Despite the bitter cold last night, I and several other humor-loving people ventured out to catch Inside Joke, Carl Arnheiter’s clever and insightful live talk show. The UCB postcards describe Inside Joke as "a cross between Charlie Rose and This Old House, minus the interruptions and power tools," which means, of course, it’s not really like either of those PBS programs. Arnheiter knows his subjects and, perhaps more importantly, knows when to let them chat and chat and chat some more and reveal what’s made them so funny and worth talking to in the first place.
It’s a modest set-up. A table with two chairs, two mics, a plate of Rice Krispie Treats (real, as I could attest afterward). Arnheiter comes out to address the audience with a few opening remarks, shows a video and then, it’s our guest for the evening (or the next hour-plus), Alan Zweibel.
Things we learned last night…The opening video, an ad parody for "Spud Beer (‘The beer that made Boise famous’)," was the first thing shot on tape for Saturday Night Live, written by Al Franken and Tom Davis and featuring then-24-year-old Zweibel as the dim-witted test subject. Zweibel said his claim to fame on the 106 SNL shows he wrote for was the few times he made it onscreen, he always played the big dumb Jew. His words. On Feb. 20 of this year, he’ll be the dead guy in the opening of a Law and Order. "They just needed a big Jew to bleed out on the rug!" he said. He went from selling $7 jokes to old-time comics in the Catskills in 1973 to delivering a stack of 1,100 jokes in the hands of a young Lorne Michaels barely two years later. He became an early friend and carpooling partner of Billy Crystal, and three decades later, helped Crystal form his Broadway hit 700 Sundays, much of it over the course of 12 nights in front of live audiences. He also wrote and worked with Gilda Radner and Garry Shandling. He told funny stories about finding a Mrs. Ed one Saturday night, and about the unexpected impacts of writing for John Belushi’s Samurai deli character. Zweibel also won the 2006 Thurber Prize for American Humor, for this book, The Other Shulman.