1980: “I DID IT MY WAY”

I was sitting at home in Edmond’s, Washington, when the phone started ringing. At first I thought the ringing was in my ear; who would be calling me at 11:00 in the morning? Everybody I knew would have just gotten to bed after a night of comedy and debauchery. Thinking it might be a bill collector working the day shift, I changed my voice and growled, “wuddayawant?”

Ted Files of the Scott Dean agency in Reno, Nevada answered, “Is that you Jay? -You sound funny.”

“Sorry Ted,” I answered,  ”I just swallowed some hope and it went down the wrong pipe.”

He ignored my remark, “I have some great news for you!” (that is agent speak for a low paying or free gig) “There’s a showcase, by invitation only, at ‘The Park’ Tahoe Casino.” Ted readied his pitch, “If you are open next week this is a big chance to be seen by the people who count!”  (FYI: The Park Tahoe later became ‘Caesars’ Tahoe.)

While I was packing, I told him I could get another comic to cover my shows. (this is comic talk for I am not booked)

Leaving a week early so I wouldn’t miss my flight, I drove to SeaTac airport and parked my car. When I arrived in Reno I called Ted to let him know I was in town. He told me he would meet me in the showroom at 7:30 and informed me that I had an 8:00pm slot. I was there by 4:00 waiting outside the door. Around about 6:30, the Maitre’d wearing a beautiful tuxedo and a big smile, introduced himself to me as Vince DeMouer.

Side Note: Before the end of that night, Mr. Vince DeMouer and me were like family.

- It was almost Almost 8:00pm and Ted wasn’t there! A moment later, the stage director approached and asked me if my Representative was present. I looked around; still no sign of Ted. “Well we are running a little late so we’ve moved you to nine o’clock.” The stage director walked away and I took a deep breath.

One by one, the other acts performed – tap dancers, singers, munitions exploding – you name it! By the end of the night, I was given a time of 4:00am; there were few people left in the audience and Ted had still not arrived. I peaked through the curtain and saw a sparse group of people who looked like they might be homeless and some guys way in the back at a dark table. Vince, hardly knowing me, called his wife and rounded up about 15 people to sit down front. God bless him! I was introduced and did my five hours…

- OKAY, half an hour. I walked off stage and a guy walked up to me and said in a voice like The God Father, “the boss wants to see you.” All I could think of was, did I say something wrong? Following him across the almost-empty showroom seemed like walking the green mile. We approached the table in the back of the room and he said to a well-dressed man, “Here, this is the kid.” The gentleman turned around. I just about pee’d all over myself. “Tough spot,” he said, “but, you pulled it off, kid.”

I tried to act as cool as possible but I could barely masque my excitement. “Thank you Mr Frank Sinatra!” In awe, I turned around and walked into a post. I had the presence of mind to act like it was a joke, and I staggered off with blood running down my shirt. As I was leaving, Vince saw me and asked, “what happened to YOU?”

I looked at Vince and deadpan I said, “Frank likes physical comedy and I will do anything for a laugh.”

I drove back to the Reno Airport and caught a 8:45am flight home. Looking back, I can’t help but think, “I did it my way.”

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So much to give thanks for

Over the past 51 years I have been blessed with meeting and becoming friends with more people then I deserve. It would never have happened if I not for my Mother. She was a wonderful women who taught me to dream and gave me the strength to do it, through her example. She and my Uncle as a dance team, worked the Pantages and Orpheun Vaudeville circuit. While never stars, she taught me it made no difference as long as you are honest to your self. She panned for gold in Alaska, was one of the first women bus drivers in the days women were supposed to stay home. Because of this I spent most of my young years up to High school in boarding schools and orphanage’s in the summer. But my time with her was quality time. As a single Mother. it was never easy for her but I never knew her to be negative She taught me there is nothing worse in life then to have to ask your self,”I wonder if I could have done it if I tried”. Things never meant anything to her, so she died without many things, she worried that she had failed us. I wish I could have told her how much she gave me. Through every bad time in life I never even thought of giving up..She gave me that! I have always seen others in need, She gave me that! Loyalty and keeping your word is more important then success, she gave me that! Every good quality that I see in others and try to emulate, She gave me that!
My wife has said.”It is terrible that you were in boarding schools and orphanages” I say,”do you realize how hard, how much strength it took for her to do that”. Mom I miss you this holiday season. Thank you for the best gift anyone can receive, My family and all the people I love. The young comics I have worked with and came to think of as my comedy kids, The wonderful people I have met. Are all because of you! I wish you could have lived long enough to see FB and how you could keep up with even more people.. Mom, Thank you for more then you ever knew you gave me….Happy Holidays to all of you!! I love all of you and can’t find the words to thank you, for all you have given me!!!!

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Colony Club and the 60′s

Before Gene and I formed our team; I was working as a single act in the Colony Club floor shows. In the two-plus-years off and on at the Colony club under the Claremont hotel in Downtown Seattle, I had become good friends with a fellow performer by the name of Taps Harris. I will tell you more about my friend and soon to be teacher at the bottom of my rambling blog….

