I like comedians. I was never big on going to clubs, but I enjoy having a laugh. Back in the 1960s and '70s St. Louis had local comics performing at the same nightclub or hotel on a regular basis. There was Davy Nose Bold who was big in Gaslight Square and then had a long run at Stan Musial’s airport hotel. Dick Gregory also got his start in Gaslight Square. Cedric “The Entertainer” is another St. Louis standup comic.
As a kid I used to see Phyllis Diller all over the place. Diller performed in Gaslight and lived in Webster Groves, two doors behind the Library on Orchard Avenue. Her house stood out much to the chagrin of most of the homeowners in the stately Webster Park neighborhood. Diller’s house was painted a bright pink. So was her Ford Thunderbird.
It was not uncommon to see Phyllis shopping at the local Bettendorf’s grocery store with a pink boa around her neck, pink streaks in her hair, smoking a cigarette on the end of a long cigarette holder. The first place I ever lived away from home was an apartment in Maplewood that I rented from Diller’s ex-husband, who she referred to in her act as “Fang.”
When we were living in Kansas City my wife and I went to see Jay Leno long before he was even a substitute host on the Tonight Show. He was sponsored by a local Harley Davidson shop. Leno at one time was a motorcycle mechanic.
Other than seeing comics for free on cruise ships, I don’t see much standup. The last time I paid to see a comic doing stand up (prior to this month) was in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2010.
This month, I heard a female comic was at Robbie’s House of Jazz in Webster Groves, along with a jazz group. The comedian was Phyllis Shulman from Chesterfield. It was $10, I went. There just aren't many local comics performing anymore.
Shulman is a 58-year-old who tells you she grew up in “lower Olivette.” She is a 1971 graduate of Ladue High School. For the last 25 years she's lived in the Green Trails subdivision of Chesterfield. Her sons went to nearby Parkway Central High School.
“They went from the Brady Bunch to bongs right here in Chesterfield,” Shulman said in her act.
In 1995, while working the comedy club circuit opening for national acts, she was cast as a waitress in one of SNL alum Bill Murray’s least-known films, Larger than Life. An accomplishment however that is still very cool.
It's been eight years since Shulman was regularly doing her shtick, and mostly at conventions. Her act started slow, but got a big laugh early on when she said she likes to have a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a shot of Smirnoff Vodka before going on stage. She calls it her Pabst-Smir.
Her timing got better the longer she was on. She helped some jokes along with a pause and open mouth after the punch line.
At the end of Shulman's routine, there's no sense of being cheated. (Plus, the Joe Mancuso Trio performed before and after.)
Shulman sat down with us at the end of the night and said she used to sell furniture at some of the best St. Louis furniture stores now gone—like Lammerts and Wickes.
Shulman described herself as the fat kid in high school. So she's learned to use comedy in helping people with obesity and Type II Diabetes. From 2000-2003 she did comedy and appeared as a speaker before health and medical groups.
Getting back to doing standup, Shulman admits timing is a key.
“When you are working every night it comes naturally. I haven’t done a show for six weeks, so it is a little tougher getting your timing down,” she said. “One day my ship will come in and I’ll be at the airport.”
Shulman said her humor is based on observations.
“The other day I was at Walgreens, and saw that the baby formula is next to the condoms. There is a lot of material at Walgreens,” she said.
Much of the crowd at Robbie’s were friends and neighbors from Chesterfield and West County. If you see her name on an event calendar, consider an evening of St. Louis style standup.