From the S&S archives: On the Town: Comedian Morey Amsterdam in Tokyo
I CAME TO JAPAN FOR THE TRANSISTOR SEASON," said comic Morey Amsterdam.
The 52-year-old funnyman, who is a regular on the award-winning Dick Van Dyke TV show, was ricocheting around his room at the Imperial Hotel, commenting on Tokyo traffic ("Every street — a drag race!") and showing off some of his possessions.
"I'm the only shnook in the world who would bring an American camera to Japan," sighed Morey. "And my wife, she brought her own tea bags! The tea they have here is too strong for her so she brought her own."
Amsterdam, who resembles a Bassett hound on pep pills, settled down in an easy chair and shattered the myth that he is a native-born New Yorker, a veteran of the famed Borsch Circuit where most of today's standup comics cut their "I" teeth.
"I played the Catskills, of course," said Morey. "Who didn't? But I was never considered a Borsch Circuit comic. I was born in San Francisco and I went to the University of California. I was only 14 when I started college.
"Was I wild? I was a midget when I was 14! How wild could I be? Besides, I dropped out after a year-and-a-half and went into show business ... I started out as a writer for Will Rogers."
Since that time the whimsical comedian, who once bought a parking lot in New York City in order to have a permanent spot for his car, has written for most of the top bananas around. But it's his own act, in which he uses a cello as a prop, that has won him the most recognition.
"I'm actually a musician," says Morey, "It's not easy to find a good cello player, so I worked a lot as a kid. ... And I've used the cello as a prop since the first day I started in show business."
TODAY, AMSTERDAM STAYS BUSIER THAN, WELL, A one-armed cello player. He does the Van Dyke show, makes night club appearances and is an executive with American International film company ("We don't make big pictures-we just make money").
Some of the movies that come from AI: "Beach Party" (in which Morey appears), "Muscle Beach Party" and Vincent Price ghoul-spoof flicks like "Comedy of Terrors." He's also slated to star in a Chicago production of "Room Service" this summer.
Prodded for a comment on the current trends in comedy, Morey was quick to answer.
"I don't like comedians who attack the audience, who pick on another person's infirmities in order to get laughs. And too much of today's comedy seems to revolve around `in' jokes.... The people are laughing but they don't really get the gags.
"It's kind of like progressive jazz. What we've got now, I guess, is `progressive humor.' I don't go to a show to get an education. I go to enjoy myself, to have a ball. I'm there to be entertained. ... So who needs all this message nonsense?"