Before I met Taps I had been the first and only white comic to work The Early Bird, an all black club on the hill. It took a while before I noticed I was the only white guy in the club. It wasn’t that I had balls; I didn’t even realize I was the only honky in the place. I ended up working there because I had met the singing group Leroy and the Emeralds at the Magic Inn downtown. They had a lot of experience and quickly became my hero’s. Leroy would belt out a song and fly off the stage, doing the splits while sliding across the dance floor, without ever missing a note. Now that I think about it, it was a damn high note.

These guys had groupies – and they let me talk to them! They went to the Early Bird club after their gig at the Magic Inn ended.  Since they couldn’t stop me from following them around, I came in handy anyway because I ran errands for them.They some how talked the management into booking me to open for them. It could be, they figured, the only way to get rid of me was if somebody killed me or scared me to death. But I was so dumb my act killed. In fact they changed my name on the marque to “the snowball”.

I cringe when I think about some of the lines I did. They worked most likely because I was too Innocent to know better. “would somebody please smile so I can tell if there is a audience” …”it was really nice of Leroy to buy me and bring me up north”. I had never killed like that before. The first night Leroy and the guys were back stage laughing like crazy, but when they noticed the audience was too, you could have driven a Mack truck in their mouths. I still didn’t get it until years later. I will always owe Leroy big time! Where-ever he is now, may God bless him!

As I mentioned before after leaving the Early Bird club I went back to the Colony Club.  When I meet Taps I had no idea or even thought about how old he was. After a few experiences I gave it some thought and he couldn’t of been very young.  He had worked the black club circuit for years in his younger days including the famous Cotton Club. He just wouldn’t say what years. Before and after each show he would soak his legs. He had corns and varicose veins the size of which would not be seen again until the Alaska pipeline. But the most impressive quality he had was a magnetic draw from young girls. I first became aware of this when I had a room next to his. The noise that came out of the walls all night was terrifying. Bang bang- ”ohhhh ya, like that baby!” -thump thump. Then a high pitched voice bringing to mind the pillaging of a Roman village. At that point I began to wonder if virginity was just a concept and never a fact. All damned night- thump thump- ”ohhh my, my”- and the sound not unlike a lioness in heat.

Needless to say at my tender years, any confidence I may have had in my own sexuality went flying out the window. I never recovered from the standard that Taps set that night. I take some solice in knowing, whatever happened to Taps, there are surely a number of young cubs throughout the country, with his raspy voice and penchant for entertaining. Whatever Taps’ legacy, or the number of children he probably fathered, he certainly set the standard, on and off the stage, for what quality entertainment was.

Much more on Taps and the many wonderful acts I was blessed to learn from later…

 

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1961 doing it with timing…

~ Fooling most of the people most of the time…

If I am not at the ‘Supper Club’ working, I am there trying to sweet-talk them into letting me do a guest set. My night sometimes consisted of carrying another comics props on stage or picking up an occasional g-string, giving me a chance to get a laugh by tripping, or dropping the other comics stuff. Most of the other acts didn’t have an appreciation for how good I was on my feet. Mike Foster was the exception. He had fun with my improvisation and topped me every-time. He quickly took me under his wing and brought me alone on gigs; letting me open for him all over the Northwest. Mike was great; he sang…he danced… did it all. What Mike did best, however, were the women that passed through the club… with the exception of any girls with boyfriends/husbands named Sal or Big Louie… Mike wasn’t stupid.

It was about this time that I broke up with my first love, a blond named Leslie. Heart broken; I moped around for weeks before picking myself up and going to work at the Con’-Tiki Club in Stateline, Idaho. After one show, I started telling Ed Shields, the owner, how much Mike had done for me. Out-of-nowhere, I started crying into my empty glass about how Leslie had left me heart-broken. In a noble but misguided attempt to end my misery, Ed let it spill,  ”yeah… breaking up with your first love hurts and yes, Mike is a great guy… I mean not only helping you grow as a comic but taking the pressure off you and laying the pressure on your girl-friend… He’s been giving you tips and giving Leslie the rest!”

I was shocked; Mike had “coaching” my girlfriend as well! That’s what I call stand up. Just to show how driven a comic can be… I think I got the better deal!

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1960: Young and Dumb…

JWW Classic Headshot

Classic

Starting out on warm night in July, 1960; I was full of confidence and I had no idea how long the road ahead would be. I finally got my first paid gig because I had the balls to ask Billy Tipton, “How to do you become a comic?” I had been parking Billy’s car six nights a week at Paulsen’s parking lot for close to a year and he was a star to me. Not only was he the Billy Tipton of ‘The Billie Tipton Trio’ - he was also a booking agent at the Dave Sobel Agency. I told Billie I turned eighteen on the 17th; he told me to come down to the club and he’d give me a shot. I put on fresh suit and tie and drove to the club. I stood up in the car for the drive so I wouldn’t wrinkle my only suit. Nobody had told me I was supposed to have an act prepared so I just talked about whatever popped into my head. He had me back every night for two weeks. Eventually, I learned you were supposed to get more than just blank stares from the audience. I honed my act.

