A Reboot of Comedy Classics

Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!


Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify Listen on Pandora

Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture In Your Living Room

Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture In Your Living Room

The comedian we are talking about in this episode was the only guitar comedy act to ever perform on The Tonight Show. He is an artist, a musician, a comedian, and an actor. He made history on network television in the 1990’s. It’s North Ridgeville, Ohio’s own, Martin Mull.


Listen to the album Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture In Your Living Room HERE


Follow us on social media @whatssofunnypodcast

Follow our show hosts!

Logan Rishaw

Instagram: @loganrishaw

Twitter: @logansaidthis

Kelly Thewlis

@kellythewlis on FB, Twitter and Instagram

Tom Megalis

http://www.tommegalis.com/

https://www.facebook.com/tom.megalis

https://www.youtube.com/tommegalis

http://linkedin.com/in/tommegalis

Dave Schwensen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaveSchwensen

Twitter: @thecomedybook

Facebook “How To Be A Working Comic” Page:

https://www.facebook.com/How-To-Be-A-Working-Comic-129300133778009/

Facebook “How To Be A Working Comic” Page:

https://www.facebook.com/How-To-Be-A-Working-Comic-129300133778009/

Dave Schwensen:
Hi, welcome back to What's So Funny! I'm your host, Dave Schwensen, and today I have two co-hosts with me. Oh my gosh, I'm excited about this, Logan Rishaw-

Logan Rishaw:
Good to be back again, Dave.

Dave Schwensen:
Good to have you back, Logan, and Tom Megalis.

Tom Megalis:
Oh my gosh.

Dave Schwensen:
We're going to talk today about Martin Mull.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, an Ohio guy.

Dave Schwensen:
He spent some time in Ohio. He was actually born in Chicago, but I think he was about two years old, he moved to North Ridgeville, Ohio.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, until he was about 15. And I don't know if you guys saw this, but he has a special that he did later, called Live in North Ridgeville, where it's all filmed in North Ridgeville's High School gym.

Dave Schwensen:
I kind of remember that.

Tom Megalis:
He's in it?

Logan Rishaw:
It's nuts, I can't believe this is a thing HBO paid him to do. But it's a good hour special.

Tom Megalis:
I didn't see that. And it's the music, the comedy, the music, [crosstalk 00:01:34]?

Logan Rishaw:
The music, the sketches, Fred Willard pops in for a little bit, he talks to the mayor of North Ridgeville.

Tom Megalis:
Of course. I missed it. Damn.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, a whole variety show. So he's got some local roots here. It was just cool, because we're all from the Cleveland, northeast Ohio area.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He did some shows right here, because he'll reference things like Lake Erie and Cleveland, because this is where he grew up. Like you said, Logan, he was here til he was about 15, and then... Where'd did he move? He moved somewhere on the East coast after that.

Tom Megalis:
Connecticut.

Dave Schwensen:
Connecticut.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, so he was all around the East Coast from high school and college on.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, very interesting. Yeah, we're going to talk about Martin Mull, and we'll probably talk a little bit about Fred Willard. The two of them were pretty much like a team for a while.

Dave Schwensen:
Tied together, you're right. But Martin Mull's very interesting guy to get into comedy, because that's not what he wanted to do. He was an artist.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, man, went to RISD, a very famous design art school. A lot of guys that do comedy have started out as artists. In fact, Martin Mull's still painting, and said, "All that other stuff was kind of my day job, to support my painting. I never stopped painting."

Logan Rishaw:
He's done it the entire time, and still does it and has exhibits. And I got to say, just looking through his art, I was blown away.

Tom Megalis:
Pretty good, man, pretty good stuff.

Dave Schwensen:
He only got into comedy and music to support his art.

Tom Megalis:
Well, it was like he could go out and sing and play music and make money, whereas being an art guy, unless you went... I think he said, "To stay out of the war, I got my Master's, and then there was no doctorate. I couldn't continue in school so I had to go out and make cash," and music was a way he could go in and make a quick dollar, just to pay the bills. And it makes sense, it makes sense. It's easier than going and selling paintings on the street, it really is.

