Saturday, January 29, 2011

DAVID FRYE - 1934-2011 Nixon's Worst Enemy

Just how obscure was David Frye when he died? The news wasn't made public for nearly a week. The New York Times broke the news today, in their Saturday, January 29th edition: "David Frye...died on Monday in Las Vegas, where he lived. He was 77. The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest, a spokeswoman for the Clark County coroner’s office in Nevada said." No publicist, no manager, no friends, no wife to report the news? It comes from the coroner's office?

I have no idea whether Frye was actually working in Vegas lately, or what minor venue it may have been. All I can really tell you about the guy, is that he was extremely intense, even by the standards of a nightclub comic, and at his peak of fame when he should've been blazing with confidence, he'd sometimes pause on the talk show couch, grab for photos in his inside jacket pocket, and have to see a celebrity's face to psych himself to do an impression. He seemed to have no personality when he wasn't doing the voices, but when he was on stage, he was a powerful performer satiric and acidic. He was manic when he launched into his furious Nixon, his clownish LBJ, a Porky Pig-like Hubert Humphrey or a slithery, glowing-eyed William F. Buckley Jr., contorting his face to match the vocal.

Frye's star dimmed 37 years ago…his last major album was "Richard Nixon: A Fantasy" in 1973. Your sample below is from that album, an incredibly brutal kick when Nixon was down, which envisioned him jailed and on death row! If it was any consolation, Ted Kennedy's recent scandal was treated with even more gleeful venom. What a masterpiece of "gone too far" comedy that record was. Oddly enough, there's still so much interest in Nixon that Frye's two Elektra albums have been re-issued on CD, and his "Fantasy" also re-issued, just re-titled "He's Back: David Frye Is Nixon," which no doubt hoodwinked some who already had the vinyl into buying it again, thinking it was a new release.

Frye's bad luck was to see Nixon disappear, replaced by a succession of bland Presidents that were much more suited to a sappy mild mimic like Rich Little. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan…they kept Rich Little rich while Frye's heat turned ice cold. Frye issued an indie Reagan album in 1980 that went nowhere. In 1998, when everybody imitated Bill Clinton, Frye issued a pointless comedy CD on a small indie label. By then few cared about comedy audio, and they could get their fix of Clinton via a look-alike on Leno's show, and Darrell Hammond on "Saturday Night Live." If David did either George H. or George W, there's literally no record of it on CD or mp3.

Las Vegas is a place where fat-asses with long memories go to see people they remembered from 30 years ago. That would explain Wayne Newton, wouldn't it? A lot of comics who became popular in the 60's stayed active there, in some small room or other, and a tourist might be delighted to check a Vegas newspaper and discover he could see Pete Barbutti or Shecky Greene. So I'm assuming David moved to Vegas and used it as his base, able to get some bookings there when there were none to be had in the gradually decreasing nightclubs around the country. Fact is, nightclubs ceased to be lucrative for even a Don Rickles or Bob Newhart, forcing them to play casinos or stay home.

David Frye's YouTube channel turned up only a few months ago. The site says he joined on November 6, 2010. Up went some clips from 3 decades ago. I don't think David actually was posting this stuff himself, because I noticed a YouTube notation that he logged in "1 day ago" when I visited today, January 29th. And David died January 24th.

I hope he wasn't looking at his YouTube page too closely, and seeing some of the "compliments" left for him. Imagine how he felt reading David Snyder of Buffalo New York open with: "If you've ever done Phil Silvers, you'll understand this: "Glad to see ya!" Uh, yeah, a comedian likes nothing better than to be greeted by another comic's catch phrase. Not to mention the fact that Frye was noted for doing politicians and intense actors, not has-been top bananas from the 50's. Snyder ended: "pleased that you're still alive and active." Why that's just what any performer in his 70's would love to hear: "You're still alive!" Sorry it's no longer true.

DAVID FRYE does a Folsom Prison/Johnny Cash on RICHARD NIXON


Tommy said...

Frye did Both Bushes & Cheney & Jesse Ventura!:

not real well I'm afraid

Ill Folks said...

Thanks Tommy, "not real well," indeed. Very sad.

Especially when most of that YouTube was just audio, which suggests he was selling himself as a voiceover man more than a stand-up act. I don't even think commercials were possible, as he was in his 70's and looked nothing like Ventura or Rodney. The Ventura was very weak, the Cheney and Dubya worse.

On the tape Frye did a decent G.H. Bush but Dana Carvey had that covered. Will Jordan made a living for years as Patton, doing appearances at industrials, and for corporations. I guess part of the problem is having good management, constant confidence and perpetual drive...and Frye wasn't that lucky.

Gorshin could always do Vegas (and sold a DVD of his show to fans in attendance) and kept his name out there via indie movies, too. He actually made a "comeback" doing a one-man show as George Burns, which even came to Broadway. Frank had never done Burns in his act, but at his age, finally could. Frank was diagnosed with cancer I think before the show reached Broadway, but he had a decent run in NYC and was still touring with that show on the road when he became too ill to perform. He had friends, fans, and a very loving girlfriend.

Frye's apparent lonely show-biz limbo over the past decades is pretty depressing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I was in my early teens when Richard Nixon: A Fantasy came along and that, combined with a Burns and Schreiber album about Watergate were my main introduction to political satire.

I believe I had the Frye album memorized and would quote it often to the dismay of my "normal" 14 year old friends who didn't give a damn about whether the President of the United States was lying to the American people.

Ill Folks said...

Watergate really sent a flood of comedy albums onto the market.

It brought back Mort Sahl, who even got off one of the only puns of his career: "Sing a Song of Watergate, Apocryphal of Lie." That was the album title.

Some of the weirder items included a single, "Watergrate" from Dickie Goodman, and from across the pond, "He's Innocent of Watergate" by Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. Sapristi!

Anonymous said...

The Burns and Schreiber album I mentioned earlier is called The Watergate Comedy Hour. I recently picked up another copy of the record. Along with Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, it features Fannie Flagg (novelist and Match Game regular), Jack Riley (from the Bob Newhart Show) and Frank Welker the great voice actor.