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“Mr Laughs”: Comedian Sal Richards Takes the RSR Readers from the Entertainment World to the Boxing World With Impeccable Timing…

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt (Reposted for Archive purposes)

“Sal Richards is one of the most talented performers in the business. His versatility is astonishing!–but I don’t think he’s a very good dancer; aside from that, he’s the best.”—Julie Larosa (Legendary Italian Singer)

“Sal Richards is a true professional on every level. I saw Sal’s act years ago in Las Vegas before I knew him and he was very funny. Over the years we have become friends and I was lucky enough to share the stage with him. He is a great guy and a terrific family man.”–Steve Schirripa (Played Bobby Bacala on The Sopranos)

Sal Richards…  Talented? Sure…  Funny? Without a doubt… Boxing fan?  Fuggetaboutit… 

Sal Richards a Brooklyn, New York, born guy who transplanted to West Palm Beach, Florida, has been entertaining audiences with gut wrenching belly laughs for close to 50 years now.  During those years, he has crossed paths with some of the power house names in both the Comedy World and Movie Business, but not to stop there boxing fans, also many very well known fighters.

During our interview, Sal was very warm and the comedy along with his love of boxing rang through.  In this my comeback interview after two years of being out of the business, I can say I had a lot of fun for sure.

Ladies and Gentlemen, RSR brings you “MR Laughs,” Sal Richards….

BB:  For the RSR readers, what are you up to today?

Not a darn thing….  (Big Laughs)  I am actually involved in a lot of things today.  It’s funny.  Sometimes when you think your career is over, other doors open.  Most recently, my cousin Gregory and I put together a Production Company called “Laughing Angel Productions.” About 12 years ago, he decided to come to Atlantic City and video tape my show live while I performed on stage at the Trump Castle.  Our idea, then, was to make a DVD out of the show and sell it after my shows.  However, after Gregory looked at the footage, he felt we had more than just a show, but an actual documentary.  From that point on, he kept shooting me as I performed all around the country.  He was able to go around and get different entertainers I knew from over the years like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Joe Viterelli, Jerry Vale and Jerry Stiller to name just a few who went on camera to talk about me.  Right now, we are waiting for a distribution deal with Champion Entertainment to distribute the documentary “Mr Laughs: A Look Behind The Curtain.”  It really is not a documentary to see how funny I am, but takes you deep into my life. 

On another front, about a year and half ago, I was in an airport in Los Angeles when my flight was delayed for something like nine hours. I was thinking to myself: What the heck am I going to do until the next flight out?  Well, I had my laptop with me and I thought to myself, “Maybe I will write a book.” I was just kidding around, but the book is actually finished and we got with a publisher with a release date of possibly January or February 2010.

I will be appearing this Friday, October 30th, at Lorenzo’s Cabaret at the Hilton Garden Inn, on Staten Island.

The RSR readers can visit my website to find out more dates where I am performing which we have a lot of bookings in 2010 thus far.

BB:  You were born in Brooklyn, New York, a great place in my mind to grow up.  How would growing up there mold your comedy routines over the years?

It, of course, was molded by the environment/people I knew growing up there. I incorporated a lot of that into my act, but an audience member will know right away that my attitude is all Brooklyn and without any doubt, I can say: “Nobody thinks that I am from Omaha, Nebraska.”  Growing up in Brooklyn and attending Boys High School on Marcy Avenue and then in 1955, moving to Center Reach Long Island was a culture shock for me.  I finished High School at Port Jefferson High School and when I attended school there, many of the kids looked at me like I was kid from the 1955 movie “The Black Board Jungle” (Starred the Late Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier.)  I went out for school plays there and anything I could to let these kids know what I was about.

