Every Friday, as a new feature of this blog, we will feature a long forgotten comedian. While they were popular during their lifetime, many have been long forgotten.
Today our headliner is Corbett Monica. While Corbett worked until the mid 1990s in nightclubs, concerts, television and recording albums, he is almost forgotten today nearly twenty years after his death.
He was Joey Bishop’s sidekick for 3 years on the sitcom The Joey Bishop Show. He also appeared 18 times on the Ed Sullivan Show, Bob Hope specials, the Dean Martin Show and countless others
To summarize Corbett’s life and career, here is his obituary in the LA Times in 1998:
Corbett Monica; Comedian on Stage and TVJuly 24, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES Corbett Monica, the durable comedian who opened for such luminary singers as Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and did his stand-up act on television variety programs from “The Ed Sullivan Show” to “The Tonight Show,” has died. He was 68.
Monica, also remembered as sidekick and manager Larry Corbett on “The Joey Bishop Show,” which ran on TV from 1963 to 1965, died Wednesday at his home in North Miami, Fla., of cancer.
The Manhattan-born comedian enjoyed a long friendship with Bishop, who once lived only four blocks from him in Englewood, N.J. That association helped Monica get work as the opening act in nightclub shows by Bishop’s friend Sinatra and other Rat Pack members Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
It also made Monica a natural to work with Bishop on his television show after two other comedians were ousted. Monica said he even lived for a time in Bishop’s house.
“There’s no such thing as a second banana anymore. TV changed all that. Look at Art Carney, Carl Reiner and guys like that,” Monica told The Times in 1963. “I’ve already signed for next season with Joey. It’s great. I’m really going to school, because I never did anything but stand-up comedy before. Now I’m learning situation comedy, and Joey made it possible.”
When Bishop substituted for Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show,” he invited Monica to appear as a guest. Monica proved so popular that he was soon a regular guest host himself.
The comedian appeared 18 times on Sullivan’s variety show in the 1950s and ’60s, and was a guest on shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and Perry Como.
A high school dropout, Monica worked as a drummer and a dance instructor before turning to comedy in St. Louis, Mo., clubs. He honed his routines in USO shows while serving in the Army.
Monica went on to work on larger stages in Las Vegas, Miami and Atlantic City, N.J., warming up audiences for such popular singers as Paul Anka, Nat “King” Cole and Lena Horne. For the past decade, he had lived in Florida and worked regularly with Lawrence and Gorme.
“The comedian has become an expert at figuring an audience’s likes early and adapting his jokes to fit. This particular crowd seemed partial to slightly blue humor and howled at Monica’s efforts,” a Times reviewer wrote in 1971, commenting on Monica’s opening act for singer Sergio Franchi at Las Vegas’ Flamingo Hotel.
Tailoring his material to family audiences, Monica usually stuck to clean jokes, like the one in which he noted that he and his wife were trying to get their son to learn a trade “so we can know what kind of work he’s out of.”
Monica also combined the comedy skills developed on stage and television to perform his routines in two motion pictures about nightclub entertainment–“The Grasshopper” in 1970 and Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” in 1984.
The comedian is survived by his companion, Barbara Ortwein; three sons, George, Corbett Jr. and Tony; three daughters, Julie, Nanette and Elena; a brother, Lenny Geiger; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.