People still come up to me and say, "Jackie, I've been listening to "The Howard Stern Show" since WNBC. I still remember Tuesday afternoons and Stump The Comedians."
When Howard had first listened to my records, he had been impressed with how many jokes I knew. That was why he called me. He figured I would be a great person to have in the studio. Good laugh, good energy, and a huge body of stupid knowledge.
After a few weeks of me showing up on Tuesdays, he wanted something to do with me on the air. I told him that at my gigs I sometimes played a game where people gave me a subject, and if they "stumped me"...that is, if I couldn't tell a joke on that subject...I'd give them one of my comedy albums.
I had always wanted to be able to do that. I don't know exactly why. I just know that once I was watching "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson when Morey Amsterdam came out.
Johnny said, "Morey, they say you have a joke for everything."
Morey said, "Give me a subject."
Johnny said, “Birds."
And Morey said, “Why do hummingbirds hum?"
Johnny said, “Why?"
And Morey said, “Because they don't know the words."
And the house came down. And for some strange reason, I said to myself, "Damn, I could do that."
By the way, I now know that Morey almost surely said to Johnny, "Ask me for a joke about 'birds' when we get out there." And the result of their false spontaneity delighted us. Us savvy ones. I’m sure most of the “Tonight Show” viewer were now sure that Morey knew a joke about every subject known to man.
But I wanted to be able to really do it, which is about as silly a quest as anyone could pursue.
But I think it's a fun challenge. Many years later, during a spot break on his syndicated television show "Comedy Tonight," Bill Boggs asked me what subject he should ask me to make a joke about, and I said, "Cows.”
When we came back from commercials, we were sitting with the audience.
Bill said, "Jackie The Joke Man, you have jokes about everything. Give us a joke about cows."
And I said, "What do you get when you cross a cow with a masochist?"
Bill said, “What?"
And I said, "Cream that whips itself."
Bill roared, the crowd laughed, and I sat there feeling like a rip-off artist. Christ, it was show business, and in reality we had just done a hunk of a script, for Christ's sakes.
But you know what? Even as I write about the incident, I feel like a rip-off artist all over again. It was like Mickey Mantle dropping the baseball into the centerfield bleachers from a helicopter.
So now I'm Mickey Mantle? Boy, you sit at this typewriter (computer?), and it's Walter Mitty, get the fuck out of my way.
The more I had played the game at my stand-up gigs, the better I had gotten at it. I'd cheat a bit...if a person yelled, "Paul Newman Dressing," I'd say, "Okay, Paul Newman Dressing...salad," and then tell a lettuce joke or a salad joke.
By backing up like that, I'd widen the umbrella and I very rarely got stumped.
A guitar-playing comedian named Keven Sullivan had started having audiences try to "stump" him before me, but he did it with songs. The similarity between us was the more we played it, the smoother the game got, and the more likely you were to have a joke for every situation. The same things arise over and over, and each time they do, you say the same spontaneous ad-lib that you say every night, and impress the piss out the audience. It was almost like comedy.
My favorite example of the always-at-your-disposal ad-lib is the time at "Governor's Comedy Shop" in 1981 that I asked a guy his name and he said, "Jay."
I said, "Second letter?," and the house came down (where the fuck did that expression come from).
It was four years before I asked a guy his name and the answer was "Jay" again. But when it finally happened, I ad-libbed "Second letter?," and the house came down again.
After that, I said, "Folks, I hope you enjoyed that. I only get to use it every four years or so." But they of course had no idea what the fuck I was talking about.
So Howard said, "Okay, Jackie, we'll let them try to ‘stump' you on the air, but just two-line jokes. I'll let them ask you the questions and we'll see if you know the answers. We'll call it Stump The Comedians. And maybe you can call some of your comedian friends and see if they'll come in with you on Tuesdays, you know, a couple of different guys each week."
It sounded great. Of course, if you've heard the show, you can imagine the time we had trying to find decent callers with decent jokes that were rude enough to be biting but not so filthy they couldn't go out over the air.
After a few weeks, Howard told me to give Fred a few jokes, and then he had Fred call in from the other room. Fred did a whiney Jewish grandmother's voice, and played it very straight, so we had this innocent little old lady setting up the most brutal jokes we could come up with and still be able to get away with on the air. She'd plow through them like a runaway freight train, we'd of course know all the answers, Robin and I would cackle, and it was a hoot.
