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November 13, 1987 - Image 70

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-11-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Continued from preceding page

are laughing at one of my old
Myron Cohen jokes, I know
that there is still a place for
Jewish humor."
Zager is concerned,
however, about the mixing of
ethnic humor. If there's one
thing I hate it's black people
doing Jewish jokes, Puerto
Ricans doing black jokes and
Jews doing Polish jokes. Mak-
ing fun of yourself is a big
part of humor. Making fun of
others is being a racist."
Three years ago, an ad in
a writer's guide caught
Zager's attention. Joan
Rivers was looking for
material. "I'd never tried joke
writing," she recalls, "but I
figured 'How hard can it
be?' "
Four dozen legal forms and
several months later, Zager
submitted material that
would fit in with Joan's act. I
sent her one-liners, and she
bought the ones she wanted.
She actually bought them! I
was shocked!"
Soon Zager realized that
Joan Rivers was making a
fortune — with Zager's lines.
"I learned that being a good
comedian has nothing to do
with writing your own jokes.
Basically, I still think of
myself as a writer and selling
one-liners wasn't what I
wanted. I'm a writer who had
nowhere to put her material,
so I stood up on the stage and
did it."
The stage at Mark Ridley's
Comedy Castle on Woodward
in Berkley is where Zager,
nearly 40, first set foot under
the spotlights. It took me a
long time before I got my
nerve up to call there. Nobody
ever believed I'd do it."
Zager's first performance was
on an open-mike (amateur)
night. "I was too stupid to
even be afraid. I had sat in
people's family rooms telling
stories, and we would laugh.
I figured, how could this be
different?
"I went up, and the first
thing that hit me was 50,000
bolts of electricity in my con-
tact lenses. You couldn't see a
thing. Instant blindness! And
I'm babbling, "Where did all
the people go?' After about
five minutes I started doing
some material. I can't even
rememember what I did. I
was up there for ten minutes,
maybe, but it seemed like ten
years.
"When I finished Michael
was standing at the door with
my coat. It was like 'Come on,
Lucy, we're out of show biz.' "
And Zager might have put an
end to her entertainment
career right then and there
had it not been for a young
man in the parking lot. "He
told me that he'd really liked
me because I reminded him of

Norma Zager does her stand-up routine at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle
in Berkley.

his mother. "Well, I looked at
my husband and said 'If he
really liked me, maybe there
will be someone else who
will.' So I took all the jokes
Joan Rivers rejected, and I
memorized them all week,
and I called in again. This
time I stood up there, and I
had an act."
Today Zager is a regular
emcee at the Castle and also
performs for private and
group parties. Two weeks ago
she opened for Jackie Vernon
at the Holly Hotel. Later this
month she will be at the
Premier Center with the
Lettermen.
"Instant relating" is what
good comedy is all about, ac-
cording to Zager. Her act has
three themes. "I talk about
my sister-in-law. I call her
`The Piggy,' and everybody
relates to her. Nothing kosher
about her. I talk about myself
— the problems of weight and
exercise. Then I talk about
my husband and my mar-
riage. Everyone is always try-
ing to figure out why I don't
get heckled. All comics get
hecklers. I think the Jewish
mother image works for me."
It's no challenge for Zager
to find new material. "The
only think I find hard at my
age is remembering it."
Audiences are the same
everywhere, she has
discovered. "People have the
same problems no matter
what part of the country they
live in. At first my great fear
was that I could only appeal
to old Jews. Today I'm very
proud that I can play to a
group of 17-year-olds and not
have to change a word of my
act.
"I don't work dirty, and I
don't believe in working dir-
ty. Youth will take the easy
way out and grab at the easy

laugh. That's because a com-
ic at 24 doesn't have too much
to talk about yet."
Zager contends that the
time is right for female com-
edians. "I can do things that
the guys can't do because I'm
a middle-aged, heavy Jewish
woman, and people feel com-
fortable with me. Totie Fields
had to be an incredibly
talented performer to get
where she got in her day." To-
day Karen Haber and Elayne
Boosler are two of Zager's
favorite new comediennes.
Zager still likes to think of
herself first and foremost as
a cookie-baking mom. "Sure,
I'd like to be seen nationally.
I'd like to do a TV special. I'd
like to play Las Vegas and
Atlantic City. I love what I do,
but I have my priorities: my
husband and my children.
"I want my kids to be
brought up with Midwestern
values. People bad-mouth
Detroit, but it's a wonderful
place to learn, and it affords
you the luxury of anonymity.
You can live a normal life."
She feels that if you have
talent the world will beat a
path to your door, even if that
door, as hers, is in West
Bloomfield.
To make up for not having
time to do a lot of volunteer
work in the community,
Zager often does benefit per-
formances. "I realize that I
have been very, very lucky. I
have a wonderful club to work
in, and I'm grateful. Out of
deference to Jack Benny,
perhaps, I began my career at
39. Look how well things have
gone for me in such a short
time."
Sadly, some people are born
without a sense of humor,
Zager believes. "And they are
some of the funniest people I
know." ❑

FRIDAY, NOV. 13, 1987

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