Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

4. Love By Numbers

(Joey Kulkin photo and lyrics)

Love By Numbers

one plus one is minus-two
eight and eight is fifty-eight
nine times twelve is one hundred and six
guys and gals sometimes don't mix.

asked Merry to be my wife
laughed in my face
then dissed my life.
asked her again
to walk happily
but it wasn't me
she would marry.

Merry moved far
east oyster bay
fell for a punk 

named johnny ray.
little does she know
johnny ray is a pimp
and i found the one
who feeds me shrimp.

Merry found out
and gave me a call
Merry found out
and began to crawl
Merry found out
and returned to me,
and i laughed at her
quite merrily.

one plus one is minus-two
eight and eight is fifty-eight
nine times twelve is one hundred and six
guys and gals sometimes don't mix.
some guys and gals they just don't mix.
sometimes guys and gals they just don't mix.

3. Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth

yesteryear's letters
thrown up to the sky

kaleidoscope of sugar
full of sap and clap too
incongruent rambles i love you
idyllic declarations i want you
unrequited warbles I MISS YOU!

syrup repulsive as joke candy
that turns to salt
after two sucks

haha, sucker!

yet you swallow the joke

get the gas face
like third bass
or alfalfa or buckwheat
after castor oil

you swallow deceptive salt
like sugar-coated pride
which comes before the fall

and how You doing?

oh, very well!

so long as that fall
is broken by a bed
of sap and clap
and sugar from the sky

Saturday, October 26, 2013

2. Pippy McSqueak

Joey Kulkin photo

Pippy McSqueak

pippy mcsqueak
pipped and squeaked
and ran inside the house
of ye little faith, and
he holler'd for mommy

mommy o'mommy!
mcsqueak'd pippy
mommy o'mommy!

what is it, boy?
she bit back
with a ratchedy voice
that went clickity clack

mommy o'mommy!
mcsqueak'd pippy


i sed boy
she sed back
clickity clack
and a cough and a hack


Sunday, October 20, 2013

1. The Flower

(Joey Kulkin photo)

The Flower

“Hey, Flower ... psst ... over here.”

“What do You want, Tree?”

“Mr. Caterpillar is coming to eat you."

“Shut up! And how do you know anyway?"

“He told me but I told him I would not tell you."

“So then why are you telling me, Barky McStupid?"

“Because I thought you always looked pretty in the sunlight.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: From Vietnam to Rose Vines

Edward Fortune
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Come flower season you'll find colored cups of tulips everywhere in town, but not roses. Where are the roses? I mean, sure, this ain't Lompoc or Pasadena, but why doesn't anyone in the Benningtons grow roses? It became such a thorn in one man's side that he buried himself in the garage all day a few months ago and built roses from scratch.

And by scratch we mean steel. Forty-gauge. The good stuff.

The man behind the steel works of floral art is a 66-year-old who dropped out of Benn-Hi to serve 3 tours in Vietnam before coming home to work in the steel business for 40 years.

"It came to me. I wanted to make my wife roses but they had to last all year long," Edward Fortune, who has lived in the same Park Street house for 62 years, said during a phone call. "I could see the bush as clear as day so I spent 10 hours in the garage. It took a few days to figure out."

Fortune makes steel roses, bends 'em by hand and pliers, and presents them as silver singles on a stem, single red roses in a small planter and 6-rose bushes that rise from large planters filled with sand, clay and faux greenery -- they come in all-silver or green stems and red petals.

Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery in downtown Bennington will sell the Fortune Roses exclusively. Singles cost $36, small planters cost $50 and 6-rose vine bushes cost $250.

It's peculiar to see an imposing fella like Edward Fortune, Navy SEAL who followed his older brother the Marine to 'Nam, crafting pretty things such as roses as these decades later. "Anyone who knows me knows they better not kid around," he said when I mentioned how friends might be apt to tease him because of the unique nature of his endeavors. "They know where the ball falls."

Don't worry, Ed's really not that mean.

"I wanted to bring something out there that takes a little meanness out of the world," he said, "and to be able to say there are some nice things in the world."

Meathooks for hands served him well in the steel business. He started as a welder when Bennington Ironworks opened in '68 or '69 then joined the team at L&G Fabricators and spent the next 35 years with them "building buildings." He also built motorcycles for 35 years -- and just finished a 2-year job building his wife a Harley-Davidson Softail Custom. He's done with bikes because "You can only tear apart so many engines before it gets old."

The silver single is my favorite Fortune Rose. It's sturdy and rugged and there's something pure about the silver petals that makes you appreciate the delicate folds of the bloom. Ed's craftsmanship is stunning. You know how roses get after a few days, when aging outer petals begin to wilt and curl backward, and that's what's happening to front petal on the single silver above. His attention to detail is second to none.

Ed has a different take. The warrior who saw his share of horrors in the leaves of 'Nam wants to craft something so pretty and poetic for your personal gardens. He loves the 6-vine bush with red petals because, again, "you don't see a lot of roses growing around here."

Now you can "plant" them and steel her heart year-round.

Single red, small planter
Ed and Karen Fortune have been married
19 years. She paints the petals red.
She was in the Army 28 years and
served in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thomasena's Grows Up, Moves to East Front Street

Thomasena's Takeout is now located at 241 E. Front Street,
home of the old (and popular) Cafe International.

BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Venice Johnson updated his Facebook page last night, and his friends in Trenton went nuts with more than 1,000 impressions, 20 Likes and 10 comments:

Three weeks after Johnson closed Thomasena's at the corner of Spring and Calhoun in the heart of West Trenton, New Jersey, he's opening again, but downtown, in a place 3 times the size at 241 East Front Street, home of the former Cafe International.

Thomasena's Grand Opening begins at 1 o'clock.

"I've been looking forward to this for 3 months," Johnson said during a phone call this morning. "The team is ready to go."

With the help of Trenton impresario Tyrone Miller, I brought the story of Venice Johnson's new eatery to Trentonian TV (here) in April 2012, then to the Sunday front page of the square rag a week later, when the corner joint celebrated its first month of existence.

Tyrone Miller (right) with Thomasena's proprietor Venice Johnson

Venice Johnson in front of his2012

The menu was vast, breakfast sandwich to deep-fried basa, everything made to order, and the most popular selling point that brought the flock was fish and grits for 5 bucks.

Not so fresh was the lack of seating -- none -- not to mention the 500-square foot space felt like a boiler room, all the time.

"It was small, and it was HOT!" Johnson said with a laugh.

The space at 241 East Front, he said, is bigger and better. "We have 20 tables -- but we can seat up to 80 people."

Johnson grew up in West Trenton, on the same street he'd open an eatery years later as an homage to the grandmother who raised him. But "West Bubble" can't sustain itself these days, let alone a popular restaurant, so the restaurateur upped and left to another part of town that will appreciate his efforts.

"I am nervous losing the neighborhood clientele," he said, "but we're opening ourselves to a broader audience."

A fella by the name of Ed has become the new head cook, replacing Donald Riley.

Toasted ravioli and cheesy broccoli rice are new specials that will be added to the menu if customers rave. Of course, fresh fish and grits will remain a Thomasena's staple, the only difference being a $1 bump in price. "That's still cheaper than anywhere else -- and we have $5 sandwiches as opposed to $7 sandwiches elsewhere in town."

Johnson said Thomasena's new ambiance at 241 East Front offsets any price bumps.

Plus, customers will appreciate Thomasena's customer service -- another reason Johnson believes his eatery is headed in the right direction.

"As long as you have the right players on your team," he said, "you'll win a championship -- and we have a championship team."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Deep, Deep in the Shag: Q&A with Actor Charles Levin (the mohel!)

Jason Alexander hated the mohel because of this yet
Seinfeld thought Levin was "the funniest" guest star ever

BENNINGTON — After playing with Woody, Punky and the Golden Girls, but before working with Murphy Brown and Detective Sipowicz, he almost circumcised Seinfeld’s finger.

Charles Levin gave crazy life to Shakey the mohel in “The Bris” and October 14 marks the 20th anniversary of a Seinfeld episode reviled by the man who played George Costanza.

"That’s a long fucking time twenty years," Levin, a Yale grad and ex-Harvard professor of drama, said last month. Fifteen years after retiring from showbiz, he took Dick Diver’s advice and lives a life of repose in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Why did the mohel work so well?

"The answer is the writing," Levin said. "Larry Charles wrote this character from start to finish. I merely acted out his dialogue in the way we both heard this guy in our heads."

During the chat Levin didn’t flinch when he said Jason Alexander, who played Costanza, behaves “like an asshole” in real life. “Can’t change. He’s the unmentionable element in a show filled with hilarious bravura.”

When asked via Twitter to comment on Levin’s performance as the mohel, Alexander tweeted “no comment” and when pressed further offered this:

Alexander did not respond after that exchange.

Several attempts to contact Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) and Larry Charles, the show’s head writer, were ignored, because when you're famous you don't have to answer to anyone.

Seinfeld ran from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, and easily became the most-quoted and referenced show during its run of 180 episodes. No show in TV history has introduced us to an unending universe of bizarro characters (here) like Seinfeld did.

It was kismet of the highest order and there will never again be a show like it.

The Fab 4 were Seinfeld, Costanza, Elaine and Kramer.

The recurring players were Jerry’s and George’s parents (101 episodes combined), Newman (47), J. Peterman (21), Uncle Leo (15), Puddy (11), Jackie Chiles (6) and Bania (6).

Some of the less-recurring but forever memorable players were the Soup Nazi, Babu Bhat, George Steinbrenner, Crazy Joe Davola and Lloyd Braun.

One-time Hall of Famers were Bookman, Bubble Boy, Brody the movie pirater, Ray the cleaner and his nuts girlfriend Rava, the doorman, Spectacular Sidra, Naomi the Elmer Fudd laugher and third-person Jimmy!

The mohel from season 5, episode 5 was the greatest of the one-time Hall of Famers.

The man behind the role is quite a character.

He was passed over for the role until ...

October 6, 2013

31 days have passed since first contact with actor, writer and director Charles Levin, a brash and opininated 64-year-old widower from Chicago who delivered inside Hollywood baseball on the record, while also dishing off the record about Yale's secret club Skull & Bones (here), Oscar winner and eternal cutie Meryl Streep, and how the entertainment industry is in bed with organized crime.