Q. "What goes 'click-click-click...did I get it? Click-click-click...did I get it?'"
A. "That's Ray Charles doing Rubik's Cube."
At some point I started referring to Fred's little old lady as "Mrs. Phlegmstien." I had worked in Florida with a really funny comic named Kelly Rogers, and on Sunday nights the club owner usually wasn't there, so we'd make up fake names for ourselves and fuck around on stage. Mike Reynolds (the juggling comedian) used to sing one of my songs ("Betty's Tune"), we'd do each other's acts, anything to break up the monotony. Kelly used to do a bad Catskill comic and called himself Jackie Phlegmstien. The name was too perfect for Fred's character, so I swiped it from Kelly and stuck it on our joke-spewing granny.
One day, someone asked where the name "Mrs. Phlegmstien" had come from.
I said, "I named her."
Robin said, "Yeah, right, you named her."
And they all laughed mockingly at me. I love show business. On one hand, Kelly Rogers is pissed off at me for stealing a name he invented, and on the other hand, I wasn't even given credit for delivering the hot goods.
"Stump The Comedians" died out after a year or so on the air. Howard tired of it.
But fortunately he didn't tire of me, so even though the game went out the window, I stayed. Once in a while, a caller will ask if he can try to stump me, but he's usually met with the click of Howard hanging up.
I kept the game in my act. I liked the two-line version. It was snappy. After being re-born as "The Joke Man" (named by Rick Dees, of all people), "Stump The Joke Man" had a great ring to it, so we made t-shirts that said "I Stumped Jackie The Joke Man", and "Stump The Joke Man" became the official name of the game.
The game evolved over the years into a great, great bit. Mark Magnussen, the owner of "Rascals Comedy Club" in West Orange, New Jersey (say hello to Danny at the door and he will feel up your wife), has had comedians at his club five nights a week since 1981. He says the only thing he watches on his stage is "Stump The Joke Man.” Always different, always wild.
I end my stage act with "Stump The Joke Man."At least fifteen minutes worth, forty-five if the energy is up and the place is cooking. It's spontaneous, and displays the depth of my knowledge in this ridiculous arena. Anybody can go up and tell ninety minutes worth of jokes, but after that, to stand there and know almost all of the jokes asked of you at random gives the audience a much better idea of just how many stupid fucking jokes "The Joke Man" knows.
Here's how the game goes at one of my live shows...
Now we're going to play a round of "Stump The Joke Man"...
It's an easy game. All you need to play is a two-line joke. A simple, set-'em-up, knock-'em-down joke...
Why did the guy marry the Siamese twin?
So he could fuck his wife and have a girlfriend on the side.
You just raise your hand, and when I call on you, you give me the first line of a two-line joke. If I know the answer, you're a dick. And the whole crowd calls you a dick.
I yell, "You're a..." and the crowd yells, "DICK!"
Now if I don't know the answer, and it's a good joke...it's got to be decent, at least a little bit funny...you win a beautiful "I Stumped Jackie 'The Joke Man' tee-shirt. Wash it once and you won't be able to get it on over your foot.
And this is the only way to get one of these shirts. Unless you want to buy one. Join the elite group.
If it's a great joke, and the crowd loves it, and it's something I can use, I'll give you a "Joke-In-The-Box", a sweatshirt, a video...and you walk out of here thinking you're a hero. The stuff costs me three bucks. I use your joke the rest of my life and get rich.
Some of you guys are scratching your heads and saying, "Can he do that?" He can, and he does.
Now, the kicker to the game: if you're a girl, a babe, a chick, a honey...you come on stage to tell your joke. If you have any tits at all, you win. No, no, you don't have to show them. You just have to have them. If you've got bumps up here bigger than your kneecaps, you win. And if you don't, shave your ass and walk on your hands, I don't care, I just want a few girls on the stage so we play the game and have some fun.
Sound like fun?
Okay, let's turn on the house lights, guys raise your hands, girls, don't wait to be asked, just come right up. We'll play for about a half-hour, and then we'll all go drinking & driving.
I did "Stump The Joke Man" as part of each of my sets at The 1993 Montreal "Just For Laughs" Comedy Festival, and it was incredible. The finale was unbelievable. Click here to read what happened...at least, my version of what happened...