Old Jokes for Old Folks

For the comics who play South Florida's condo circuit, knockin' 'em dead is a disturbingly distinct possibility

As if worries about the audience weren't enough to mar this cool January evening, Kipnis is nursing a cold. He says as much to Terry Ross, the Lido's social director for the past 25 years, a towering white-haired woman whose full-length gown is accented by several gold necklaces and a huge pair of purple earrings that dangle from her lobes like dollhouse chandeliers. Ross smothers her guests with attention, even going so far as to hire men to come and dance with the widows who visit the spa each season. In return, guests are expected to have a good time. "My audiences are trained to laugh at the comedians I bring here," Ross jokes. "I threaten them with death."

In spite of his cold, Kipnis looks positively effervescent in a gray tuxedo, red bow tie, and matching cummerbund, standing on a raised platform in the small ballroom, bedecked with tinsel stars and streamers. Viewed from the audience, his brown hair looks somehow thicker than it did up close, and the strong directional lights smooth out the wrinkles running from his thin lips.

Kipnis has been on-stage intermittently ever since he was a young man in Chicago during the Depression. In those days he'd pose as a regular filmgoer at Warner Bros. movie theaters, where he would stand up to perform when the manager called for amateur "volunteers" from the audience. The subterfuge earned him five dollars a pop. Though he went on to a career in optometry, he continued to perform for friends and at small social gatherings. In 1979 Kipnis and his wife moved to Miami, where he decided to peddle his shtick at retirement communities. He's now a well-known comic kibbitzer, and tonight he's showing why.

While Kipnis, like his cohorts in the trade, relies on old material -- in his case, funny stories he's picked up over the years -- his delivery is impeccable, and the audience eats it up. "We had a guy back home who was a golfer. Played 36 holes every day," patters Kipnis, who goes on to describe how the man decided to sail his yacht to Scotland to play the legendary courses there. "On the way over, he runs into a storm. Terrible storm, wrecks that yacht completely, and he ends up on a deserted island. He's there for about a year and a half, until one day he's lying on the beach and he sees coming out of the water a gorgeous girl, fabulous figure, wearing a wet suit with zippers all over it and one zipper straight down the center. He says, 'Where the hell did you come from?' She says, 'Never mind that -- would you like a smoke?' He says, 'You got cigarettes in there?' She says, 'I sure have.' And she sits down, unzips a zipper, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and gives it to him. She says, 'Would you like a drink?' He says, 'You got liquor in there?' She says, 'I sure have. I've got Scotch.' And she undoes a zipper, pulls out a bottle of Scotch, and gives it to him. He says, 'This is fabulous -- fabulous!' And she says, 'Now for the big question: Would you like to play around?' He says [and here Kipnis shouts], 'You got golf clubs in there?'"

For 45 minutes Kipnis has them guffawing. He finishes his set just shy of 10:00 p.m. and stands outside the ballroom to personally thank the dozens of people who seek him out to say how much they enjoyed the show. Then, without further ado, he walks away, an old pro with no illusions A only the occasional desire to stand in a small spotlight and make a few people laugh.

Frankie Man makes it perfectly clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes (within reason, of course) to keep himself, if not in the inner sanctum of the famous, at least in what he considers to be its antechamber. And so when Sheba Mason's mother found out that Jackie Mason was booked into the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and asked Man to take the little girl so she might greet her father after the show, the condo comic obliged. Sheba, after all, had not laid eyes on her father since she was a baby.

Sitting in the den of his Coconut Grove home, Man is happy to recount the events of that evening early last December. After Mason's set ended, he says, he made his move. Unfortunately, a security guard saw him and prevented his entourage -- himself, his son Chris, and Sheba and her grandmother, Miriam Olivier A from getting backstage. Not surprisingly, Man persevered; he eventually located another stage door, and Chris managed to jimmy the lock.

The way Man tells it, although the comedian was surprised when the group burst into his dressing room, Mason immediately recognized him. ("I've known Jackie for a long time," he explains.) Introductions were made. Mason, says Man, said Sheba looked just like her mother. Man disagreed. "I said, 'I think she looks more like you, Jackie,'" he recalls. "And then I said to Sheba, 'Are you really Jackie's daughter?' And she answers, 'To tell ya the truth, with a face like this, who else could I be?'"

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