Way back a few months in The Vinyl Word, we featured an album from our collection called "Knockers Up!" by Rusty Warren. We picked it up because we dug the cover art. Little did we know that we'd eventually interview Rusty Warren herself! We found her story to be fascinating and we are looking forward to meeting her when she treks to Las Vegas next month to play in the SHECKYmagazine.COMICS-Only Reunion Golf Outing!
SHECKY!: You began your career as a singer/piano player. When and where did you make the transition to a full-time comedian?
RUSTY: I never started out as a commedienne. I was playing piano in small lounges and clubs when one of my bosses asked me if I new any parodies? I didn't know what he meant, and when I found out I started to buy them (parodies) from places in New York that used to sell them by the page. He also said that he would give me more money if I would sing them along with my regular songs of the day. I did...he did ...and that's how it all started.
SHECKY!: You called yourself the "Mother of the Sexual Revolution" can you describe the climate in the country at the time you began performing your risqué act.
RUSTY: First of all, I never named myself the mother of anything! It was written about me in the '60s by a journalist who thought it cute to put that tag on me. I thought it was clever, so I adopted it and it stuck.
SHECKY!: Did the audiences have a hard time accepting a "bawdy" female comedian?
RUSTY: Oh, God, yes! Before I ever made albums I played my act every where I could get work. Many of the rooms weren't geared for my type of "sex talk," so I would get some walk-outs. Actually, most of the audience enjoyed what I was doing and it proved to be a great "material experience"-- what to use and what to throw out, because it just doesn't work. What a learning venue! In fact, the "Knockers Up " march was started in Dayton, Ohio, in a club called Mike Longo's. I was telling the gals to "get your knockers up " and let's show the guys we have something to give in this world today. My boss, Mike, started to go through the room trying to get the gals to throw out their "chests," and, as he was going through the room, I started playing a march rhythm on the piano and ad libbing words to what was going down. So that's how it happened and the rest became "Rusty Warren History." The Knockers Up March was born!!
SHECKY!: Who gave you the most support, the men in the audience or the women?
RUSTY: The women!! They became "Knockers Up Club Members" and used to charter buses to come to see my show in places like The Club Alamo, on 8 Mile and Livermore in Detroit, and Mr. Kelly's on Rush Street in Chicago. Every town I played in the midwest had their own group of women who would show up with their husbands and neighbors, sometimes driving many miles to get to the local club I was appearing at. God, those gals were something else! But they were the driving force of the Rusty Warren movement in the '60s.
SHECKY!: How did the club owners treat you?
RUSTY: My manager, Stan Zucker, used to tell me that when he was putting together the midwest tour dates, every club I worked couldn't wait for me to come in with my new show. The club owners made money every time I worked there and it spread by word of mouth to "buy that Rusty Warren gal-- she's naughty but you'll make money."
SHECKY!: What was the reaction of your fellow comedians?
RUSTY: Well, there were only a few of us doing so-called risqué comedy. I was the"tame one" of all of us, as I didn't use any four-letter words as did Belle Barth or Pearl Williams.
SHECKY!: Had you always wanted to be a comic?
RUSTY: No. As you know, I started out as a music teacher. Worked a few dinner houses in my college years then, as the years went on, I got to talk more than play the piano.
SHECKY!: Did you have any comedy idols?
RUSTY:Yes. My mentor was Sophie Tucker who, in her day, was considered "naughty" for her times. She caught me, or her writer saw my show and told her I did her "Life Begins At Forty" song at my piano bar, and she asked me to have lunch at her hotel. She asked me why would I ever do that song when I was 24 years old? She also told me "to be honest with my audiences as they will know if your lying, because audiences are smarter than you think they are and they'll catch you on it every time." They are...and they'll catch you on it every time.
SHECKY!: At the time, were there parts of the country where you could not perform?
RUSTY: Not really, I worked most of the states... except Utah, Wyoming and parts of the northwest. No particular reason.
SHECKY!: We notice that both you and Woody Woodbury were gigging a lot in Florida...what was going on in Florida at the time?
RUSTY: What always went on in Florida --Wonderful weather...clean oceans... and balmy nights... and PLENTY TO DRINK! WELCOME TO "FORT LIQUORDALE" IN THE WINTER. I played there from after or on New Year;s 'til up to "spring break," when I would go back to Scottsdale, AZ, 'til before summer, then head off for another tour of the country.
SHECKY!: When you look back at the material you were doing in the early 1960's, does it seem tame compared to the material many female comics are doing today?
