Steve Bluestein is a writer, author, playwright, and retired comedian. Recently AmericasComedy.Com sat down with Steve to discuss the good old days, the bad old days, and his new book: It’s So Hard To Type With A Gun In My Mouth.
AmericasComedy.com: There is a beautiful picture on your Facebook page. It’s of an old Vegas marquee from Caesar’s Palace that reads, “A Cavalcade of Comedy with Phyllis Diller, Pat Cooper, and Steve Bluestein.” Tell me about that picture.
Steve Bluestein: The picture was taken coming from the airport to the show. My manager at the time was handling some huge acts like Cher, Joan Rivers, Eva Gabor, Paul Lynde, Florence Henderson, and me. So having that kind of power behind me got me into Vegas with 100% billing, which means my name appears as large as the headliners. So as we’re in the back of the cab I snap a picture. The cab driver looks back and asks, “Who the hell is Steve Bluestein?” I mean talk about throwing a bucket of water on a fire!
AC: The cabbie’s comment aside, you had to feel elated about seeing your name on that big marquee though, right?
SB: I’m not like many comedians. When I see my name on a big marquee I feel like it doesn’t belong there. It’s so strange. I remember seeing my name in lights when I opened for Donna Summer and saying to a friend, “It just doesn’t seem like it belongs there.”
AC: Where does that insecurity come from?
SB: I had a very tough upbringing. I come from a broken home and my mother has never been supportive of my choice to be in show business, even to this day.
AC: You have a joke in the book where you say that your mother is a wonderful person but a horrible mother.
SB: That isn’t a joke, it’s a reality. She has no mothering skills at all. One night I had friends over and right in front of my friends my mother said, “Why did you write a book, nobody cares about your life.” And my friends were blown away that anyone would say that to my face, much less MY MOTHER!
AC: You do tell a funny story in the book about taking your mother to Australia and she stole everything from the hotel, fruit, towels, alarm clocks, everything.
SB: That is a classic story. At parties people ask me to tell that story. Shortly after Australia my mother took a trip to Antarctica and I told her she had better not come back with a fucking penguin! I draw the line at penguin theft.
AC: My wife is the worst at taking things from hotels but I am the total opposite. I clean the room when I get there and before I leave. I bring my own towels. I store the trash and take it with me when I leave. I have this fantasy where the maid calls the hotel manager and the manager calls headquarters and they send me a letter telling me what a great guest I was.
SB: (Laughs) We are so much alike it’s scary! Get yourself to a therapist immediately! One difference though is that I’m not riding home with a bag of garbage. I find the hotel dumpster and throw it there before I leave.
AC: How did your family react to the book, because you are brutally honest about every aspect of your life?
SB: They totally disowned me. I remember an aunt calling me in the middle of the night saying, “Don’t ever show your face here again!”
AC: Are you still disowned to this day?
SB: Well, I got sick. I had a little bit of cancer, and I got some phone calls then.
AC: I don’t think I have ever heard cancer referred to as “a little bit of cancer.” That’s how people might describe a sore elbow or something.
SB: Well, when you have the kind of childhood I did you have to learn to take care of yourself. I get a full physical every year and luckily they caught it early. And I don’t say this for pity. I’m telling you this because a lot of people may not go to the doctor or put it off until it’s too late. So if I can help anyone by telling my story, that would be great.
AC: You mentioned opening for Donna Summer, and you also opened for Kenny Loggins, Barry Manilow, Seals and Crofts, and many more that you talk about in your book. A lot of people may not know that big comedians used to open for musicians. When did that change?
SB: It happened when the economy tanked in the 70s. Vegas was dying at that point, too. So instead of having an opener they would have two headliners, like Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson on the same bill. The opening act spots for comedians dried up so I transitioned into becoming a headliner on the comedy club circuit. I did that for ten or fifteen years until I couldn’t take it another day.
AC: What do you mean when you say you couldn’t take it?
SB: I was used to working these professional gigs where you are treated like royalty to these comedy clubs where you’re less important than the beer. More importantly than that was the quality of the material. When I started stand-up was an art and we worked hard at it. We worked hard at writing jokes that were signature jokes. David Brenner, Elayne Boosler, these are craftspeople. Not like Lisa Lampanelli, who I find vile and gets famous by talking like a truck driver.
AC: Was it the so-called comedy boom era that led to this?
SB: The downfall came when Comedy Central started airing. They started eating up comedians like a shredder eats up paper. When you do that you constantly need new talent so instead of getting comedians who were matured and ready to be on television, they started putting up anybody who could stand up and do three minutes of material. Ready or not, funny or not. And it wasn’t as funny so the comedy clubs started dying. I saw the writing on the wall and started writing for television and things like that. I love standing on stage and the audience interaction, but I don’t need it.
AC: Before I let you go, I know you are a political activist. What do you think about today’s political scene?
SB: You know I wasn’t really an activist until I saw the last Bush administration. I saw the cronyism and the lies. And then, the vitriol against President Obama, who I adamantly support, I just feel the need to speak out.
AC: You seem like the kind of guy who has no trouble calling out bullshit when you see it.
SB: I don’t. I really don’t. I’m the guy who will demand to speak to the manager. If that doesn’t work I will call corporate headquarters. And I will never shop at places who treat me badly again. If more consumers would do that, maybe these corporations [or politicians] would change their behavior.
AC: Last question. What’s next for Steve Bluestein?
SB: I have a couple of plays coming out. The first one is called How to Kill Your Mother Without Really Trying. That will be produced here in L.A. and probably go to New York. There is also my play Rest in Pieces which we are looking for a venue in New York.
AC: I have never seen a play before, but I plan to see Dylan Brody’s Mother May I next month in Baltimore. Do you have any advice?
SB: Whatever you do don’t talk back to the actors. They’re live. It’s not like a movie.
Follow Steve Bluestein on Twitter @SteveBluestein. Get Steve’s book It’s So Hard to Type With a Gun in My Mouth here. Listen to the full audio version of this interview at Dylan Brody’s Neighbor’s Couch and get your Dylan Brody merchandise and dates at DylanBrody.com.
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About the Author: Darren Staley is the host of Atari-winning podcast Dylan Brody's Neighbor's Couch, based out of North Carolina or Los Angeles. He is known in comedy circles as "Who?" or "Oh, That Guy." Darren's two biggest fears are spiders and Paul Provenza.