​Kliph Nesteroff

Comedy Bar, Toronto ON, November 14

Photo: Jim Herrington

BY Julianna RomanykPublished Nov 16, 2015

This show was like heroin for comedy nerds. Over the course of the night, human encyclopaedia Kliph Nesteroff shared dozens of unforgettable stand-up-related tales from the early 19th century to now. The depth of his knowledge about the history of American comedy combined with his off-the-cuff and funny yet eloquent stage presence made this entire show utterly engrossing.
Nesteroff started the night by telling us about his first forays into comedy as a stand-up comic in Vancouver. He used to perform as Sheckie Grey, a gravelly voiced character based on old-time showbiz comics. He enjoyed it, but he didn't feel like he was getting anywhere, so he decided to retire by holding a roast of Sheckie Grey, then faking said character's murder on stage. He got a friend of his to rush the stage and beat him over the head with a breakaway bottle he got from Zach Galifiniakis, and he used the highest quality of fake blood he could get to make it convincing. The whole thing was so well done that it terrified the crowd instead of playing as a joke, up until Nesteroff's friends dressed as a doctor and morticians came on stage to examine him and carry him off in a gurney.
That amazing story was only the beginning.
Nesteroff then went on to explain that the name of the Three Stooges came from the fact that in vaudeville, there was a format of comedy where the straight man was heckled by a man planted in the audience, who was called a "stooge." He also spoke about Frank Fay, the first stand-up comedian, how all the nightclubs were owned by the mafia in the '30's and '40s, and Joe E. Lewis, who toured America after barely surviving his throat being cut by a mob boss/club owner.
Similarly, he argued why Redd Foxx is tremendously underrated, dished dirt about how Rodney Dangerfield scammed soldiers' widows out of hundreds of dollars, and recounted how Albert Brooks' father, who was also a comedian, literally died on stage after delivering an unbelievable set at a roast of Lucille Ball. Additionally, Nesteroff described several obscure albums he discovered (including one he stole), and told a bunch of incredible stories about meeting comedic pioneers.
Kliph Nesteroff is undoubtedly the top expert in his field, even according to comedy legends like Mel Brooks and Steve Martin. If you have any interest in learning about the roots of comedy as we know it, be sure to get his book The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels & History of American Comedy.

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