Dave Schwensen:
Right. And instead of waiting tables or tending bar or something like that, he started playing music in the local clubs where he was going to college.

Tom Megalis:
He's good, he's good.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, he's very good, what an excellent guitar player, and talented... This is what we're going to talk about with Martin Mull, because art, music, and comedy, the guy combined all these to be a success.

Dave Schwensen:
He came out and he's playing pretty good music. He's got a full band behind him when he tours and everything, but he's adding humorous lyrics. He's funny.

Logan Rishaw:
It's just not pure comedy, because it's still rooted in the genre that he's doing. And he does a bunch of different genres, so it's like good for a genre as well, but still just kind of sillier and lighter.

Dave Schwensen:
He's got some classic stuff out there, which really I had forgotten about until we were prepping to do this program. I thought, "Well, let me go back. I haven't heard anything from Martin Mull in a while." So I went back and listened to his, I don't know, his first three albums. I just got done on a trip, so I was on an airplane so I had time. I listened to three Martin Mull albums to get me from, I think, Denver to Cleveland.

Dave Schwensen:
I was pretty shocked to be reminded of how strong a musician, how strong the musical base was, in his... The bassist, his band. These were musical albums.

Logan Rishaw:
It reminds me of when you watch a Mel Brooks movie, and he's doing a parody of Hitchcock. And on its own, it's still a good Hitchcock formula that he's doing, and that's what Martin Mull does with everything. He's got jazz on here, country, some blues, there's an album where he has a disco song, and he's nailing how each of these songs should be.

Tom Megalis:
Did you hear that little ukulele blues thing he did? It just like-

Logan Rishaw:
Isn't that great? The slide blues on the ukulele.

Tom Megalis:
Even that's hilarious, man. It's funny, it's interesting, or the dueling tubas. These things that he does have a little idea behind them.

Dave Schwensen:
And that dueling tubas, by the way, that came out about the time of... What was that movie? Deliverance?

Logan Rishaw:
Deliverance? Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay, dueling banjos. So it's a parody of that, but it's still... It made the charts. It got in the top 60 or something of the Billboard charts, dueling tubas.

Logan Rishaw:
That's the first song on his second album, too. If we could just kind of like focus on one album, probably the live one is the best to look at. Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture, Live From Your Front Yard. Is that it? Live From Your Living Room?

Dave Schwensen:
Live in Your Living Room, I think it was.

Logan Rishaw:
Live in Your Living Room.

Dave Schwensen:
And the Fabulous Furniture, that was the name of his band.

Logan Rishaw:
But he kicks it off with the dueling tubas, which is just such a weird, silly thing, and I'm glad he does it because it sets a tone.

Tom Megalis:
It's funny, because the blues thing... I was talking about the ukulele blues. He once said a delta is simply a buildup of dirt next to a body of water, and he says, "So now, in a way, isn't that Ohio?" [crosstalk 00:05:52].

Dave Schwensen:
It's Cleveland, I think he said. Yeah, northern Ohio or something.

Tom Megalis:
It's funny. He said, "I could sing the blues here, the delta blues, right here in Ohio."

Dave Schwensen:
Because that goes back to his roots, he grew up close to Lake Erie, close to Cleveland. So it was funny, he says, "You don't have to be poor to sing the blues." Like his grandfather taught him the blues. Well, his grandfather had a furniture store, or something like that, or a car dealership, and he says, "Yo, I was so mad, I threw my drink across the lawn." And have all these funny, funny... but he's playing good blues.

Tom Megalis:
His special that he did, the 60 minute thing? And he's right there with Glen Campbell, which is a real challenge. Glen Campbell was great.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah, he was a studio musician before he became a Beach Boy, and then became Glen Campbell.