After doing a lot of plays, they realized I was not that rebel from The Black Board Jungle, but just dressed like one.  I wound up going to work at a restaurant called “Charcoal Ovens,” in Commack, Long Island.  Guys used to come in and we started hanging out singing Doo Wop. About a year later, we actually started recording Doo Wop records (Baby, Baby & Friendship Ring) as a group called “The Royal-Aires” on a label named Gallo Records. At that time, I really wanted to be a singer and comedy was the furthest thing from my mind.

We played at various spots and the sides were no big hits, but it did get us known a little.  However, the group split up, but by that point, I felt the roar of the crowd and the smell of the grease paint, I knew being in front of audience was my business.   These various things we discussed helped mold a lot of my comedy over the years.

BB:  So with all of that said, how did you get into comedy?

I was working in Long Island with a trio because when the singing group broke up, I still wanted to be on stage and formed a band called “The Club Daters,” which I bought a Base which by the way.  I cannot play Base.  I actually went around with the band for about three or four years faking playing the Base. We working a place called “The Las Vegas Supper Club” that was located in Syosset, Long Island.  We were the intermission band who played before the main act.  That evening the MC didn’t make it and the boss came over to me and asked would I mind MC’ing the show that evening? I was supposed to bring on the dancer, the singer and the comedian, but the only problem was that the MC was the comedian.

I wound up going out there and did OK.  The boss liked what he saw and kept me on for an extra ten weeks as the House Comic and that brought me an extra fifty dollars more a week by doing that which I felt, I had hit the big-time. The rest is history….

BB:  Growing up, who were some of the comedians you looked up to?

The guys I admired I used to stand outside in the line during the winter time to go in watch the shows that were shot in New York City were:  Red Buttons, Steve Allen, Milton Berle, Abbott & Costello who were my favorites, Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar, who was at the top of my list.  Sid was a genius in my book.  The irony of looking up to all of these comedians was I used to write to ask for pictures and years later, I wound up being friends with them.  I really am honored by this.

BB:  You have done television, stage and movies. Talk about each a little and what you like and don’t like about them.

Well, to tell you the truth, I really can’t say I don’t like anything about them.  They are all performing for me and as long as you put a camera or microphone on me, I am in my glory.

I like doing movies because you learn a lot and I really did learn to act.  To me acting is more or less re-acting is how I do it.  You really see all the techniques behind the scenes like the camera men set things up.  Many people will watch a movie and say, “that must have been easy to do.”  They don’t realize that sometimes it takes hours upon hours to shoot a two minute scene.  It’s not easy.  To pick a favorite would be hard, but let’s say if I was a big movie star making the millions they do today, then sure, that would be my favorite.  But right now, I am making a living doing stand up, so that is my favorite.

BB:  If you had to pick only one night in your career where you thought, “Sal, you nailed it tonight,” which one would you pick?

I think it was when I was picked to do the HBO (Home Box Office) Special in 1977 to do a show that was called “The Catskill Comedians Show.”  There were other comics that were on the show and it aired, but you know at that time, I really thought I was going to score from that.  However, back then, there was not a big group of people subscribing to HBO like you see today.  So the exposure was not that great, but what it did later on in years, it got me a lot of work because I had a copy of it and used it for promotion which led to shows like Merv Griffin, Make Me Laugh, and even did TV shows such as Kojak from that era.

BB:  Do you think comedy has changed since you first got into it and if so, how?

It has absolutely changed! Many years ago when I started, I couldn’t say “ass” on stage and if I did, I would have the owners come over to me and say you cannot say that or “shit.” Today, they are saying words that they are inventing.  You have folks that are buying it and going to see it which is all well and good. If that is what they like, that is fine, but if you look at the types of people that are going to these shows, they are very young which I guess, it’s their time/era.

What I did notice on some occasions when I went out to Las Vegas to play the Rivera, after doing the comedy club there, I noticed there were a lot of young people who were buying my stuff.  I was surprised, but found out that they had never seen anyone doing the stuff like I was doing and it was hip stuff of the day. I really enjoyed that I created a following with the younger audiences who are now, coming out to my shows.