We've communicated through email and Gmail chat. Days and weeks elapsed between my questions and his answers. In mid-September I put everything on the back-burner to simmer while performing a shitload of Google and YouTube searches to find photos and videos of his diverse cache of characters. Among them: gay house cook in Golden Girls -- dropped after the pilot; putzy cop in Punky Brewster; defense lawyer in both L.A. Law and NYPD Blue; gay prostitute on Hill Street Blues; the cop who married Vera in the final season of Alice; and on the movie front he acted in Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Manhattan. Indeed, from 1977 to 1998 he performed 59 times as an actor. Read his IMdB page here.

Charles chided me early in the conversation when I used "bit role" to describe the mohel. The mohel was no bit character, he said, then warned that being amateurishly ignorant about union roles has been known to end conversations such as the one we had just begun. That was one of a few "minor trespasses" -- nothing of major consequence -- so the conversation between a Vermonter from L.A. and Oregonian from Chicago continued for another month.

What's funny is that Charles had about 4 minutes of face time in "The Bris" -- an episode that also featured Kramer's "Pigman" and the hospital suicidal who jumped to his death on the roof of George's car -- so this Q&A would seem to be a simple exercise. The first of his two scenes runs 3 minutes and features 3 intense and goddamn funny monologues worthy of the Comedy Hall of Fame: first with Jerry and Elaine after his arrival; then with Elaine after her placement of a glass of wine as he gets on his hands and knees on the carpet to explain broken glass embedded "deep DEEP in the shag"; and then finally leading up to the baggy-pants farce, on hands and knees again, when he explains the benefits of being a kosher butcher vis-a-vis the perils of mohel'dom -- before standing up, crazily twitching his eyes in the vain of Crazy Joe Davola then slicing both the newborn's penis and Jerry's finger.

The genesis of this piece is really based off those 3 minutes of perfect, farcical comedy. Every time I watched The Bris I wanted to know the name of the actor who played the psycho mohel, until finally I Googled to find out his name is Charles Levin. And then, finally, I decided to see if he was up for a Q&A, mostly because of those 3 minutes -- the gist of his moment in the Seinfeldian sun. His other scene runs about 45 seconds and is nuts-funny, too.

The longer the conversation continued the more Charles revealed about his Seinfeld experience, relationships with the Fab 4 and co-creator Larry David, and then so much about the kind of Hollywood that only someone who circled the block for 21 years would have seen. From sad tale of the girl behind Punky Brewster to why his gay character on the Golden Girls never saw the light of day even though he had won hearts and minds as gay prostitute Eddie Gregg on Hill Street Blues years earlier. The king of NBC wanted to give Eddie Gregg his own show but apparently bowed to pressure. 

Charles went into detail about things I didn't even ask about, such as his friendship with Meryl Streep, and those are the best kinds of subjects to interview. The best way to present it is to show the conversation as it progressed instead of cutting and pasting the questions and answers. Everything that I asked Charles answered, in time.

It should all make sense, especially parts about Jason Alexander being an asshole. Hey, Jason, all I wanted was a quote or two from one Hall of Fame actor citing another actor's Hall of Fame gig. Nobody gives a rat's ass about your own political bullshit.

To lead off, here are photos of Charles Levin before and after Seinfeld (click to enlarge).

Watch it here

Watch it here

Watch it here

Watch it here

NYPD Blue ... watch it here

September 5, 2013

Joey Kulkin after tweeting Charles to get his email address: Is this Charles Levin? Please prove it. I'd hate to waste my time like a stoner watching the Weather Channel on a snowy day in Vermont.

Charles Levin: How shall I prove it. I just called Fiddlehead but got a machine. Do you have facetime?

JK: Not sure I've ever used Facetime, and I'm pretty up on most technology. But that's a good sign you called Fiddlehead -- and got a machine.

CL: Absolutely. I look forward to your questions. Facetime is iphone app where the phone shows live images along with voice.

JK: I have a Droid, much better. I'm also a Google guy and love doing Google Hangouts. Since you have a Gmail you automatically have it, too. Let me know if you're up for that, too.

September 6, 2013

JK: Please excuse my rudeness yesterday: L'shana tova!

CL: Not at all. I was making sure you were sincere as well and I was satisfied. You weren't rude but simply bring careful. I like that. L'Shana tova

JK: Good evening, Charles. I'm doing a bunch of YouTube/Google/IMDb searches and finding things that I haven't watched in a very long time -- episodes you're in ... Golden Girls, Punky Brewster, LA Law, NYPD Blue. Haven't found any Alice episodes. It's been kind of cool seeing your progression back then. Anyway, I hope you might be able to help cut down the process a little. I truly want to be in touch with Jerry, Jason, Julia, Kramer -- any or all -- for a few quotes about the mohel episode. I don't want to go asking thru Twitter because that would be fruitless; (though I resorted to such tactics). I wouldn't even care if you went through them. I just want a few thoughts about what it was like for them to be a part of that scene. BTW, I hope you had a few scotches after your scene in Punky. Priceless.

JK, later: You are *such* a lefty. Your characters always emphasize a point with their left hand. It's really quite fascinating to watch.