RUSTY: I don't know if I'd consider the material tame or not. You have to realize that we spoke differently in the '60s. We veiled a lot of what we were saying and how we were saying it. But it was SEX just the same. Ours was more innuendo than the realistic way it's talked about on stage today. And the female commediennes today are coming right out and saying what they want to say and don't have to worry about being censored.
SHECKY!: Do you pay attention to the current comedy scene? If so, what do you like, what don't you like?
RUSTY: Not really. Occasionally I have run into some of the current comics, as I did at the Improv on the night I was presented the award. And I found some of the less experienced guys falling back on the "When you can't say anything funny, say F***" syndrome. Most of the more experenced guys had a set-up, middle and end to whatever they were trying to get across. I don't like angry comics, violence against women comedy or unnecessary vulgarity in their so-called humor.
SHECKY!: Since you had a reputation as a bawdy comedian, was it difficult for you to get booked on television?
RUSTY: Yes it was. I was asked to do the daytime shows when I was in the cities that had them, to promote my current place of engagement, like Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, but never worked Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson.
SHECKY!: How do you react to this idea that it is easier to write a dirty joke than a clean one?
RUSTY: It probably is easier. Thank God I never had to write a CLEAN ONE!!
SHECKY!: Did you write all of your own material?
RUSTY: I wrote everything except the opening and closing songs and some musical "special material " things that were written for me.
SHECKY!: You mention on your website that your mother used to take a bow at all of your Las Vegas appearances. It must have been hard for a woman of her generation to laugh at the things you were saying. Did it take her awhile to come around?
RUSTY: I had a remarkable mother. I could tell you story after story of her marvelous sense of humor. She always enjoyed seeing my shows. I think she went just so she take "her bow" at the end. She mastered the "three-quarter audience wave" and loved doing it.
SHECKY!: Speaking of your website, how long have you been on the web? Do you think it's important for a comic to have his own site?
RUSTY: I 've been on the web for about a year (http://www.rustywarren.com). I think if a comic has something to say, the web is the place to say it. I am so glad I've lived long enough to become part of this exciting time of the internet and the vast communication we have at the touch of a computer key. You can't believe the wonderful email I get from my website. The children (of many of my fans who have passed away), want to share with me the memories of their parents' great times they had with my albums over the years. It's truly heartwarming.
SHECKY!: We've heard that Phyllis Diller was the first woman to ever enter the Friar's Club, sneaking in several years ago. Did it bother you that women were not allowed to be member's of the club?
RUSTY: I remember when Phyllis did that!! I'm sure she loved it. In those days women never cared to be members of the Friars Club. All that dirty talk and porno films, or "private films" and audio tapes taken secretly of God only knows who, doing whatever to who the hell knows who! Strictly the "good ol' boys" doing their "little ol' boys things." in a group of other "little ol' boys." BORING.
SHECKY!: At last year's Aspen Comedy Festival, Jerry Lewis made some controversial statements about female comedians, saying that he could never find any of them funny. What was your reaction to his opinion?
RUSTY: I never have any reaction to anything Jerry Lewis has to say. I enjoyed his comedy persona, but as far as the man is concerned, the less said the better. (The exact quote was "A woman doing comedy doesn't offend me, but sets me back a bit," Lewis said. "I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.")
RUSTY: THAT STATEMENT SUMS IT ALL UP, DOESN'T IT?
SHECKY!: On December 5, 2000, you received, at the Improv, a Lifetime Achievment Award for Comedy. What was that night like? How did it come about?
RUSTY: I had a wonderful time. It was sponsored by "Comedyworld.com," a show on the internet where they play my records and many others and honor us all at different times. A DJ named "Crazy Jay," a delightful young man, got in touch with me and I followed some of my "stuff" on his internet site. We met and I did a two hour interview with him when I was in L.A., and it all came about later on in the year.
SHECKY!: Also on your site, you talk about a pending Showtime movie about your life. What is the status of this project?
RUSTY: My record company, Crescendo Records, got on touch with me after they received a call from a screen writer who was interested in doing my life story . We talked and then, in typical HOLLYWOOD style another project came up. And, lo and behold, my project was dropped. I guess "money talked somewhere else" and Showtime never materialized.
SHECKY!: Are you still doing comedy?
RUSTY: No, I retired from the stage in 1987 or 1989. Somewhere around that time frame. You get older and CRS-- Can't Remember Shit!
SHECKY!: We envy you that you live in Hawaii. How is life in paradise? How did you swing that?
RUSTY: Life in paradise is so beautiful. I belong to a country
club and I play golf and tennis a couple of times a week. I enjoy
the ocean and sports on the water. And I just have cut out a
lifestyle that's comfortable for me. How did I manage to swing it?
Well, it was probally all those years of "swingin' and singin'"
that has enabled me to afford it all!" Knockers up every
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