BB:  I recently watched your documentary “Mr Laughs:  A Look Behind the Curtain” on the net and was very impressed.  It made you laugh, cry and really see what happens when one preserves as you did over the years. I heard you say in it that it took many years to get it finally completed.  Talk about why it took so long and how it has done since it came out.

First of all, there were timing constrictions.  There were times when Gregory or myself couldn’t make it all the time.  Finances sometimes were an issue because there are a lot of things you have to bring to the table and they all take money which we ran out of one time. Then you factor in the various people we got to comment and appear in the film took time as well. It took longer than we initially expected, but we are very proud of how it turned out.

BB:  Where can it be purchased for the RSR readers that want to pick it up?

It can be purchased at Amazon.com and for now, we are selling them at the concerts after the show, but that will change because with the new company picking up distribution of it, they are going to be the ones getting it out there.

BB:  One other thing I really enjoyed is your wife Rose Ann in the documentary.  She is a very funny lady. Have the two of you ever worked together professionally?

We have not worked professionally, but we have sung together with the first time being at our wedding in 1960.  The band that we booked happened to be my Uncle’s band, so of course I knew them.  I got up and did a couple of songs with them and then, I brought Rose Ann up with me. We did like a Louie Prima-Keely Smith routine kind of doing stuff like “Just A Gigolo” and she flipped around her Tiara around.  When we finished singing and walked off so we could dry off a little bit, there were some people standing at the door and they approached my wife and I asked us how much do we get to do a show like this? I said: “Wait a minute, we are the Bride and Groom.” They were actually surprised we were not a professional act.

BB: You co-starred with Steven Seagal in the 1991 movie called “Out for Justice.” What was it like working on that movie?

It was great and was really the first time I really got a co-starring role and what you call, main title billing right at the beginning of the picture.  I shot 15 weeks and it was great working with Steven and the late Jerry Orbach who was a friend of mine for many years.  We shot between Brooklyn, New York, and California which was how we did it.

BB:  I want to throw some names out to you that you have worked with over the years and give me a quick thought off the top of your head…

Al Martino:

A great guy. Al and I were friends for a long time.  In fact, when we went out to California he and his wife Judi would have us over to the house and Al would cook for us which was something he was very proud of.  I am going to miss him calling me every two – three weeks telling me a new joke that I had already heard. (Big Laughs)

Funny story about Al.  When we would go to his home in California for dinner, he took me in his office and had pictures on the wall.  Unbeknownst to him, he had a picture on the wall of when he walked into the wedding scene in The Godfather.  I am sitting right there next to him with my head turned and you know it’s me.  Al never knew it.  I asked him:  “Do you know who this is in the picture?”  (Sal breaks into doing Al’s voice) I can’t believe that is you, I never realized it.  I said: “That’s because you only looked at yourself in the picture.”

Tommy Lee Jones:

He was a terrific guy.  I was supposed to play his sidekick in the movie “Eyes of Laura Mars” and actually auditioned for him and the director, but didn’t get the part.

James Woods:

Another great guy.  When I am in LA, we play in a friendly poker game and James was there as well.

Steven Seagal:

We had fun shooting the movie.

William Forsythe:

He was a nice guy and cool on the set.

Lainie Kazan:

We have been friends for 25 years and she is really terrific.

Vincent D’Onofrio:

Another great guy.  He actually did the narration for us on the documentary.

Harvey Kietel:

He was a regular guy and we talked about the old neighborhood/the people we knew in common.

BB: If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only have one movie and one CD, what would they be?

The Godfather would be the movie.  The second studio album that Frank Sinatra did with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1964 called “It Might as Well Be Swing.” 

BB:  What “words of wisdom” can you impart on the young man or woman wanting to break into the comedy world?

After you go on stage and do a couple of open mic nights/club dates here or there, if you are not hearing any laughter, realize you are in the wrong business.  You have to know when it’s not working.

BB: Tell the RSR readers how you first started following the sport of boxing?

