Ron Onesti: Making ’em laugh at The Arcada
Man, I love my music! So many people say they “love ALL music.” But then they say, “but I don’t like country,” or something like that.
I can truly say I love all music, as I appreciate gospel on Sunday mornings. I’ll shake my “groove thing” to R&B, ‘twang it up with country, swing anytime to the “big band” sound and find the melodic magic of music from other countries and cultures.
But I also love comedy! Over the years I have worked with so many comics, from local stand-up circuit comedians to Johnny Carson era icons and “Saturday Night Live” legends.
It just boggles my mind how these entertainers walk out on stage and bare their souls in an attempt to win the adoration of an audience made up of many personalities. Basically, there are a bunch of people sitting out there, with their arms folded with an attitude that screams “Entertain me!”
But they do it, night after night, bruised by an occasional heckler or drunken loudmouth. I guess it is like golf. You can flub many shots, four-putt many holes, and slice half the day away. But then there is that perfect connection on the 16th tee, a long drive with perfect loft, or that 22-foot putt sunk by closing your eyes and tapping it in. Makes spending five hours in the hot sun worth it.
Same for the comic. That night the audience is in the palm of their hands and every quip and comedic analogy results in roars from an adoring audience. THAT keeps them in the game.
We have had so many special nights of comedy at The Arcada. I really can’t say which was my favorite, because they ALL were special!
Let’s start with a true legend, Don Rickles. Ironically, this “King of Insults” was probably one of the sweetest men I have ever met. We spent a lot of time together before and after his show. He was known as “Mr. Warmth” because in his act he was the complete opposite. But when he spoke to you one-on-one, the warmth could truly be felt.
Joan Rivers! What a woman! Another one who was sincere and truly interested in the history of our theater. We were filming her last television stand-up TV special, and everyone was nervously prodding to keep her on a strict production schedule. She didn’t care. She took a half an hour to tour the theater and asked questions about its history. When I asked her why she worked so much, with a rigorous tour schedule and three television shows on the air, she replied: “When your Jewish family lives through the Depression and the Holocaust, you learn to appreciate the opportunities the America of today offers.” Another very sweet person.
Then there was Andrew “Dice” Clay. We filmed his New Year’s Eve television special for Showtime. I’ve worked with him several times. So much of his reality is what you see on stage. He rarely breaks character. But I experienced another side of him. A somewhat timid performer, anxious about going on stage. Very focused before his show, he doesn’t really want to talk to or meet people until after his performance. But overall, very nice to deal with.
Martin Short was very special. He was unassuming, just getting to interviews on his own, walking by himself from the Baker Hotel to the theater. He was great to all of us, and even wrote a song about The Arcada. He did jump om our 100-year-old piano. But it was his character Ed Grimly who did it, so I did not hold it against him!
Speaking of legends, ummm … how about JERRY LEWIS! He was a bit stodgy, but still gave the audience so many stories of “the old days.” After a misunderstanding with members of the press, he felt bad and wound up giving me a one-on-one experience I could write a book about. I know what REALLY happened between him and Dean Martin!
Remember Steven Wright? The curly-haired, dry comic from “Seinfeld” and so many other shows in the 1980s? He was extremely particular. A germaphobe who demanded every light in the seating area covered, including exit signs and cracks in doors. But he gave a hysterical performance with his philosophical observations, such as, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it!”
Speaking of famous germaphobes, another one of the finest people in the biz is Howie Mandel. After being given strict parameters about Howie not meeting anyone, not hanging around before or after his show, and not eating any of our food, he proceeded to hang with me for an hour before his set, and three hours after, falling absolutely in love with our Club Arcada Speakeasy. And by the way, all he wants every time he is by us is a huge bowl of my meatballs!
Norm Macdonald was another of my favorites. The “Saturday Night Live” star’s everyday-kind-of-guy approach had the audience literally in stitches.
We also had Ralphie May by us, just a few months before his death. A big guy with a big heart. He was only 45 at the time of his passing, and definitely seemed a bit ill before his show. But he gave us his all, and the audience loved him.
We even had the ORIGINAL Kramer from “Seinfeld!” I’m talking about the actual guy Michael Richards patterned his character after!
The evening we had with Dana Carvey was nothing short of spectacular. The Church Lady, George Bush and Garth from “Wayne’s World” all showed up!
We recently had Rob Schneider, star of many films and another “Saturday Night Live” veteran. He is also a humble guy with an incredible resume who killed the audience and gave some behind-the scenes stories about his films, including “The Hot Chick,” “Grown Ups” and “Deuce Bigelow.”
We shot a Showtime Comedy Special called “The Godfathers of Comedy” starring five top Italian American comics: Rocky LaPorte, John Caponera, Frank Santorelli, Willie Fratto and Paul D’Angelo. Another Italian comic, Mike Marino, whose campaign is “Let’s Make America Italian Again,” has also appeared on our stage.
This week, I am excited to bring Jon Lovitz, another Saturday Night Live alum with a host of movie credits, to The Arcada. It will be another night of classic comedy!
In the earlier years of The Arcada, Laurel & Hardy, the Little Rascals and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy appeared on our stage. I am just trying to keep the comedic tradition alive among all the music.
Like the song says:
“Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, Don’t you know ev’ry one wants to laugh?”
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email email@example.com.