JK, even later: Found something interesting, if you wanted to comment on it for background: You were in "Washington Mistress" along with Tony Bill, who happens to be in my favorite movie "You're A Big Boy Now" -- which led to a Q&A with David Benedictus, who wrote the book the movie is based on. Here's the Q&A with David (here). Tony's directing debut was "My Bodyguard" -- another one of my favorite movies.

JK, one more time: Is this you? (attached picture of kissing scene in Annie Hall.)

September 7, 2013

CL: Last things first. I haven't been in contact with anyone from Seinfeld, since I did the show. Jerry is even more lovable and smart in Person, Jason is best when not discussed, Julia-Louis has a new comedy and would be impossible to contact, Kramer is persona non grata since the "N" word fiasco, which proves that he is indeed certifiable just like the characters he played. I spoke to all of them during the four day process and Jerry and Julia were delightful. I auditioned for Larry David's show years ago, it's name escapes me, but it was a waste of time due to the nature of Larry's idea of auditioning. He does not write a script but has actors improvise scenes with him based on a one sentence set-up. I only improvise when I am hired and paid a salary, as in "Manhattan," but Woody had cast me before in Annie Hall (no one is given a script before the shoot) so when he told David Rasche, Karen Allen and me to improvise a scene, Rasche and I were in heaven and Karen demanded she be a mute retarded woman. It's one thing to have the job and Woody trusts you to improvise, but I won't provide material for non-actors, non-writers, or producers like David who's looking for free material before someone gets the job. David also did not say anything in character while I was going through the motions of improvising a scene with him. My one and only improvisational thru line was fuck this. It was irritating and low rent. I was the fifth Golden Girl with a huge part in the original pilot. I was not picked up for the series due to outrageous homophobia from many sources, and my scenes were reshot without me, and the girls got my lines. I am mute in the pilot which is a mess because they shredded a crucial and very funny gay houseman character. The one gift was somehow becoming Bea Arthur's buddy -- I was in love with her. Alice is always in syndication so no episodes posted. I don't remember Punky Brewster, the little girl unfortunately was a vile child star caricature but sadly real. George Gaynes was a retired opera star and a funny, funny man of great charm. I even hated the dog trainer who abused the Golden. Bochco is a 600 page non-fiction sci-fi story, while the true genius was David Milch, my roommate at Yale and one of the greatest writers for television ever. This is too long.

CL, later: I had most of my scenes with Lucy Arnaz, who become a good friend and we schmoozed a lot. She was married to Lawrence Luckenbill, a terrible actor and even a worse self-absorbed egotist in person. Lucy had been through the hell of Hollywood with two famous parents whom she loved dearly and their hideous break-up. I got to know Lucille Ball through the writers of Alice who wrote her first show, and then through her daughter Lucy and then she cast me to co-star in her new series which died a quick pilot death. Tony Bill was the kind of guy who was too smart to be an actor, and not Jewish handsome enough at the time to be a star. Dustin Hoffman is unique, an ugly Jew who could act. But that's why Mike Nichols is the monster/mogul that he is.

CL, even later: Of course it was me, and the next year Woody cast me in Manhattan

JK: No, this was perfect length. I'll read it a few more times to absorb it all while I fashion a few more Q's about the mohel. Are you talking about Curb Your Enthusiasm? Because if you nailed the mohel scene there's no way in hell you wouldn't have been a star on CYE with your ability to be frenetic and crazy. As for Golden Girls, I thought something looked terribly strange in that pilot. Your entire role, it seemed, was to stand there consoling Rue or Betty by putting your hands on their shoulders. Can't remember if I sent the clip (here). Are you related to Andy Samberg?

CL: I am not related to Andy. Curb Your Enthusiasm is the show I auditioned for. It is desperately unfunny and allows Larry David to play the wretch he always plays even in his stand-up.

JK, 5:50 in the p.m.

1. "The Bris" is a few weeks away from its 20th anniversary. What do you remember most about your few moments as the mohel?

2. As someone who watched every episode multiple times, I think the mohel was one of the funniest bit characters during Seinfeld's 9-year run along with Bookman, Crazy Joe Davola, Soup Nazi and a handful of others. Why did it work so well for you?

3. The bris scene is so over the top, beyond extreme, absurd, maniacal, absolute NUTS! because of your rage and your frenetic energy -- like Woody Allen hopped up on 3 or 4 speedballs. And the energy continued through 3 conversations with Jerry and Elaine, then Elaine, then the butcher speech while picking up the instruments that spilled onto the carpet. That was more than just Charles Levin the actor commanding the spotlight. Who did channel during the performance?

4. How many of your lines were scripted, and how much was improvised?

5. Describe what the performance felt like as you performed it? For example, a baseball player knows he hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat. Did you feel like the bris scene was a home run during go-time, what with your energy and the studio audience?

6. How long did the bris scene take? What were some of the bloopers?

The rest will come tomorrow. I just read the Wikipedia page about the episode and how Jason was totally against you playing the part. Why did he act like a dick?

Wiki: According to the Notes About Nothing feature of the episode on the DVD, Jason Alexander has stated that this is the only episode he wishes was never made; his objections specifically centered around the character of the mohel, whose behavior (specifically, his hatred of children) bothered him.