Tom Megalis:
It's amazing. And Martin Mull's got no problem, just sitting right there with him.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, if you watch this stuff and you listen to his albums, that's the thing that I had forgotten about him. These are real music albums. He wrote these songs, and they're good songs. And like you said, he played in jazz, he played blues, he played pop, he's got a rock song. And when he did play the disco song, Tom, you brought that up, and it sounded just like disco. But here's where the comedy comes in, because you hear him talking to the producer, or ABC Records or whoever it is. He goes, "I'm not doing a disco song. There's no way I'm doing a disco song, I can't play that kind of music." And the next thing you know, boom, he's doing a disco song.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah. I think they just tell him how much money's in disco, then it cuts to it. Because at the beginning of the album, they're like, "What do you want to do? We'll do anything. You can do a studio recording, you could do live." And he's like, "Well, I think we should do it in the studio, but it will cost more money." And then it just cuts to him being introduced live.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, I love that.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh my God, it's so good. But that's another thing about his albums, is they have great sketches between the songs.

Dave Schwensen:
Sometimes his introductions are longer than the songs themselves, and he did this very different type... He would take his furniture with him, on the road, doing these gigs. And I don't know how long he worked the road, but he would take his couch, end table, rug, lamps. He would take his furniture in a U-Haul, and then he would put that all on the stage so he could feel more comfortable. So if you've ever seen him live, or even his videos on YouTube or his TV specials, things he did, he's sitting on a couch with his guitar.

Tom Megalis:
Like a living room.

Dave Schwensen:
It's like a living room. He'll perform with a full band.

Tom Megalis:
Do you know how that originally started? He said that he... He goes, "I was watching the Beatles, and all these bands that would play, and they'd spread out on the stage. They'd be in front of these big Marshall stacks, and they couldn't hear each other, they couldn't..." And he goes, "And I was experiencing some of that, then I'd come home and sit in my living room with my buddy and we'd be playing. We're like, 'This is what music should be.'" So they started bringing the furniture to the stage.

Tom Megalis:
And then I think later, when it got further out, when he was traveling further out, he had to put it on his rider or whatever, "You guys have to get this furniture for me at a thrift store."

Dave Schwensen:
Probably, it got real famous.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. And they would go to thrift stores and get it, and it would be there when he got to the show. But he stopped traveling with it, I guess.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, another story. I heard him doing an interview about the furniture and everything. They asked him, "What was the worst gig you ever had?" He said, "Oh, maybe like in Washington, DC or something." He was opening for the Pointer Sisters, and he had his furniture on stage and everything. And he said, "It was obvious. I walked out, four seconds into the show, it's obvious they were there for the Pointer Sisters, not some..." And he called himself a fat white guy playing a guitar. So he said he played one song, and he said, "That's it, thank you very much," and he walked offstage, and everybody started applauding. And it was a lot of applause, it was loud. And the producer of the show said, "Martin, they love you. Go back out there, you got to go back out there." He said, "All right." So he went walking back out. He said he actually heard a woman in the first row yell at her husband next to him, "See, I told you you were clapping too loud."

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
But what he did was he went to the couch they had on. He looked through it and pretended to find a quarter, put it in his pocket, and said, "Thank you very much," and walked offstage again.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh, that's great.

Tom Megalis:
That's amazing. Isn't it a similar sort of kind of white guy, that he kind of called aggressively stupid guy.

Logan Rishaw:
Yes. It's sort of like this college pompous character that's actually just a doofus.

Tom Megalis:
I'm stupid, but I'm aggressively stupid, and I'm wonderful and I'm pompous. And he's delusional.

Logan Rishaw:
And who's confident.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, confident, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
His real break was playing kind of character... Smarmy is a word, I don't know where I saw that from, or just kind of what, these kind of creepy guys on the joke, I guess you want to call it, soap opera. It was called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. You guys familiar with that?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, yeah. And it was short-lived, right? It was a Norman Lear project, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Norman Lear, who did All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford & Son. Norman Lear was the hot guy in the early 1970s, and he came up with this parody of a soap opera called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. And I'm telling you, it was a hit. It is still like a cult kind of favorite, because it is so out there. Everything bad that could happen to someone, [inaudible 00:10:47] murder, affairs, illegitimate kids, I don't know, whatever, drinking. Everything going on, this had it in, and they played it straight, they played it serious, and it was just hysterical.

