Sal Salbert (Host, Producer):
Oh, it was nuts. You think this stuff today is funny? You think the nighttime comedy programs these days are funny? [I start to answer, but he keeps talking.] We literally invented comedy television. We had one sketch back then that we did called “The Silly Italian,” and what I would do was come out on stage in an Italian costume, with the hair and all, holding a jug of wine and saying, “Mama mia… maaa maaa mia…” The crowd just howled. They loved it! Then what I would do is I would wait a minute for them to stop laughing, and then I’d give them a long one. You’d see me waiting. You could always see it in my eyes. Carl used to watch me from the wings, and he knew it was coming. I’d get that look in my eyes and then I’d give them a real good long, “Maaaaaaaaaaaa…. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…. Miiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” And it was live back then! No videotape! No computers! No editing, nothing! So if you screwed up your line, well…. [shrugs and makes a ‘tough luck for you, buddy’ face, because it was live.]
Carl “The Doctor” Negel (Head Writer, 1950-1954):
My toes were always stubbed from kicking the wall in the writers’ room. I kicked it every time somebody forgot a line I had written. Everybody remembers the sketch called “The Silly Italian,” and when they recall it they always say, “Oh, yeah… that was the Mama Mia guy.” Well, there were a dozen other lines Silly Italian was supposed to say, but half of the time all Sal remembered to say was the one line. So every time he didn’t say, “Bella! Marinara spicy meatball!” or “Who got a pizza on my strombolli!” I kicked that damn wall. But those were the days…. We were the ones who came up with what your generation recognizes as TV comedy, but the difference was, when we were doing it we had one take to do it in. It was all live back then, so if the actors missed the line… that was it. No rewinding it to make it better. You couldn’t go crying to some director with a robotic camera like today. This was live TV, my friend.
[I ask what a robotic camera is.]
[I mention that Saturday Night Live is also a live program.]
[Carl asks Sal why I’m a wise guy, and they start repeating whatever I say, except in a high-pitched voice. As they do this, they’re cracking up, and me, I’m not laughing.]
Nan Breckenridge (Writer, Performer 1950-1952):
Oh, I don’t remember too, too much about the material back then, but it seemed like we had a good time and made a little money. That was more than I had intended to do, so you could say the show was a success.
[I politely ask her not to be so modest.]
Oh, I don’t know that I’m being modest. I just think that we did our job and that was that.
[I tell her that Carl and Sal claim it was quite a lot more than that.]
Oh, Sal this and Carl that. I distinctly remember thinking, “What is so brilliant about ‘The Silly Italian’? It’s base.” That sketch was really the beginning of the end for me on that show.
[I tell her how Carl and Sal made fun of me when I mentioned that Saturday Night Live was also a live program.]
Well, Sal thinks he’s the only comic to ever work live. I mean, if Sal says hello to you at Hamburger Hamlet on a Tuesday, he spends all day Wednesday and Thursday pointing out that it was live when he said hello to you and that if he had blown it, there would have been no editing that could save him from having said hello incorrectly. The live thing always gets me, because what line was Sal going to louse up so badly without the “Safety net” of editing? Mama mia?
[She and I are both laughing at that one. I like Nan. Through our laughter, I add in a little comment about how when Sal and Carl were making fun of me it wasn’t even that funny. I say, “They could’ve come up with something better than just repeating everything I said in a girlish voice.”]
[I finish laughing, but Nan is laughing even harder now.]
Oh, actually… that’s pretty funny because you do have that high-pitched voice, hon. You…. [laughing] do almost… sound like…. [laughing harder] I mean, don’t take it the wrong way but…. [Wiping her eyes. Still laughing.] Oh, my….
[Pulls herself together and behaves like a grown adult for a moment.]
After I talked to you on the phone, I called Sal and asked him if the nice lady from the magazine had called them about doing an interview, and he had to tell me that Dan was a young man’s name! I said, “Well, somebody ought to tell the girl so she can change her name!”
[Starts laughing again and won’t stop. Whatever.]
[Meanwhile Sal and Carl have come in from the next room, and when they realize what Nan is laughing at, they start making fun of me again. Sal says this is just like how they would laugh together in the old days. Talk turns to pitching networks the idea of a reunion show. Nan tries her hand at an imitation of me with a girl’s voice and points out that if they were doing this live, they would all have to keep a straight face somehow.]
[Switch off tape recorder.]