CL at 8:13 in the p.m.

Let me state some pearls of wisdom when communicating with an Actor, Writer, Harvard Professor-that"s me, and anyone else in Show Business. Using words and phrases ie: bit, walk-on, Schtick, few moments, small part or any other catchy way to minimize artist"s contribution, is insulting, amateurishly ignorant of Union crediting of roles in film, TV, Broadway, and regional theatre, and a fast way to end a conversation. You are guilty of only a few minor trespasses. That aside: that's a long fucking time twenty years. I don't have a good sense of time as duration. I remember everything of most experiences, and the Mohel is the best performance of a part I didn't get. I auditioned in a small office with a lot of people, Jerry was there, plus Larry David, Larry Charles and six others. I stood with s up wearing a blue the door at my back and a table two feet in front, and that's it. I did the part exactly as you saw in performance, they were howling in laughter and when I got home, my agent called hours later saying they cast someone else. I was surprised but that's why there is no god. The next day I get a message to call agent. Would I report to Seinfeld set at ten o"clock the next morning to play the mohel? Sure. I show up, we do a table read of my scenes, 20 pages of a 40 page script-not small, not one liners, but pages of speeches. They all relaxed and we started to block the show. Jerry takes me aside and says-I wanted you,Larry Charles wanted you but there was pressure to hire a name since it was a huge part. They, whoever they is, hired Alan Garfield, who shows up wearing a blue satin scarf around his neck, and right away, Jerry knew they were in deep shit. Garfield plays the mohel absolutely straight as a scary, rage filled guy threatening everyone until he finishes in a tirade of spitting red faced fury. Jerry takes him aside and literally explains that this is a comic character who's supposed to be so neurotic that he very funny. Comedy is funny, makes people laugh. Garfield tightens the scarf and flings one end over the shoulder. Oh no. He doesn't feel that at all and won't play it like that. He has a process, and yadayadayada ... Jerry shakes his hand and says, thanks for stopping by and screams to have someone call me immediately.

September 8, 2013

CL: Why did it work. The answer is the writing. Larry Charles wrote this character from start to finish. I merely acted out his dialogue in the way we both heard this guy in our heads. Larry C. never spoke to me but to say hi. Jerry pulled me aside to say I was the funniest guest they had ever had on the show so far. He laughed through all of our scenes, but they knew how to keep him out of the shot so he didn't spoil the take. Julia was sweet but slightly guarded, I knew she liked me when she started asking me some questions about who, what, and where and she introduced her husband and kids. Michael Richards was a very fragile, sweet, but borderline kind of a guy. He would try to talk to Jerry and Jerry treated him gently and with brotherly affection. Jason Alexander was so threatened by my performance or compelled to try to sabotage me, that he idiotically comes up to me during a rehearsal break to say this: No one here will say anything to you Charles, they just don't do that, so I feel like someone has to tell you this: you have to keep it fresh. You know what I mean, it has to be fresh. Otherwise you won't know and no one here will tell you. You understand? (spoken in a directorial, acting tips from the stars, bullshit fashion) I looked at him for a long beat, I was seething at his arrogance and his unsophisticated ignorance at assuming it wasn't dangerous to fuck with me. "I understand Jason." He walked away and never spoke to me again, and he struggled with his part a little, but was very funny when we shot. Jerry won't discuss Jason in a way that says everything. What's the point? This character is Larry David's contribution to the show. But in truth, Jason is a helluva lot funnier than Larry David, but he behaves like an asshole. Can't change. He is the unmentionable element in a show filled with hilarious bravura. We shot the mohel's first scene in one take. The fight scene in one take. One pick-up. Four days work. Two and half days rehearsal. Half a day for scenes in the car. Taped show without an audience. Taped show with an audience. I didn't see every episode of Seinfeld, but I loved Stiller and the actress who played Jason's mom. I also loved Jerry's parents. My favorite show was the Miami visit with Sandy Baron who was hilarious as the friend who gave Jerry the astronaut pen because he admired it so, then hated Jerry for actually taking it and keeping it. Perfection

CL, later: Here is the snippet of conversation between my mentor Robert Brustein and me while watching this episode at a party my wife and I had for students and faculty in Cambridge: all the kids are hysterically laughing and I turn to see Bob watching over my shoulder laughing and I said: You see Bob, that's television sitcom, not so awful. Bob: THAT was NOT situation comedy. Meaning I had taken it to another plane of existence. That is what I did eight shows a week for years,five television series, twenty odd movies,off Broadway, Broadway, all over the world on stage, two season's on Hill Street, Seinfeld, and a few hundred others that you wouldn't know it's me. I had a blast, and worked with the greatest. I was not a day at the beach,but I always gave it all. I grew up in Hollywood and knew all about real power and money and show biz, but I didn't aspire to be rich and famous, I went for the laughs.

JK, later: This is all very good, Charles. Thank you. I'd like to think you understood my phrasing of "bit" ... it was a comedy bit, common vernacular. In no way was my use to mean you're a bit actor. If I offended, I apologize. Last thing I want to do here. So if this conversation is still on track ...

Skull & Bones? Would love to hear about any stories a Bonesman is allowed to reveal. If you can't I understand. The Wikipedia page (here) lists prominent members by decade, and you're one of 3 from the '70s.