Tom Megalis:
Sounds great. And no audience, no audience.

Dave Schwensen:
No audience. It ran for what? Two years or something like that, maybe three years.

Tom Megalis:
And he was killed off, right? His character was killed off.

Dave Schwensen:
They found Martin Mull. I don't know where they found him, doing music or just that character he was doing on stage. Like that overconfident, he thinks all the women love him, all the guys want to be like him, and he can't do anything wrong. And they brought him on as this awful character, he was a wife beater actually. But they killed him off, they impaled them on a Christmas tree.

Tom Megalis:
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Logan Rishaw:
Nice.

Dave Schwensen:
But the audience loved him so much. They loved him so much, they had to bring him back. So they brought him back... Again, this is like a parody of the soap operas. Norman Lear brought him back as his twin brother, so his name was Garth, on Mary Hartman. They brought him back as Barth, the twin brother.

Tom Megalis:
Which is the character then he went on to play at Fernwood, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, Barth Gimble.

Tom Megalis:
Gimble, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
I tell you, I was a fan. I'm sorry, I was a fan of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, I was a fan of Fernwood Tonight, which was the spinoff they did.

Tom Megalis:
It was brilliant, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, it was the parody of a talk show.

Logan Rishaw:
It's just so funny and ahead of its time. And this is where he met Fred Willard, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Norman Lear brought them in an office together, and threw them a couple pages of script. Says, "Here's the idea I have, and I think the two of you would be perfect for this." With Martin Mull playing the host, and Fred Willard would be the dimwitted, whatever you want to call it, co-host. And he said they started reading the script, and within a couple of lines, they were off script, they were making this stuff up, because both of them were improvisers.

Dave Schwensen:
Of course, Fred Willard, genius. He's no longer with us now, but together, the two of them, they said they just fell into these characters and it was hysterical.

Tom Megalis:
It was one year, I think, right? July '77 to September '77.

Dave Schwensen:
They brought it back a couple times. It was Fernwood Tonight, and then it was off the air for about maybe seven, eight months, and then it came back as America Tonight. But they would bring on these locals-

Tom Megalis:
Because they moved it. They moved it from Fernwood, Ohio to California. That's what happened, to Altocoma, California, a fictional city, another one.

Dave Schwensen:
And when they were doing it in what's supposedly Fernwood, Ohio, they had on local people that would come in. Like they had this... He was a comic, Bill Curtinbauer, I think he was named. He played a lounge singer that was terrible, Tony somebody, but he was big in Fernwood, because he would play at the bar on Friday night. And so he thought he was like Wayne Newton or something, and they played it straight. That was the whole thing too. They weren't playing it for jokes, they played it as their characters.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, they just made the situation so strange that it's great. There's not that much that still does that sort of humor. I love that awkward, cringy, situational humor.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, it's influenced the Larry Sanders Show.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh, for sure, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
With Gary Shandling. It influenced a lot. You talk about even some of the late night shows like Stephen Colbert or these people they're on late night television hosts they do a lot of farce things. They take the news and they're saying... And I'm not saying they're making it up, but they're taking the news, they're giving it all these twists for comedy and stuff. But that's what Fernwood Tonight... They were the first ones doing that.

Tom Megalis:
I remember one episode where they were like... They brought on a guy who was Jewish. Did you see that one [crosstalk 00:14:06].

Logan Rishaw:
[crosstalk 00:14:06] so good.

Tom Megalis:
And it's like what's it... You're a Jew, this... And they talk about it like, "Wow, we have a real live one here," and they take calls. And it's played straight, even the Jewish guy and all that, but it's hilarious, it's hilarious.

