Lester Colodny: Westport funny man speaks in Fairfield Sept. 28
WESTPORT – Lester Colodny of Westport spent decades in show business as a talent agent, ad man, writer, actor, director, and producer. His just-published memoir, “A Funny Thing Happened: Life Behind the Scenes – Hollywood Hilarity and Manhattan Mayhem” is an account of those years, when he worked with such luminaries as Mae West, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Frank Sinatra, and Dave Garroway, to name a few. As an agent, he discovered Woody Allen.
Kolodny will speak about his book and life at the Congregation Beth El Sisterhood 36th Annual Interfaith Sukkot Luncheon in Fairfield on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 11:15 a.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit Operation Hope, a Fairfield-based non-profit community organization that works to provide emergency and long-term solutions to local hunger and homelessness.
Colodny will celebrate his 85th birthday in October. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he says he wrote “A Funny Thing Happened” to tell his life story to his children and grandchildren. (His son recently called to say he’d read the book and confirmed that it is, in fact, “very funny.”)
“There are plenty of people who write books – I’m reading ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel now, and it’s just charming – but nobody writes funny books any more,” he says. “We’ve lost our sense of humor. But it’s not hard for me to write a funny book. I’ve always been a writer of comic pieces – jokes, plays, movies – and they were all funny.”
Colodny says he came from a funny family. His father was born on the boat when his parents immigrated to New York from Ukraine. His mother’s parents were from Minsk; she was born in Virginia. “Her father was very funny but he never cracked a smile,” Colodny says. “Nor did my mother, but she was very funny. She was the head of Toastmistresses in California and was always telling funny stories.”
Ever the class clown, Colodny stumbled into acting at age 14 when a classmate he was walking with invited him into the audition for a school play. Colodny was told to read, and he did, and landed the part of a 70-year-old man, the only male part in the play.
He went on to study at Brooklyn College, serve in the navy during World War II work in show business in Hollywood and New York, and odd jobs in places in between, and earn a master’s degree in theater. He wrote jokes for Henny Youngman and commercials for the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. He was MC at a strip joint in Manhattan, created “The Munsters” for TV, and won an Emmy for his work on a Jack Benny special. He has enough stories, well, to fill a book.
Colodny can describe the process he uses to come up with something funny. “I think and speak in English but while I’m thinking and speaking, I come to a Jewish or Yiddish conclusion and then I say it in English,” he says. “It’s not as funny but almost as funny.” In fact, it’s his Jewish heritage that he credits with his talent. “Jews are very sad people,” he says. “The way we live with our sadness is by telling sad stories that become funny.”
But it’s been some time since America has produced a true comedian, Colodny says. “The last funny person was Johnny Carson,” he says. “He was hysterical, not with words, but with looks. Jack Benny was funny; Johnny Carson was like a young Jack Benny. Who’s funny today? Steven Colbert sometimes, and Jon Stewart. But they’re a very droll funny. There’s nobody left, as far as I can say, who is ‘ha-ha’ funny.”
Colodny “retired” 12 years ago, which only means that he’s staying local. He reads a lot, writes short stories and “little plays,” and directs community theater at several venues, including Westport Community Theater, the Ridgefield Barn, and Curtain Call. He is directing “Driving Miss Daisy” in Wilton and preparing some works by Arthur Miller. “I’ve had a crazy, wonderful life,” he says. “Fifteen people could have had that life.”
“A Funny Thing Happened” will be available for sale at the luncheon. For information and tickets: (203) 374-5544