….the brilliant brilliant mind behind Otto and George, who died earlier this week in his sleep. He had contracted meningitis a year ago and never completely shook free from that.
Here’s the deal with Otto. He was, by his own admission or any yardstick, a terrible ventriloquist. His lips never stopped moving. Even his dummy would give him shit. But the stuff Otto launched through George’s mouth was sheer unexpurgated fearlessness. The best kind of filth. The stuff that cleans out your insides. Nobody, I mean nobody, got the kind of helpless laughs that Otto got from an audience. (“Fucking broad thinks I’m real….”) And the fact that he rose from a teenage puppeteer cursing people out on the streets of Manhattan to a guy doing midnight x-rated shows in Jersey shitholes to a nationally known act who appeared regularly on Opie and Anthony— the fact that he did six minutes on Letterman for Christ’s sake! (below!) — underscores how deeply gifted he was.
It was a kind of joyous tourettes. One Tuesday night in the mid-80s, Adrianne and I were working at the Bitter End in front of Otto. She brought him up and he was talking to the crowd. There was a guy up front. George: “Hello, Sir. What do you do for a living?”/Guy: “I’m a musician.”/George: “That’s very interesting. What kind of musician? Are you a jazz mus — JUNKIE!!!!! I’M FUCKING TALKING TO YOU!!!!”
There have been many many Otto and George remembrances on Facebook. The best one Adrianne and I read came from Jim Mendrinos, a comic who was once the head writer on the Tonight Show. Mendrinos was emceeing a show in Jersey. There was a 400-pound drunk woman in the front row who belligerantly heckled him for the minute he got on stage. Same thing with the middle act. Nobody could get anything going. Finally, Mendrinos brings up Otto and George, the headliner. Everyone couldn’t wait to see George tear this woman apart. No one could bury a heckler like Otto.
Well, they go on stage, and Otto, for the first time maybe ever, works completely clean. Not a remotely offensive word. And the woman is giving it to him. And every time, Otto stops and says, “Lady, why are you yelling such awful things at my little puppet?” He keeps saying it, and completely turns the audience against the woman. Every time she says anything, they boo and shout her down. Finally, after ten minutes, she gets up and walks out. Otto and George silently watch her leave, and once she’s completely out of the room, George turns back to the crowd and says, “Jabba the Cunt….”
It took two minutes for the room to stop laughing, then Otto and George destroyed the place for 45. As always, there were no survivors. Now, there’s just George. Mike Eagan, another comic, put it best. “George has the best stories.”