THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Friday, February 22, 1985
After sampling other
spotlights, versatile Ron
Coden laughs with local
BY NORMA WEITZ ZAGER
_ Special to The Jewish News
is appearance on stage
prompts sudden silence in
any noisy ; overcrowded
lounge. He's also the rare
performer who can suc-
cessfully balance priorities without
losing himself in the interim —
equally at home with his talent and his
life as a dedicated family man.
Ron Coden is a Detroit original.
On stage, he is a polished per-
former, yet different than most con-
temporary entertainers. At times dur-
ing his show you feel transported back
through time, filled with the idealistic
nostaligia of the 1960s.
Coden's versatility as a performer
is unmistakable. Whether singing an
Irish drinking song, a folk favorite like
Blowin' in the Wind or doing a perfect
impression of Al Jolson, he is at home
in the spotlight and the audience feels
at home with him there. So much so
that Coden will often instruct a gentile
audience to sing a Yiddish song, sin-
galong style, the results bringing
down the house. .
He pokes fun at everyOne, includ-
ing himself and his Jewish heritage,
and each ethnic group shares equally
in his humorous barbs. No one is of-
fended — Ron Coden is there to
entertain, not offend and his impish,
mischievious manner endears him to
his audience immediately. His jokes
are at times risque but never cross the
boundaries of good taste.
"The kind of Jewish humor I do is
universal and I don't think there are
barriers to comedy, just good or bad
taste. My humor is done in a Jewish
style because that's my heritage, the •
way I talk and what I am," Coden ex-
"We make subtle changes in our
material, but people can come back to
us two years from now and still get the
same feeling. We started in folk music
and we've stayed within that vein. Al-
though we've branched out to show
and country tunes, we still come back
to the folk way of performing."
Coden sees folk music as one of the
best ways to establish a one-on-one re-
lationship with members of the audi-
ence, adding, "That kind of perform-
ance has always been part of my show
and probably always will."
Coden still retains many of the
fans he gained from his years of
entertaining at local folk clubs.
"Many people come up to me and
say, 'I saw you at the Raven or Retort'
and it's nice to know they've stayed
with us. Sometimes they'll say, 'I ha-
ven't seen you since the Raven' and
you wonder where they've been all
"Tastes seem to go in cycles. They
may see us two or three times and then
not come for awhile."
These days, Coden shares the
stage with sidekicks Steve Fava and
Ron Blight, whose talents shine indi-
vidually as well as complement the
man who gets top billing. Fava allows
Coden's insults to bounce off his dead-
pan manner with consummate skill,
wows the audience with his rendition
of Chantilly Lace and then returns to
his expressionless stance as the typical
ever mellow bass guitarist.
Blight's excellent voice lends it-
self beautifully to the strength and
folksy quality of the group as he opens
the show and sets the tone for the eve-
The trio performs regularly for
the Mountain Jack's chain and at
other metropolitan Detroit clubs.
According to Coden, they have a
"We don't practice together much
and they sort of take their lead from
me up there. We've been together so
long — Steve and I have been perform-
ing for 14 years and Ron joined us
eight years ago — they know me well
enough by now to follow my lead."
"I do very little contemporary
humor," Coden says, "because a week
later it isn't funny anymore. When we
tell a joke it's always the little guy
against society or someone getting hit
on the head with the hardships of daily
life. These things will always be funny
because if you can laugh at yourself
you've got it made."
One of the wilder Coden routines
is a take-off from the Wizard of Oz with
Ron playing all the characters and
adding his own humorous quips as the
audience follows the yellow brick road.
Coden has strong views about his
.purpose as an entertainer. "At the
Raven I sang protest songs because
that was what the people wanted to
hear. I believed in everything I sang
but after awhile it got to the point
where I didn't want to preach on stage
and use someone's Friday or Saturday
night to project my views on what the
world should be.
"I feel a big responsibility to my
audience. Many of them work hard all
week long and only have the weekend
for fun. So I do what I do best on stage,
strictly entertain people and get them
involved in the show."
Coden believes strongly in audi-
ence involvement and takes his cue
from their reactions.
"My show is not self-indulgent.
I'm audience oriented. If I have a good
crowd and can get them involved I'm a
much better entertainer.
"In many respects we learn
onstage and the show is never the
same. You never know exactly what
you're going to do in a lounge setting.
In concert, you can outline your act
closely because everyone is there just
to see you. In a lounge, you have many
different things going on. Instead of
fighting the audience for an hour or so
you try to meet them somewhere along
the road and get them working with
Once off-stage, Coden is very
much a family person and finds con-
tentment in his religion and helping
wherever he can.
"I'm a very traditional person and
find a lot of comfort in the traditions
and laws of Judaism," he says. "If
there's something I can do, I try, but I
can't do as many things as I'd like.
There was a time when I accepted ev-
erything I could if I even had five min-
utes free, but I found I was hurting my
drawing power. If I were performing
everywhere at every function people
would stop coming. But I do as much as
I can for any worthwhile organization.
"I perform for Focus Hope, which
is run by Father (William) Cunnin-
gham. I'm sort of their Jewish repre-
sentative. People come up to me after-
ward and say, 'thank you for donating
your time to something that isn't your
religion.' I think that does a lot of good.
"I feel a responsibility to my
people, but I try to be there for
everyone else as well."
"My wife Renee became Jewish
when we got married and she works
full time so she can't do as much as
she'd like. My son David, who is 11, is
learning his maftir now and we just
joined the Livonia Jewish Congrega-
tion. It's a small synagogue and I enjoy
that, so David will be bar mitzvahed
there. David and I discuss Jewish his-
tory together and I want him to have B.
good feeling about his religion."Ron
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