7. The spastic twitch after you berate Elaine for putting the glass near the edge of the table caps a brilliant piece of comedy and it might be the funniest part of the scene.

8. "This is not a baggy-pants farce!" is another great line in the monologue and almost gets drowned out by the audience. What is your favorite line from that scene and why?

9. Found this on the Web: "Totie Fields had a joke about a Mohel who shook, but I don't remember the lines. I would consider her Catskills and not Vaudeville. Buddy Hackett also has few jokes about Mohels that you might be able to track down. I should clarify that the joke was specifically about one who had cerebral palsy, totally not PC today."

... who were influences for the personality behind the mohel. It just feels like there is a lot of old Jewish humor you infused the character with but I can't put my finger on it. Or, was your rendition of the mohel Charles Levin bringing Larry Charles' ideas to life?

10. How did mohels (or rabbis) respond to your performance?

11. What did you think might happen to your career after playing the mohel?

12. Of all the iconic guest characters on Seinfeld, where would you rank The Mohel?

JK, later: Jason is being a douchebag. "No comment" was his reply to my request on Twitter. Is this you? (attached this video)

CL: No. The scene is Woody in the control room of TV show quitting his job, while the show is in progress.

September 10, 2013

13, How often have you watched "The Bris" and 20 years later, what is your favorite part of your performance as the mohel?

14, Last question, and I'm using your words at LinkedIn (here) to preface it: "I have performed for thirty years on Broadway, Off Broadway, Regional Theatre at Yale and Harvard; I have made over two dozen feature films, and starred in six television series, countless episodes of new and older shows, and done numerous animated voice overs, commercials, and all that stuff that makes a resume look impressive. Am I any good? Was I well known? Does anybody remember me? These are questions which can't be answered without causing mental illness. I am a professional actor. I don't need to work for money or fame or to stay sharp. I am the same yesterday and today. Tomorrow I could have a bad day, but that's what actors do. They make excuses. I spent over three decades performing throughout the world and I've met some great people and some horrid people. I remember them all."

JK: How would Charles Levin's career be different had his once-in-a-generation performance as the mohel spawned his own all-time TV show like I Love Lucy or Seinfeld? Why is his 30-year resume more fulfilling than the possibility of everlasting fame? On the flip side, is everlasting fame something you desired as a 25-year-old actor?

CL: I have seen the episode about three times, when someone contacted me to reference it. I make me laugh, and that's the best feeling. I don't think being a star on television performing the same character for years is a fulfilling life for any actor. It's a job. A movie star who is able to transform is a whole different thing. Making movies is dull, high pressures and bound to fail rather than succeed. Great acting is so rare. Comedic originality is even rarer. There are incredible performances captured on film, but to keep that standard is an impossibility. Fame is also dangerous. And scandal sells. Money is nobody's business. A lot of wealthy people go into show biz and can't be bought. Others become delusional if they go from poor to rich and won't shut up, as if money confers intelligence, authority and respect. It doesn't. Once a moron, always a moron. If you want to perform in a great show, with script, cast, and director all excellent you can wait until you are dead before it happens. when you grow old, you are a reminder of approaching death- and no one wants to see you if you are not the vibrant youthful actor that once made them laugh. Rare is the aging actor who is beloved his whole life long.

September 15, 2013

JK: Of all the guest characters you have seen -- Soup Nazi, Joe Davola, etc etc etc, who is your favorite and why? ... I need your full attention until this goes live. It's live on Tumblr but that is where I'm building the story before I post it elsewhere. I'm sure I'm becoming a pain in the tuchus but it's also why I started asking questions weeks ago and gave myself enough leeway till October 14 to ask more.

September 16, 2013

CL: Joey, I didn't watch all of Seinfeld. I saw some episodes and I told you that Sandy Barron made me hysterical as the owner of the astronaut pen. I didn't laugh at the soup nazi, I thought it was poorly done and the reactions of Jason and Jerry were over the top to an actor who couldn't quite pull off the Nazi fury. I loved the quartet of actors who played the parents of Jason and Jerry, they were perfection and Stiller was truly hilarious. The guest stars sort of went by in a daze. I made myself laugh as the mohel, so I'll go with Jerry when he called me the funniest guest star ever. I laughed at Jason, Julia, and Richards at various times, when they went for the farcical and nailed it. Jerry was adorable and the perfect straight man. His standup has only gotten more and more funny as the years go by. His last special killed me. Bert Lahr was the first to ever make me laugh as the cowardly lion, Judy Holiday was my favorite on Broadway in Bells are Ringing, Noises Off had me in stitches as a Broadway show from beginning to end and I got to work with Michael Blakemore and it was heaven. Lots of actors are funny, but few are truly hilarious. It takes a confluence of writing, directing, and actor/tress to make a classic performance that is funny forever. Seinfeld had a gift of hilarity more often than most. That is the gift of Jerry Seinfeld. He knows what makes him laugh, because you literally watch him laugh in the middle of a scene.

September 30, 2013, Gmail chat

Charles: Where can find our Q&A. And Hello.

JK: Charles, Hello! I'm going to finish it within a week and post it and promote it. October 14 is the actual 20-year anniversary of the episode. I get why Jason won't answer but I can't get Julia to respond. What the hell is wrong with people?