Later when I asked Billy why he kept helping me after that first night, he said, “…because you didn’t sweat, kid.” I explained,  ”…I didn’t know they were supposed to laugh… I though they were really polite.” He started to send me out to do gigs at the Stateline as an emcee for the floor shows. These were variety shows, by that I mean: tall, short, thin, chubby, small and big breasted women, taking off the very tiny clothing they had walked on stage with and me- one dumb young kid who thought he was in heaven. Three shows a night for five dollars; I was rich. I also became very good at blocking and ducking. For some reason the kids, cowboy’s and miners never seemed as happy to see me as the guys in the band were. The guys in the band thought I was hilarious. They started laughing their asses off the minute I grabbed the mic and started my faint to the right, then left, while introducing “the blazing flower of the Nile”. Each night would end with me floating back to earth, as I would drive each of the girls home, whispering affectionate phrases like, “I’ll be back tomorrow to pick you up at 7:30.”

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Dave's in Milton, WA

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I finally figured out how to embed these videos!

 

Videos

Special thanks to William Jones and examiner.com… what a nice article!

Jay Wendell Walker: The Classic Comic

  • April 7th, 2011 3:07 pm PT

With fifty years of show-business experience, the life and career of Jay Wendell Walker is a rich story filled with the stuff of which authors and comedians alike yearn to create. The son of a Vaudevillian mother and engineering father, Walker began his career in Spokane and has presented his humor to audiences all over the world: From Seattle to Japan.

When asked of his career’s beginnings, Walker reminisces of his childhood, performing little bits while still attending school, where he spent two years bestowing his antics before his Vice Principal.

“I spent two years in the Vice Principal’s office,” he remembers with a smile. “The secretary had no sense of humor. But I think that would be where this whole thing started.”

On  July 17th, 1960, at the age of eighteen, while working in a dead-end parking job, Walker came into contact with Vick’s; a Spokane club now replaced by the U.S. bank; there he performed his first paid gig in a Spokane showcase. He earned five dollars for five minutes. Shortly after this, he quit his job and became a performer.

In his early days, Walker performed a small comedy team with partner Gene Rogoway in Seattle, Washington. Together, they set out to on a long run, which included opening for Ray Charles.

“We bombed horribly the first night,” Walker recalls. “The venue was going to fire us, but Ray kept us because he liked how much heart we put into the material.”

Now, Jay has a great deal of stories to tell. From a childhood job selling coins in Mexico to witnessing murder while working in the now-departed Bottle Club; working with such great names as Robin Williams and Billy Crystal to his first headlining gig at the Colony Club in Seattle, where an unfortunate drug overdose caused the exotic dancer the audience came to see pushed Walker to perform his first full set.  From performing alongside B.B. King to winning to 2006 San Francisco Comedy Competition to appearing on America’s Got Talent in the show’s first year to performing overseas for officers and enlisted troops to working under contract with MGM for one and one-half hour shows in Reno and Vegas and working for the great Don Hamilton, Walker has seen it all and done it all.

When asked how comedy has changed over the years, Walker shrugs his shoulders,

“Not much has changed,” he says. “Every generation has the same frustrations, just with different products and politicians.”

“People say,” he continues, “that this economy has made comedy a difficult business. As if Vietnam never happened. That wasn’t exactly a boom period either. But comics stuck with it because people have always, and will always need to laugh.”

One thing, however, he remarks has changed. In his day, before comedy clubs, comics performed everywhere: bar mitzvahs, stag parties, college campuses, jazz clubs and any other place one could find an audience.

“You had to learn to gauge the audience,” he says. “You know, work clean at a bar mitzvah, tell dirty jokes at the stag party and learn to riff at all the places in between.”

The art of stand-up comedy itself, Walker considers a form of verbal jazz. It is good health, healing and love. It is like music: the best way to express an inner feeling and gain an emotional response by filling others with joy.

“It’s the difference between the healthy, positive man,” he says, “and the negative man. Healthy, positive people live longer lives and get more out of the world.”

When asked what advice he may have for young comedians, Walker smiles and says,

“You have to be able to gauge the audience. Your job is to entertain. It’s not about you; it’s about them [the audience.]”

One can view the work of Jay Wendell Walker by clicking the video link above. Or, those in the area of Spokane can witness him live at Deer Park’s Eagles Lodge on April 15th, and at Uncle D’s Comedy Club in Spokane on the weekend of April 28th and 29th. Off-the-record, one can be assured that these shows will be fantastic as Walker delivers his unique, flashing wit and charm and fulfills his duty of doing what he does best: Making people laugh.

 

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