Dave Schwensen:
Nobody was doing that kind of stuff.

Logan Rishaw:
And the whole point is just they're showing how dumb they are.

Tom Megalis:
Exactly.

Logan Rishaw:
And that's why it works so well.

Tom Megalis:
And you wonder... I think there was a real boom of comedy. It was really like fertile ground in the seventies, because you were able to do some things and play with some things and explore some things. And it was funny then, and if you watch it now, it's still funny. And Fred Willard kind of going, "Geez, when you wear the yarmulkes, now the ones with the propeller." But then he goes, "Come on." He really plays it like, "I don't know. I don't... What is it?" It's just weird, funny stuff, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, that goes back to the time, their era. And that's why I like What's So Funny!, when we talk about these legendary comedians, different eras they're in. Because when we first started talking about Martin Mull, it's like the music scene, the rock music scene at that time, the baby boomer generations, the Woodstock generation, whatever you want to call it, they were taking themselves a little too seriously. Because they've got Vietnam going on, civil rights, things that are still happening today, but nobody really had a sense of humor. And then Martin Mull comes around. That generation, they were very accepting of things that, say, their parents, the fifties and early sixties, were not going to accept.

Dave Schwensen:
And the things they got away with then, audiences today probably wouldn't accept. Things go in circles, that's how I look at it.

Tom Megalis:
I think Martin Mull got it. North Ridgeville, Ohio, Fernwood, Ohio. It's like you can run into people that, "Yeah, I never met a Jewish guy." Really? And so I think he tapped into the idea that there are really, in the middle of America, there are people that have never had a bagel, at that time.

Tom Megalis:
I remember that, where it's like bagels? What the hell? Even as a Greek, we used to make yogurt. My mother would make yogurt. "What? Yogurt? Come on, get serious."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, there were people in my neighborhood... In the seventies or whatever, they would go, "What is that?" It's yogurt, man. What? Sour milk? And they thought these Greek people are weird, making yogurt. And now yogurt's everywhere.

Dave Schwensen:
But see, you would have been invited to be a guest on Fernwood Tonight.

Tom Megalis:
Yes, a Greek.

Dave Schwensen:
And Fred Willard would have been, "Sour milk, are you serious? So what do you put that in? That's already gone bad, that milk's bad."

Tom Megalis:
So you're eating it. You Greek people, is it? And you're making cheese out of that?" It's like this naive sort of-

Dave Schwensen:
Well, it was making fun of middle America.

Tom Megalis:
White middle America mayonnaise.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, and again, not that bright. If you got a speeding ticket in Fernwood, you might wind up as a guest on the TV show to talk about it. And the... Oh, matter of fact, there was an episode too, where Barth, Martin Mull, got a speeding ticket before the show. And he was all mad, "I'm not going to mention the officer's name, however, badge number so-and-so." And then he goes on a rant, says, "I was going to give the money to the Kidney Foundation, but no, I have to give the $25 to you guys, and it went on. It was just perfect Martin Mull.

Logan Rishaw:
When you watch clips of it, or if you can find whole episodes, you feel like you just like found a random public access show. They nailed it, the characters are so good, I wish more people knew about it.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. They should look that up. And there are episodes, I don't know how many are full season, because then it went to the next one, but they should look that up because I think that is prime peak of Martin Mull's sort of... that character.

Dave Schwensen:
But these guys were doing a parody of it. It was so funny.

