Seven Dirty Words

Free Seven Dirty Words by James Sullivan

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Authors: James Sullivan
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It also had a tiny performance space, open to the public, in which customers could see the pool lights through plate-glass windows behind the entertainers. Operated by a recent University of Dayton graduate named Bill Brennan, who married into the locally well-known Huber construction family, the Racquet Club was envisioned as a younger, more happening alternative to Suttmiller’s, a much larger, more traditional showroom across town. The place, says Shane Taylor, a local promoter who was friendly with Brennan, might have held a hundred people on a particularly packed night. “I’m talking about squeezed,” he says. “A table for four became a table for eight.” The club featured comedy (including Dayton native Jonathan Winters and Lima, Ohio, housewife turned comedienne Phyllis Diller), jazz singers (Mel Torme), and vocal groups (such as the Four Freshmen and the Crosby Boys, Bing Crosby’s sons, who had one of their first engagements at the Racquet Club). At the time, Brennan’s place had an electric air about it: “When you walked in, you felt like the music was being played for you,” recalls Taylor. “You walked in clicking your fingers.”
    In this lively setting Carlin began flirting with the hostess, a local resident named Brenda Hosbrook. “Brenda and I clicked on all levels right away,” Carlin later said. They went out together every night that he and Burns were in Dayton, and they called and wrote each other while Carlin was on the road.
    Burns and Carlin made their way to New York, where they and Becker were scheduled to meet some of the agents in GAC’s headquarters. Two of the New York agents, Peter Paul and Shelly Schultz, took the act to see Bob Shanks, the talent coordinator at The Tonight Show . For Burns and Carlin, it was almost laughable. Half a year after leaving Fort Worth, where they’d sat in front of the television in their underwear, joking about the crude things they’d say to Jack Paar if they were ever invited onto his show, here they were, actually auditioning for it.
    Paar had taken over NBC’s Tonight Show from original host Steve Allen in 1957 following a brief, unsuccessful attempt with a different format. The casually conversational Paar, a native of Canton, Ohio, who called his own show “a night light to the bathroom,” had a natural rapport with his audience and the camera, and he loved to feature comedy on the program. Jonathan Winters, the brainy improv duo of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and a very young Carol Burnett were just a few of Paar’s many comedic guests. Atypically for those early years of television, with its stone-faced announcers and farcical vaudevillians, Paar wore his considerable emotions on his sleeve. Prone to hysterical fits of laughter, he was also unafraid to shed tears if he was upset or feeling sentimental. “Being natural, being yourself, being honest is very hard work,” he said on a retrospective program decades after quitting The Tonight Show , leaving the franchise to his successor, Johnny Carson. “I’m not an actor. All I am is what I am.”
    What he was, among other things, was a facile storyteller with a particular love for language. One night in February 1960, Paar told a joke on the show about a cultural misunderstanding over a “W.C.” At NBC, the Standards and Practices department determined the joke to be too risqué for broadcast, and they preempted that portion of the show, replacing it with news coverage. Paar was outraged. The next day the press—not aware of the content, the mild double-entendres, of the joke, aware only that it had been cut—claimed the host had said something “obscene.” Eliciting an admission from NBC’s president that the joke was harmless, Paar asked for permission to air the edited segment, to let the audience judge for itself, but he was denied. That night he addressed his audience. He’d spent a sleepless night, he said, “wrestling with my conscience,” and he’d decided to quit

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