Charles: You are a nice guy. You made me remember what fun and how much money I make from that one little guest star.

JK: All I want is for those fucktards to talk about your performance. How fucking difficult is that?

JK: What didn't I ask you about the mohel? I tried to be 360 degrees about it but sometimes you focus on so many things that you leave one thing out.

Charles: It is very difficult. Jerry is unreachable as is Julia, Michael is mentally ill, and Jason, well he is an asshole masquerading as a fuckwad.

JK: Thing is, Charles, is that it's NOT hard. Twitter. Facebook, etc etc. Julia tweets quite a bit. She has seen my tweets. Common fucking courtesy. Obviously, I want Jerry. I don't care how many billions of dollars he has. It's common fucking courtesy.

Charles: You didn't ask me if I thought it was anti-semitic, or if I was making fun of many Jewish men in my life. The answer is no. It was as loving and as crazy as I could be without schtick. That
That was what I got from larry charles. He adored this guy.

JK: See, that's the one thing I'd never consider -- anti-semitic. I'm a Jew. You portrayed Jew to a T. Obviously you went above and beyond, but that's showbiz, kid.

Charles: Someone on Youtube thought I was imitating Rodney Dangerfield. Rodney was playing a schmo, funny but caricature. I always shoot my cuffs when I am trying to calm down, that isn't Intellectual Property of Rodney.

JK: The bris scene is as good as anything that's ever been on TV. I'm not saying that to butter you up. I'm saying that because I've watched a lot of TV. It's as real as anything that's ever been real.

JK: There's a thing you did in that scene, after your first breathy monologue "aww, nevermind" and you flip your left hand out. The mannerism looked and sounded a bit like Andrew Dice Clay.

Charles: Listen, I have watched every performance I ever gave. The best stuff in TV and Movies was Eddie Gregg on Hill Street Blues, a gay hustler, and the Mohel, and the original pilot of Golden Girls, which was edited to remove my performance as the Gay Butler. You would have died. Bea Arthur couldn't keep a straight face.

JK: I've never seen Eddie Gregg. I'll check YouTube again. TV apparently wasn't quite ready for a gay butler, although Meshach Taylor (who played the cop in that pilot) made his mark as the gay fella amongst 4 women.

Charles: Every motion picture director who hired me, hired me again. I don't consider admiration or enjoyment as buttering up. I tell everyone I like that I like them, actors and actresses. They need to hear it. Sometimes they never hear anything.

JK: Here's writer's honesty: I like to hear that too. I never hear that. I don't write for the audience but when I write I'd like to think someone enjoyed it. What I find is that no one does. That being said, don't compliment the Q&A if you don't like it. I'd rather hear nothing, or a valid complaint, than faux admiration. ... Actually I lied. one person liked the 10-part thing i just wrote -- but I assume it's only because I put her in the story (here

Charles: There was a conspiracy of Joel Thurm, s&m gay head of NBC casting, Jay Sandrich the homophobic director, and Eisenberg at Disney who is a schmuck and fired Walt's Brother who built Disney with Walt, his name is Roy. Rock Hudson died of AIDS, Reagan laughed at AIDS and wouldn't spend a dime to fund it, and I was cut. Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC was a close friend of my brother Rob at Yale, I met him there when I was a sophomore and he was a big fan especially after Hill Street Blues. He wanted me to have a great series with Golden Girl by bringing the Eddie Gregg character to TV permanently. He was pressured to drop me.

Charles and I start to talk about his godfather -- Chicago union lawyer Sidney Korshak -- and a young Barack Obama and organized crime and Skull & Bones and Meryl Streep ... so put all THAT in a blender and see what you get. Many insights were shortened or redacted.

Charles: Skull and Bones is simply a huge old mansion, built back in the 1800's as a debating club of rich goyim. It became a secret society, why I couldn't tell you. It is twelve men and now twelve men and women (my club tapped women for the first time and they shut it down, because they didn't want females, they lost in court big time.) Thy mythology is based on (redacted at Charles' request). Thursday and Sunday dinners are wonderful and followed by singing old songs. Soccer is played in the dining hall, that gives you an idea how big this fucker is. We tell each other our life stories, and the collected experiences with the opposite or same sex. It is delightfully tenderhearted, funny, and touching. Huge library. Huge card room. Bedrooms upstairs and down to stay the night if you are studying or visiting. It is the fifth wealthiest corporation in Connecticut and owns (redacted at Charles' request) where families go for vacation. Nothing else except the members are people whom you might never have befriended if not for Bones.

JK: Meryl. She's a cutie pie.

Charles: She'd surprise the hell out of you. No ego at all. Funny and sweet, but always watching. She was a freshman at Vassar when ... (another great story that Charles asked to be redacted here).

Charles: Gotta go Joey, everything since Bones, is off the record, but I know you would love this story, it's fascinating.

JK: I can't tell that Meryl story? Chuck, c'mon, you're circumcising my bit here!

And for 3 of the funniest minutes in TV history, the mohel ...