Tom Megalis:
I think it was the Fernwood thing where they were talking about doing a live show. Did you guys hear this? Where it was like Norman Lear said, "Well, it's a live thing, I don't know if you'd be right for it." And he said, "Well, doing a live show." So he put on a live show at one of his furniture shows in LA, and invited Norman Lear, and it was really going well. And in the middle of it, he said, "I dropped out of character and said, "Hey, Norman, do I get the job?" And he said, "You got the job." And he goes, "Continue." And he goes, "All right."" So he continued the show, but it was kind of like an audition. And I believe that's what became Fernwood. I think the idea, it was created by Norman Lear.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well, again, they cast him first on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to play a character. He was an actor, then he did become popular and he got to be... Everyone knew who Martin Mull was. And he started releasing these music albums, and he had a band. a full band. Matter of fact, one of his members of the band he had for a while was Greg Hawkes from The Cars. He was the keyboard player for The Cars. He was actually in the band, he was the sax player in the band, and he had a drummer and a piano player, guitar player, bass player, and Martin Mull sat in a couch playing a guitar. So it was like going to a musical concert, but he was doing these funny bits in between, playing this character that he was.

Dave Schwensen:
Matter of fact, one of his most famous songs is he was talking about censorship. He says, "People get offended if you say certain things, and I don't want to offend anybody here, so-"

Logan Rishaw:
Oh, the humming song?

Dave Schwensen:
The humming song, yes. He says, "I'm just going to hum the parts that might offend someone." So he played this whole... It was a great song. It was a good tune, a good backing and everything, but he's humming half of it and it's just so stupid. My God, it was just ridiculous, it was so funny.

Tom Megalis:
I've seen him do the thing where he's doing his... I don't know which thing it was, but it's the nothing song. Is that the one where-

Dave Schwensen:
Oh yeah.

Tom Megalis:
He kind of walks offstage at the... He finishes, they say nothing-

Dave Schwensen:
Doing nothing.

Tom Megalis:
Doing nothing, and then he walks off. And I thought there's a little Andy Kaufman in that, a little bit of performance art, a little breaking it, this sort of wall down a little bit, and conceptual,

Dave Schwensen:
I'm glad you brought that up, because that's a real rocking song. Again, he did all these different types of music. We talked about jazz and blues, he did that French song. He put on the beret and fake mustache and he was, "Ooh," whatever the French... But this was a rock song, and they're playing heavy duty rock. It says, "Everybody's doing nothing," and they just stop, and silence. "Okay, thank you very much, you've been a great audience."

Tom Megalis:
He turns the lights off, walks off, to quiet. And I thought that was kind of... It was really, really cool.

Logan Rishaw:
It's a good one.

Dave Schwensen:
But Martin Mull went on to a lot of different things, acting gigs, after this. So the one thing that he and Fred Willard did together that made history on network television was the first gay couple on the Roseanne show.

Tom Megalis:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Roseanne Barr, at that time, had The Roseanne Show, and Martin Mull was her boss on the show, and he played gay character. And they brought in Fred Willard to play-

Tom Megalis:
What year was that? Was that in the-

Dave Schwensen:
In the '90s, it was in the '90s.

Logan Rishaw:
Early '90s.

Dave Schwensen:
But the thing is with these characters they did on Roseanne, they actually had a gay wedding ceremony on the show. And that was the first time in history, are you kidding me? People from the sixties or seventies, you didn't do that. But here it was in the early nineties, they did this. And the story is that they went to Martin Mull to see if he can get Fred Willard on to do this, and he called up Fred Willard, said, "Look, they want us to play a gay couple on Roseanne, and get married." And Fred Willard was always like, "Anything Martin Mull wants, I'll do. Yes, I don't even need to read the script, I'm there. We'll do this."

Tom Megalis:
Awesome.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah. I saw an interview that he did about this, and it was from 2013, so it's kind of before we even really started thinking about it as much like we do today, but he said the only hesitation he had with taking the role was he felt bad that he might be taking the role away from some actor who actually was gay. And today that's like a big thing. Like the Simpsons announced they won't have people come in and voice characters that are different from their actual nationality, but I don't think we were even... In 2013, it wasn't that much of something we thought about, and certainly in the nineties, to think that that was a problem for him is interesting.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, we're evolving.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. It's funny, I just... You were thinking about this time period, or the early nineties coming out of his... He's starting to do movies at that point, and starting to really expand. But he had never set out to be... I can't remember exactly what he had said about, what his words were exactly, but he said he kind of accidentally stumbled into a showbiz career.

