip Taylor! I promise you, there’s no use of guns in my show! Come see me. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry then we’ll all go to a bank and make a withdrawal together!”
There is an odd connection between them, though. Rip Taylor’s middle name is Elmore, and Rip Torn’s middle name is Elmo. Just sayin’.
I ask him if there’s a specific project he’d like to do when his show finishes. “Not really. It’s like a butcher shop where they yell, Next! I would like to do another movie. You know, the bottom line is I’m an actor. Because of the kind of act I do, it feels like I have to prove I can stick to the script.” Taylor’s film credits include Demi Moore’s boss in Indecent Proposal and Kate Hudson’s father in Alex & Emma as well as Home Alone 2, Wayne’s World, Cheech & Chong’s Things Are Tough All Over and Jackass. He was nominated for an Emmy Award as Uncle Fester in the animated TV series The Addams Family. He was also Captain Kiddie in the animated motion picture Tom and Jerry (in which he also sang the title song, “I’ve Done It All,” under the direction of Henry Mancini). And was the Genie in the Disney’s Duck Tales. He has played lead roles on Broadway and tours in Sugar Babies, Anything Goes, Oliver, Peter Pan and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Yes. The man can stick to a script. Or not. Rip Taylor has nothing to prove. He’s a survivor in a business that has its share of one hit wonders as well as people who are famous for being famous. What he does will soon become a lost art. He breathes it like air. And when he exhales, magic happens.
Article by Camille Saviola