Friday, January 18, 2013


Our raconteur, Brian E.A. Vigers, wearing his "tres imperméable"
beret, and Frank in his new Norwegian sweater.
Note the "monocular"!
The dictionary defines ‘raconteur’ as ‘one who tells stories and anecdotes with skill and wit’. I’ve known one true raconteur in my lifetime, and this was a wonderful English gentleman, then eighty-one years old, from Surrey. My husband and I met him and his wife in 1981, as we waited on a quay in Bergen to board a steamer for an eleven-day cruise along the Norwegian coast. From the first story he told - of how they’d left their cruise tickets and vouchers at home - we knew we were in for a wonderful trip with them. There were few other English-speaking peoples on board that particular cruise, and we were a tiny little island surrounded, at least four to one, by Germans. 

When you are in a small group on a ship for all those days, you tend to find out much of what there is to know about your fellow travelers. Brian, our raconteur, proved to be one of those people you’d like to talk to for hours.
He could see out of only one eye, so he’d sawn a WWII pair of submariner’s binoculars in half, and used just the one piece to view the passing coastal scenery. He was happy to say that he had another one just like it at home.
He regaled us with wonderful stories during the trip, and later when we visited with him and his wife in England. The story we both remember best, one a lot more elaborate than I can recount here, was the one about his first trip to India. He told us how his host’s first order of business when he arrived there was to take him to see a doctor. The British, no matter where they are, do like to tipple, and he couldn’t have a drink without first having papers to show that he was a “certified inebriate”, and medically required to imbibe.

¿Que Pasa?
To me, the best comedians were true raconteurs. I am not at all familiar with the world of comedy today. In this world of too many choices there is no way I can know all that’s ‘out there’ in TV land. My favorites will always be those of yesteryear and the post-radio comedians world of variety television. With just a hand-full of stations to ‘surf’, and a handy TV Guide, we got to see and know all the shows and stars. I was not so much a fan of the slap-stick, clowning school of comedians like Red Skelton or Martin and Lewis. Yes, I might laugh, but there was something clever missing with their brand of humor. To me the best comedians were true raconteurs. I loved the story tellers: Shelly Berman (“Please Alka Seltzer, don’t fizz!”) or Bob Newhart and his Buttoned Down Mind, George Carlin, the hippie-dippie weatherman, and the gentle, wise, Bill Cosby.

Two of the well-known comedians of that TV era were “Lonesome” George Gobel, and the ever acerbic Don Rickles. I’ve got my own tale to recount about those two. Within the space of about a year I was taken to see shows in which each of them starred. I first saw Gobel at a dinner theater in Windsor, Ontario. I’d always liked his TV act, especially the stories about his wife Alice, and I looked forward to the show. I guess his TV act and his stage acts were poles apart, because the stuff that night was absolutely “wash your mouth out with soap” filthy. Not funny at all, and so disappointing.  

A while later I saw Don Rickles at the Westbury Theater on Long Island. Knowing of his razor-sharp wit and fast come-backs, I expected the unexpected, and I got it. His show was fast-paced and funny, and with just one slightly suggestive but clever line. He realized what he’d just said, and remembered who he’d seen in his audience: a man who had brought along a kid who looked to be about twelve years old. He turned to the guy – this was a theater in the round - and said: “You brought him, you explain it to him.” The audience howled with approval.
I’m delighted that the best bits from my favorite raconteurs are all out there on YouTube. When (when?) I get the time and the inclination they are all there for me to see again and again.

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