Dave Schwensen:
And the thing he did too, that was great, he made so much fun of himself. Every time the crowd gave him any little bit of applause, he was, "Aw, come on, it was nothing." And he be waving his hand, like, "Give me some more, give me more applause. Oh, what a wonderful crowd you are." Just really stuck on himself, he hadn't really done anything yet. But then he starts talking about the other, like different nationalities, different people, and just he didn't take it seriously.

Logan Rishaw:
It comes from building up your character to an audience too, because once people know who you are, you get away with a lot of that so much easier. You don't have to backtrack and explain yourself. Like Richard Pryor, once people knew who he was, he could kind of get away with talking about anything without saying like, "Oh, well now I know, doing what I was doing was wrong, but here's the story." Like no, you just accepted the story because you knew it was Richard Pryor, you don't need to go into a whole background of why he's saying what he's saying.

Dave Schwensen:
That why I always say the real star comics, once we know who they are already, they can walk on stage and start right in the middle of their act, if they want. Because everybody knows who Richard Pryor is, everybody knows who George Carlin is, okay, Jerry Seinfeld, this now. And Martin Mull got to be the same way. They knew that character, that's why they were buying tickets, that's why they were there, sold out shows. Theaters, he'd come out, the band would be on stage, and he comes out and he's that character.

Tom Megalis:
It's also kind of cool... I've never done music like that, but it's kind of interesting to have that as a... I don't want to say prop, but it's part of your act where you can talk a little bit, do a little bit of vocal comedy, your storytelling, and then, bam, into a song. And it's kind of a cool thing to have there. It isn't just you sitting at a mic, it's your band that you can play off of. I guess a question I'm having is did he ever do it just stripped down by himself, nobody?

Dave Schwensen:
I think when he first started, he had to. I don't even know if he had a band.

Tom Megalis:
I didn't see anything like that.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, by the time he was doing albums, and I think one of his wives... Now he was married three times. One of his wives was a piano player, I think, and I think she toured with him. I think when she got pregnant, she went off the road, he said, "Well, the band broke up, but not really broke up because that's my wife." [crosstalk 00:24:37].

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, she was, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. I think when he first started, it was kind of a stripped down. Like college bar, he was in college, that kind of stuff, doing it. And it just really, really took off.

Tom Megalis:
Introducing bands, I think that's what was going on initially, wasn't it? Sort of bringing bands on, and being part of the band, and then it just turned into... The banter was getting a lot of response.

Dave Schwensen:
But I want to bring up one last thing about him, just as this is how really powerful he was in the industry of stand-up comedy, because I remember this specifically. I was working in New York, in New York City, in the late eighties at The Improv. And the thing was there were... I love all different types of comedy. Stand-up comedy, stand up there and talk, I don't care if you juggle, if you have props, play the guitar, music, whatever. But it really became noticeable, in the comedy scene, that... The Tonight Show was the pinnacle, everybody wanted to be on The Tonight Show, at that time. And it was Johnny Carson, even with Jay Leno. The only guitar act they would have on The Tonight Show would be Martin Mull.

Dave Schwensen:
I didn't notice that, the comedians started telling me that, and I noticed-

Tom Megalis:
Interesting.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. And if they needed a guitar act, they would bring out Martin Mull, and he would do the jokes, he'd play the songs, sit on his couch, and he would sit next to Johnny. But all the stand-up comedians that came on The Tonight Show, none of them played the guitar. I specifically remember a few of my guitar acts that I would schedule for the New York Improv, they were trying to do acts without the guitar. They were trying to get away from that so they could be seen for The Tonight Show.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, that's interesting. So there was a little bit of bias or... not prejudice, or something, right? There was kind of like-

Dave Schwensen:
Well, it just seemed to be with casting. I don't know if Jim McCauley was casting at that time, Craig Tennis, I don't know who was doing. These were the guys who found the comedians for The Tonight Show.

