The Rich and the Funny


July 03, 1991|By STAN SINBERG

New York -- F. Scott Fitzgerald was sitting on my sofa the other night, as he sometimes does, watching ''Dynasty'' reruns when suddenly he murmured, ''The rich are different than you or I.''

Normally when he says this, I let it go by, but this time, watching Alexis throw a bottle of scotch at Blake's head, I couldn't.

''You're living in the past, Scotty,'' I said. ''The rich used to be different, but not any more. Why, we have two couples in this building alone who throw bottles at each other's heads. 'Dynasty' showed that the rich have the same problems as we do.''

A dark cloud suddenly engulfed Scott. ''Perhaps you are right.''

We sat in uncomfortable silence, watching professional wrestling, MTV and who knows what else, until David Letterman came on and Eddie Murphy was his guest. Eddie Murphy said, ''Hi, y'all,'' and everybody laughed. Suddenly Fitzgerald perked up.

''The funny,'' he said.

''What?'' I asked.

''It's not the rich,'' he said. ''It's the funny. The funny are different than you or I.''

Poor Scotty, I thought. He's really clutching at straws. Eddie Murphy was explaining how he did some movie which he knew was a stinker because they paid him a whole lot of money. The studio audience was hysterical.

''Look at that,'' Fitzgerald said. ''Murphy says 'Hi, y'all' and everybody laughs. When I say 'Hi, y'all' everyone thinks I'm an uneducated rube. And when I tell anyone how I wrote 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' just for the money, they think I'm a greedy pig. They certainly don't laugh hysterically.''

''You didn't write 'For Whom the Bell Tolls,' '' I said. ''Hemingway did.''

''Be that as it may.'' I could see that Scotty was already a thousand miles away.

Of course, you know the rest of the story. Fitzgerald chucked a promising writing career to become a stand-up comedian. For a couple of years he found himself in the Catskills, playing the Borscht Belt.

''I can't take it any more,'' he said to me one night, sitting on my sofa, sotted with bourbon. ''I say, 'Good morning' to these old ladies and they laugh till they're going to plotz. But then I come back here where no one knows me yet, and I say, 'Good morning' in my cheeriest voice, and I'm looked at as fit for the insane asylum.''

I had only seen Scotty this depressed once before: when he found out he was being laid off during the Jewish holidays. At that time he also used the word ''plotz.''

Finally, of course, Fitzgerald got his big break. In rapid succession he appeared on the Tonight Show, Letterman and ''Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous'' and became quite a star.

But nothing made him happier than the day several months later when he ran up to me with a copy of the Enquirer in hand. ''I've made it. look at this.''

On page 7 there was an item mentioning that Fitzgerald had been spotted at a discotheque on Halloween by a teen-age fan who asked, ''Why don't you wear a disguise?'' The item went on to say Scotty replied, ''With a face like mine, who needs one?''

I looked puzzled. ''It was a pretty mundane thing to say.''

''That shows you how much you know. They published it in the paper, didn't they? That means they thought it was witty.''

A man in his 20s grabbed Scotty's arm. ''Hey, Mr. Fitzgerald, I see you on TV all the time. You're too much.''

''Thank you,'' Scotty said in his most sober voice. The man laughed very hard and walked away.

''You see?'' he said to me. ''When you say 'Thank you' it's not funny. But when I say it, I being a member of the Comic Class, rTC it's the soul of wit. I, The Funny, am different than you.''

I had to laugh. ''It's pretty ridiculous, isn't it?''

Scotty glared at me. ''I wasn't trying to be funny.''

Stan Sinberg is a comedian and writer.

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