Behind the Scenes

Ex-cop Bernie Young runs the show as Rosie O'Donnell's right-hand man

there. Without that balance, you’re just fighting against yourself. That was Ben. Then, he agreed to do this TV series on ABC called TenSpeed and Brownshoe and things were looking really good. I sold my house in Queens and moved my family to Los Angeles in April 1980. We had been there exactly one week when Ben, my friend, fired me.

Entertainers always have people coming at them from all sides, and once people see entertainers doing well, they all want a piece. I was not going to just tell Ben what he wanted to hear. But he decided other people had a better sense of where he should go. So he said I had to go.

So now, my wife and I are in a new city with no friends, my kids are in new schools, and everybody’s looking at me as if to say, “Now what?” It was a tough time. We really struggled for a while. You think you’ve got money saved4I had about $30,000 in the bank4but, believe me, it doesn’t last long when you don’t have income. All those folks who, while I was with Ben, said, “Hey, if you’re ever looking, come and see me.” I found out really quickly that [they were just giving me] lip service. So it was all on my back. But it also fueled me. It reminded me of something my mother always said, “There’s one person you always have to be able to depend on4you.”

Fate is funny. As it happened, one of the comedians we used to hire to open shows for Ben called me and said, “Bern, I got fired from Harrah’s. Can you help me?” I knew the guys at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada, really well, so I called and we worked it out. Here was a guy4his name was Kip Addotta4who thought he would never work again, and the fact that I was able to get him back in made it seem like I walked on water. So he said, “I want you to represent me.” I laughed and said, “Well, as it happens, I’m free.”

At that time, there was a growing community [of comedians] in the country, but they weren’t getting paid a lot, and agents didn’t want to deal with a guy whose deal was only going to make him $300. I looked at it as, “I’m a little guy and here’s something that can really explode.” That $300, if I have 10 people working, is $3,000 to me for that week.

So, I decided to put all of my eggs into this one basket.

There were comedy clubs throughout the Midwest, and their owners were opening new branches around the country. So I made a deal for my guy,
Addotta, to be in all of these clubs. The rest of the comedians would see him and say, “Who’s doing that for you?” He told them. The floodgates opened, and the clients just came.

Being black didn’t make it easier. Clearly, there are not a lot of us

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