Remembering the Confetti-Loving Rip Taylor

Seth Rudetsky   Remembering the Confetti-Loving Rip Taylor
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from his concert with Cheyenne Jackson, plus memories of the late star and the origin of his famous name.
Rip Taylor
Rip Taylor Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.com

Hello from my stopover in NYC. I was just in Hartford, followed by Boston, and on Thursday night I’ll be doing a show with Beth Leavel in New Orleans! On Saturday, I’m back in Lorain County, Ohio, which is where I went to college (at Oberlin). I’m doing my show Rhapsody in Seth and here are my two issues:

It’s a 90-minute fully-scripted show and every time I do it I have to re-memorize it. I started practicing it again on the Amtrak ride home from Boston and for every two pages I reviewed, I then checked Twitter, Facebook, and The Onion. End of story: I’m only halfway through my initial review of the script. It’s SOOOOO hard to sit by yourself and run lines. It’s fun to run scenes with someone, because there’s a social aspect to it, and you have time to think of your next line when the other person is talking (yes, I know acting is listening and reacting but it’s also panicking and frantically trying to remember you rnext line), but it’s so hard for me to focus and just sit and review an entire show by myself. The other thing is, I have to play “Rhapsody In Blue” and even though I’ve been playing it since I was a teenager, and I’m pretty confident with it, I never know what might distract me and make me play horrifically. Here’s a video of the time I played it in Orlando in a concert to help the victims and families of the Pulse nightclub shooting and I got so thrown by having one of the onstage dancers so near the piano when I was doing the really hard part that I hit a succession of notes that can only be described as atonal.

Anyhoo, if you’re in New Orleans, come see me and my fabulous Tony Award-winning cohort Beth Leavel. Get tickets here.

And if you’re near Cleveland, come see Rhapsody In Seth! Tickets here!

My Boston show with Cheyenne was so great. Afterwards, we took a photo on the famous staircase at Emerson’s Colonial Theatre. We decided to make it look like our Laverne and Shirley-esque sitcom. P.S. We are indeed standing on the same step.

Seth Rudetsky & Cheyenne Jackson
Seth Rudetsky & Cheyenne Jackson

Cheyenne told us about growing up in poor in Idaho and how he and his family didn’t have running water. He then said his mom always gets upset when he says that and tells him they only didn’t have running water “for five years.” Cheyenne then clarifies that five years is a long time!

After high school, he lived in Seattle, where he worked in sales and did theatre on the side because he was too scared to try to make it in NYC. He was in a production of The Prince and the Pauper with Marc Kudisch who told him that if he ever came to NYC, he'd set him up with his agent. After 9/11, Cheyenne realized he didn't want to be an old man who had regrets about his life so he moved to NYC to try to get on Broadway. Kudisch set him up with his agent as promised and Cheyenne's first audition was for Thoroughly Modern Millie...to be Kudisch's understudy!

It was an ensemble part that also understudied Gavin Creel. After acting and singing, he made it to the final callback with a few other guys and that was when they all had to tap. Cheyenne had never tapped in his life, but had done tap shows where he was hidden in the back and "sold it" by moving only his upper body. Well, that trick wouldn't work when choreographer Rob Ashford asked each guy to step forward, by themselves, and do a time step. The first three guys stepped forward and nailed it. Cheyenne opted out of faking it and simply told Rob, "I don't know how to tap.” Then he added earnestly, “But if I get this job, I'll work really hard and learn!" Rob said, “You better!”

Cheyenne then had to go to the theatre and sing for the music director, Michael Rafter. He immediately found out…he got the job!!! Right after he sang, Michael Mayer, the director, told him that this was a story for a theatre website: small town boy comes to NY and gets a Broadway show at his first audition. Cheyenne ran into Marc—who didn’t even know Cheyenne was auditioning to be his understudy—and when Cheyenne told him he got the job, Kudisch started crying and then Cheyenne started crying!!

P.S. He still had to learn to tap, so he went to tap class day and night at Broadway Dance Center with all beginners. Meaning...a class full of six-year-old girls! It worked and soon he was not only tapping in the chorus, but he went on for Marc Kudisch three weeks later. Soon he was also on for Gavin, and he remembers the scene where he and Sutton Foster were crammed in a laundry cart. They were waiting to go on and Sutton was chewing on a Ricola. Cheyenne said “I can’t believe just a little while ago I was watching you on the Tony Awards and now I’m playing opposite you!” As he as telling the story, Cheyenne did an amazing imitation for us of Sutton chewing the Ricola and saying, with little affect, “Dreams come true.” He recently told Sutton that story while they were both starring in Into The Woods in L.A. and she said “UGH! I sound so obnoxious!” He told her it was actually adorable. (And, P.S., he also told me she was amazing as The Baker’s Wife).

Speaking of Jimmy, the Gavin Creel role, Cheyenne was later asked to replace Gavin and negotiated his contract for the role. Then a few days later, he showed up at the theatre to do his regular ensemble part and saw a notice asking the cast to welcome the new Jimmy…Christian Borle! He thus gave notice. His next door neighbor in his apartment building was Jerry Orbach and when Cheyenne told Jerry that he quit, Jerry was shocked and told him “You never leave a hit Broadway show!” But it all worked out…he was soon starring in All Shook Up. If you don’t know, that show was all Elvis music…but they didn’t want him to look like Elvis (which he does). So, they put him in a blond wig! Cheyenne knew it was all wrong for him because, as he told me, “I’m a Fall.” Soon they realized their mistake, but there is some footage of him and his blond wig. Look!

My next show at Emerson’s Colonial Theatre is January 9 with Tony winner Kelli O’Hara! Check it out!