Logan Rishaw:
Musical comedy, in general, just kind of gets like a bad rap, so maybe it was just sort of like, "We will not book a musical comedian, except for Martin Mull." Like he had gotten the pass.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he got it because he was so good, he was so well known, he was famous. In 1980s, he was still David Letterman, Johnny Carson. And so when they wanted a guitar comedian, it was Martin Mull, and they were not booking these other guys. So I do... Some of them kind of struggled a little bit. I remember they would come into the club like, "Where's your guitar?" "Oh, I'm trying to do a set without it." We're like, "Ooh, I don't know."

Tom Megalis:
That's your crutch, man, that's your crutch.

Dave Schwensen:
That's your thing, man, that's why you're doing a Saturday night show and you're not doing a Monday afternoon, okay? Because of the guitar. But yeah, that's just how well known Martin Mull was, and he was the go-to guy.

Tom Megalis:
I got to bring one other musical guy into it, because it struck me, on Fernwood, as a pinnacle moment, was Tom Waits. Did you guys see that bit on there?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
When he's on there doing like the piano's been drinking, or does his bits, and he, I think, coined the phrase, "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." I think that was where he got it, it was on Fernwood. I think that's where the phrase happened. Because then you hear it later in movies and shows like... No, Tom Waits said it in '77. He'd like musical people, and I think that he just always admired having musicians and whether it's comedy or not. And Waits was a little bit funny, man, some of that stuff was borderline insane.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah. No, Waits is really funny.

Dave Schwensen:
I hope our listeners will go online, YouTube or somewhere. Watch some of these Fernwood Tonight shows, because even when he had the good guests on there, or the amateur guests or whatever, they would pan the camera over to Martin Mull and Fred Willard sitting there, like the host and the co-host are supposed to be watching these acts, and they would just be making faces like, "Oh my gosh, end this, please. This guy's terrible." Then they noticed the cameras on them and they'd perk up like, "Oh yeah, this guy's great," but it was just hysterical what they were doing.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, gentlemen, I hope it was hysterical, what we've been doing here, because we're at the end of our time.

Tom Megalis:
This is it?

Dave Schwensen:
This is it.

Tom Megalis:
Oh my god, I thought we just got going here.

Dave Schwensen:
I know, we're just warming up. We're talking about Martin Mull and we just went crazy here. But I'm going to have to sign off, and I had a blast, as always, talking to Logan Rishaw.

Logan Rishaw:
I had a great time talking Martin Mull with you. If we want to do a part two, three, or four for all of his other projects, let's do it. I feel we could fill a lot more time.

Dave Schwensen:
And Tom Megalis.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, thank you. Thanks. Always great hanging with you guys.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay. And I'm Dave Schwensen, so thank you for joining us. We'll be back again with another episode, or version, or whatever you want to call this of What's So Funny! And until then, keep laughing.


View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

The Improv (Part 2); The LA Years

Evergreen Podcasts
This episode picks up right where we left off with the beginning of LA The Improv!
Listen to The Improv (Part 2); The LA Years

The Original Comedy Club, The Imrov (Part 1)

Evergreen Podcasts
In this very special 2-part series, we are talking about the world-famous, original comedy club, The Improv.
Listen to The Original Comedy Club, The Imrov (Part 1)

He's Not Someone's Accountant, He's David Steinberg

Evergreen Podcasts
David Steinberg rose to fame using his childhood as inspiration for one of his most popular bits, the sermon. Listen in as Dave, Tom, and Kelly introduce us to David Steinberg.
Listen to He's Not Someone's Accountant, He's David Steinberg

The Legendary George Carlin

Evergreen Podcasts
George Carlin’s career took off in the ’60s and continued through the decades. Listen in as Dave, Tom, and Kelly introduce us to George Carlin and his 1972 album “FM & AM.”
Listen to The Legendary George Carlin