My father was a boxing fan as was my Uncle. Every Friday or Saturday night, we would watch boxing on TV from Madison Square Garden on an old black and white 10 inch television.  I can remember when Rocky Marciano fought Jersey Joe Walcott back in 1953 and my Uncle said we have time, so go down and pick up the paper for me.  By the time I came back, Jersey Joe Walcott was knocked out in the first round. 

I can remember going to the drive in back then and they showed Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Carmen Basilio.  That was a great fight and they had two of them that were very close. I thought to myself, I think I can do that. At that time, I had a friend of mine who was in the Golden Gloves.  He told me about it and I saw in the Daily News…the application for the Golden Gloves and decided to sign up for it in 1956. 

I fought at Sunnyside Gardens and the guy I fought his name was Kenneth Fox.  After the fight, I went home after losing the decision and was beat.  My Uncle Louie (An Italian from Alabama) came running in and told me you made the back page of the Daily News. Sure enough, there I was against Fox on the back page of the paper. Many times I have tried to get a copy of it, but it is not meant to be. I fought at 147 pounds. After that fight, I had a few more, but didn’t want to get hit in the face anymore.

BB:  Who are your top three fighters of all-time and why?

Rocky Marciano – He was the “Man of Steel” in my mind, not Mike Tyson. You could hit him many times and he hit you once, and you were gone. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him.

Rocky Graziano – I knew Rocky.  He was a great guy.  The movie about his life “Somebody Up There Likes Me” starred Paul Newman as Rocky and to see what he went through growing up, really touched me. I also liked to see him on TV with the late comedian Martha Raye.

Muhammad Ali – The man just knew how to promote himself and then, back it up. He was not  a blow heart and to meet him in person, was a thrill of a lifetime.

BB: Do you have any stories about fighters you have known?

My son Sal, JR., knew Gerry Cooney.  When Sal was stricken with Leukemia, he got closer to Gerry.  When Gerry fought Ken Norton at Madison Square Garden back in 1981, Cooney invited Sal, JR., to walk him into the ring with his corner men.  When Gerry won the fight, he dedicated it to Sal, JR. Later on when Gerry opened up a restaurant, Sal, JR., worked for him while he was actually taking treatment for the Leukemia.  He had the spirit of a fighter as well.

BB:  If you had to pick one fighter since the day you started following boxing, who do you feel moved the sport ahead the most and why?

Sugar Ray Leonard.  He could be knocked out on his feet and come back and knock you out with a left hook. For example, in the first fight with Tommy Hearns he came back to win and had a lot of charisma. 

BB:  Is there one boxing match in all your years of following the sport that you would say that was the single most exciting fight I have ever seen?
Joe Frazier when he defended his title against George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica, back in 1973 and Joe was knocked off his feet by Foreman to lose the title.  (Sal broke into an impression of Howard Cosell) “Down goes Frazier, Down goes Frazier.”

BB: Who are some of the fighters you follow today?

I loved watching Arturo Gatti because he was a throw back.  It’s very sad that he died so young.

BB: Do you feel the sport of boxing has moved ahead or backwards since you first started following it?

I think it’s gone backwards.  Don King is partially to blame because the fix was in because of the big money. Back in the day, they fought and most of the fighters today, do not go to war like the older fighters did.

BB: What is your favorite boxing movie of all-time and why?

Somebody Up There Likes Me.  Paul Newman really embodied Rocky in that part.

BB: If you could change one thing in boxing today, what would you change and why?

The judges.  (Big Laughs)  I am amazed at times when they score a fight a certain way, I am wondering who got the bucks under the table?

BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?

Yes, I do.  There are far too many former fighters walking around broke.  It’s very easy to do and can be set up just like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) did many years ago for the actors.  They got a corporation together and part of our salary went to SAG. The boxers can do the same exact thing.  You pay in based on what you make. 

BB:  Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?

“Live every day as if it was your last”.

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