In sad news, the great Rip Taylor passed away. I got to interview him for my talk show around 10 years ago. He told me that when he was a kid, he went from foster home to foster home. His life was changed when he went to a movie, and the theatre had a piano-playing contest…and he won by playing “The Habanera.” He remembers being onstage and loving the feeling of the light on him. Rip said that the light made him feel safe and that nothing could hurt him. That's what drove Rip towards show business.

Many years later he was on The Red Skelton Show, and when he left his dressing room he ran into Red Skelton for the first time, and started crying. Red asked if he was okay and Rip said, "I'm meeting Red Skelton." Then he looked at Rip, and purely by coincidence said, "Keep looking into that light!" I loved that!

Rip wound up in the Army, and while he was on the ship going overseas, he entertained the troops by lip-syncing to Mario Lanza (it was called record pantomime). Because he was a hit, he got into special services and wound up entertaining the troops overseas instead of fighting. He then spent a few years in Tokyo (!) performing, and when he came back to the U.S., he found an agent…in the Yellow Pages! Does anyone under 40 even know what that is!?!?

Anyhoo, his agent got him a gig in Atlantic City doing so-called record pantomime between acts in a strip joint. Since he was now officially in show business, the first thing he decided was that he had to change his name. (He was born Charlie Taylor.) So Charlie Taylor became…Pearson Thall. What the-?!?!?! Why was he pretending to be a WASP in a smoking jacket? Regardless, he was doing fine until one night the record player broke and he had to come up with jokes. He kept it up and started doing shtick between records by literally buying jokes at the local magic store and using them at night. That's when he changed his name to Rip. He started to explain that it had something to do with the fact that his last name, Taylor, is like tailor and that something ripped needs a tailor and tailors keep people in stitches and halfway through his explanation he waved his hand at the Chatterbox audience and said, "Oh, figure it out, I’ve got a show to do!"

Atlantic City led to a gig in the Catskills and after he was there a while, he found out that a scout from The Ed Sullivan Show was coming to see him. Uh-oh! What if he bombed that night? He made an announcement in the dining room to all the patrons that he could get a gig on the Sullivan Show if they came to his performance that night and laughed up a storm. And, to sweeten the deal, he'd buy them all champagne. The scout showed up, Rip walked out onstage and before he opened his mouth, the audience was "laughing" up a storm. He finally shut them up so he could actually tell his jokes and he got asked to be on the Sullivan Show! Turns out, The Ed Sullivan Show would film an afternoon performance and a night performance, and then they'd air whichever performance was better.

Rip was great in the afternoon but when he came back that night, he noticed Ed had perhaps had a bit of a liquid lunch, as we say. Sullivan stood in front of the camera and started to introduce him…but forgot his name. Rip was panicking backstage and (again, for some reason not fully explained to me) ripped out a nose hair! This brought tears to his eyes and he ran out onstage and said, through tears, "I'm Rip Taylor," to which Ed Sullivan covered up by replying, "Of course you are." Rip did the same act he had done that afternoon but kept up the tears. The audience loved it. Suddenly, he became known as the "Crying Comedian." His weeping made anything funnier.

He demonstrated it for us in the studio. He told us a funny joke ("I bought a suit today with two pair of pants. I burnt a hole in the coat!") and then told it again while crying. Sixty percent increase of funniness! He was on The Ed Sullivan Show many times, and eventually Eleanor Powell asked him to do an act with her in Las Vegas. He was supposed to perform there for just four weeks, and when I interviewed him, it had been 32 years. He worked with the Kingston Trio, Frankie Laine, Judy Garland, etc. I asked him what Milton Berle was like, and he said, "He was nice…in the end." Ouch. But he stayed very close with Phyllis Diller, whose series he did, and turns out, they both listened to my radio show!

Rip also said Sammy Davis Jr. was a great guy. Sammy would have all of his lyrics on a teleprompter at the foot of the stage. Rip was opening for him, and while Sammy was backstage, he decided to play a prank on Rip and changed the teleprompter…to play a porno movie! Rip started laughing onstage, the band started laughing and the audience sat…confused and staring. Rip said that Sammy was in the wings singing, "That's some b*tch, dying tonight!"

The other signature Rip became known for also happened by accident. He was on The Merv Griffin Show and he had jokes written out on cards. He started to bomb, so he ripped up his jokes, threw them in the air and walked off the set, toppling over some of it as he did. The next day Merv called, and Rip offered to pay for the damages. Turns out, Merv asked him back because he thought it was hilarious, and that started Rip's signature of throwing confetti into the air.
Rip's first Broadway show was Sugar Babies, where he replaced Mickey Rooney. He felt that Broadway is the hardest job to get but the easiest one to do. He said it took him forever to get to Broadway, but once he was there, he loved doing eight shows a week for a theatre audience as opposed to trying to get laughs out of Las Vegas crowds who were sitting and drinking because they lost thousands of dollars that day.

He thought his co-star Ann Miller was incredibly funny…without knowing it. One day he told her, "We can't do the show Tuesday…it's Passover!" and she said, "I never do game shows." What the-? Hmm…maybe he should have said Pesach?

Rip was also cast in the Robert Redford/Demi Moore film Indecent Proposal, playing Demi Moore's boss. The very first day of filming he walked into her trailer and said, "Hi, Demi! (pronouncing it Deh-mi). She said, "It's Demi [pronounced d'mi]". He paused…then pointed to himself and said, "It's D'Rip!" She loved it! After our Chatterbox, I had him sign the Chatterbox autograph book James got me for a Hanukkah present and Rip signed it, "Keep looking into that light." I hope he’s in that light!

Watch this great clip of him and peace out!

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