Followed by another all-time 30 seconds:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: Pure Energy

Ze'eva Berman sings in the Graffiti Vault
at Fiddlehead at Four Corners (Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- "There was good energy tonight," is what Fiddlehead at Four Corners owner Joel Lentzner said after the night of fun was in the refrigerator, the door was closed, the light was out and the Jell-O was jiggling.

"First Friday, College Night!" in downtown Bennington, meaning businesses agreed to stay open later than usual while students from Bennington College volunteered to play music and recite poetry on stages up and down Main Street. Rain threatened to drown the festivities so Fiddlehead offered to let the college kids perform inside if the sky opened up.

Rain stayed away but ominous was the sky, so just to be safe Bennington students performed inside, to the delight of counter boy and the many Fiddlehead customers.

One of them devastated counter boy with a haunting, gorgeous rendition of "Falling Slowly" from the movie "Once" -- just killed it. Another satirized New Jersey in a poem while a cutie mesmerized several classmates with her ukelele-driven song paying homage to Salinger. Another guitar player yelped. Freakishly. Often. 

What's cool is that all of these students shared the space with kids making pottery on the south mezzanine -- part of Fiddlehead's fall art classes.

So what you had was old students and their performance art, and young students and their functional art, and the handmade wares of studio artists across North America that Fiddlehead has filled its space with.

For a moment, circa 7:30, 18-year-old uke plinkers downstairs, 8-year-old claymakers upstairs, customers galore roaming in and out of the action, Fiddlehead at Four Corners fulfilled the hopes and dreams owners Joel and Nina Lentzner had when they moved into the old marble bank turned art gallery. This is the Fiddlehead they envisioned in 2000.

Which explains "There was good energy tonight."

All of Bennington's kids brought the entertainment goods but 3 of them left a lasting mark: senior Ze'eva Berman with her performance of "Falling Slowly"; freshman Jacquelyn Alpine with her song "Franny and Zooey" because she loves Salinger; and freshman Reily Gordon with his strumming and yelping, which kinda-sorta scared the bejesus out of the claymakers.

Here are some photos of the Bennington College performers, with videos of Ze'eva Berman, Jacquelyn Alpine and Sarah Goone, who read poetry and played her banjo. Which means that in the space of an hour, performers picked acoustics, ukes and banjos.

Luckily, no one picked their nose. (That we know of, anyway.)

Ze'eva Berman plays for several classmates

Talia Stocchetti ('14) of East Greenbush, New York

Tenara Calem ('16) of Columbus, Ohio, reading poetry

Tenara drew a big crowd
Hannah Lipper ('15) of North Plainfield, New Jersey
read several poems

Jacquelyn Alpine ('17)
of Sturbridge, Mass

Sarah Goone ('16) of Chicago
reading poetry

The Yelper!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ashley Kennison: Miss Vermont Teen USA! (at least she hopes to wear the crown but she needs your help)

Ashley Kennison of Bennington
in the Graffiti Vault at Fiddlehead at Four Corners
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Ashley Kennison is young and pretty and, like most teenagers, bubbles with life. Outward appearances can be deceiving.

The Bennington 17-year-old has spent several years trying to repair her self-esteem because of bullying, which is why, if you click on the picture above, you can read the words within the peace sign. She drew it with chalk a few weeks ago in the Graffiti Vault at Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery in downtown Bennington.

The top leg says STOP. The left leg says THE. The right leg says BULLYING.

Ashley hopes to speak out against bullying at the Miss Vermont Teen USA pageant -- if she can raise the rest of the $550 she needs to become a contestant. She has 10 more days.

After donating $20 to her cause, Fiddlehead's manager asked Ashley to write a bio so he could promote it to other Bennington's businesses that might want to contribute, too.

This is Ashley Kennison:

~I love editing & taking photographs. Mainly of: my family, myself, the wilderness & my pets.

~I love playing Black Ops. The only video game that interest me!

~I love drawing & making different styles of lettering.

~I most enjoy spending time with my family.

~I have 2 black cats, 2 guinea pigs; 1 is black & white, the other is light brown, 2 turtles; The larger one is a Red Ear Slider, the baby one is a Painter, 2 geckos; 1 is a blizzard gecko, the other is a leopard gecko, & 1 female (red) beta fish.

~I am most obsessed with cleaning & organizing. My opinion is; life is so much less stressful if you know where everything is!

~My kind of fun vacation is going to the beach with my family... Swimming, tanning, playing in the sand, walking through the shallow water & exploring the boardwalk.

~My career ambition is to counsel/educate people with emotional disorders. Specializing in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

~Things I usually do on my free time are: Clean, hang out with my family, browse through Facebook, go outside, walk or draw.

~One thing I believe needs to stop is all the bullying & harassing that goes on in this would. I just really would like to know why people do it. Why make someone feel so horrible about themselves to the point where they take their own life? Or do something harmful to their body? It disgust me!

These businesses and individuals donated to Ashley's cause: Gamer's Grotto, Prouty's Service Station, Prouty's Chain Saw, Razatat, Fiddlehead at Four Corners, Gardner's Citgo, Panache, LaFlammes Furniture, E.W. Webb, Tropical Raze, C.R.J., Apollo Fuel, Tom Prouty, Matt and Bill from C.R.J. and Wave.

To contribute, go to Ashley's Facebook page here.

Joey Kulkin photo