As the host of "Call Me Adam," I love chatting with other people who conduct interviews, especially when I ask them "What question I haven't asked that they would have liked?" It's so interesting to see how what someone else will think of. When I found out about comedian George Bettinger, who had a friendship with the legendary comic/TV host Joe Franklin and hosts the hit radio show The Mom and Pop Shop, I couldn't wait to interview him. He has interviewed some of entertainment's biggest names such as Madeline Khan, Julie Newmar, Robert Morse, Kathy Garver and so many more.
In this interview, we talk about laughter, fame, Joe Franklin, and get some inside scoop about a few of the celebrities George has interviewed!
The Mom and Pop Shop airs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4pm EST! Click here to listen!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a comedian? As a child I had nephritis, which kept me indoors a lot. I watched a great deal of television. In the mid 60's there were great comedy films on TV from the silent days on up to the 50's. I loved Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, The Bowery Boys, The 3 Stooges and so on. It inspired me to imitate them and later to make little films on 8mm film doing that style of comedy.
2. You always say "Make sure you laugh a little everyday, it is important and can change the way you feel." Do you remember the first time laughter really changed the way you felt? If so, what was that moment? Has there been a day where you haven't laughed? If so, why didn't you? I can go as far back as being hospitalized for my nephritis, (maybe four years old) grabbing a doctors stethoscope and running down the corridor making the nurses and attendants laugh. There have been multitudes of days I haven't laughed. I suffered severe third degree depression and debilitating panic and anxiety.
3. When did you realize your brand of humor made people laugh and that perhaps this could be something you could do for a living? What feeling did you get the first time someone laughed at your jokes? Around age 12 I was making people laugh, in school, at friend's homes. I didn't think of it as a living then. A living to me was the toil my father worked at being a retailer on New York's Lower East Side, putting in six days a week selling luggage one suitcase at a time. From an early age I too helped out in the store. It was serious work. There was a huge family to feed with many splinter families and friends who came in and out of our home. My parents worked very hard. My mother took care of the home making sure all were fed and then packing food to take to her invalid parents. I accompanied her many times.
4. What was the worst comedy set you ever performed? After that performance, did you think of giving up or did you say, "We all have bad nights, I'm just going to learn from this and do better the next time?" I don't recall performing an actual stand up set that was so bad that I wanted to quit. There were many "on" and "off nights." I do recall attempting one particular bit on LIVE television that fell flat. It embarrassed me and gave me pause and made me realize that I can not do all that I think I could.
5. You first came to the public's attention as an Eddie Cantor impersonator on The Joe Franklin Show. What was it about Eddie Cantor that made you want to impersonate him? I loved Eddie's energy! I watched him on TV and really enjoyed his delivery and his mannerisms and his singing was unique. I read a great deal about performers. Eddie was one who was quite the humanitarian. He was also Joe Franklin's first friend in show business and I knew it delighted Joe when I impersonated him. As with Groucho Marx, I could do the "young version" and the "old version." Joe particularly got a kick out of when I would talk to him as the "old Eddie." Joe laughed and said "You make him sound like an old man in a rocking chair!"
6. What went through your head when you found out you were going to be on Joe Franklin's TV show? How long after your appearance on that show, did things start to change for you? Excitement, fear, adrenalin rush, pounding headaches and a feeling of accomplishment. Things changed relatively quickly. I was already putting together my first cable TV show called Movie Magic and contributing to The Uncle Floyd Show.
7. In a nice turn of events, you got to interview Joe Franklin in 1985. What was it like to interview the man who helped get you your start? Was there anything you wish you got to ask him that you didn't? I was 23. Joee was about 59 at the time. We were already long time friends. It was a delight to interview him. We had chemistry on TV and as personal friends. Joe kept a close circle of real friends. I was honored to be part of that circle. At that time he was extremely on top of this game as the "King Of Nostalgia" and a legendary late night host. He would not do any show. But he did mine. He then had me on his show the next week, sitting beside him, and told the world that "this is a recip (reciprocation)." He said referring to himself; "I did his show and now he is doing my show." I was able to make Joe laugh in private to the point where tears were flowing and he would beg me to stop. I would impersonate people that only he and I knew. We had a bond.
8. You are currently hosting the hugely successful radio show The Mom and Pop Shop on Dreamstream Radio. What do you love about having your own radio show? What made you want to call your show The Mom and Pop Shop? Our main station is Tune In Radio's It's Right Here In Miramar broadcast out of Miramar City Hall in Florida and heard worldwide on the Internet. What I love about The Mom & Pop Shop is that it's one of a kind. Fan's who merely met on the LIVE chat have literally traveled from FL to Italy to meet, from Ireland to The Bronx. That is loyalty and trust. I love that. It is a hybrid of the charm of the golden age of an accessible host combined with the immediacy of the fast paced internet. This is why NBC and ABC network news covered the show.
9. Over the years you have gotten to interview so many legends: Madeline Khan, Julie Newmar, Robert Morse, Kathy Garver and so many more. I personally was a big fan of Madeline Khan and Julie Newmar, what was one surprising fact about each of them that you learned from interviewing them? If you don't remember, then you can answer this question...what do you enjoy most about interviewing people? Who do you still want to interview? Madeline Kahn and I clicked as soon as we met in person. It was at an audition. She was a brilliant performer and a genuine person. I was overjoyed to gain her trust. When I reflect back, I realize that this was very important to Maddie. I feel blessed that she was in my life. William V. Madison mentions me in the first authorized biography of Madeline Kahn. I am at the top paragraph of chapter 74. Quoted as "her friend George Bettinger." What struck me most about Julie Newmar was her keen intelligence and wisdom on how to deal with life. I think of the words she said to me everyday. There are many people I wish to interview. I enjoy talking to people.
10. As an interviewer yourself, what is one question I didn't ask you that you wish I did? (and please provide the answer to said question). Here is my question: Where would you like to see yourself in the industry? I would like to have a television show, that would give me the opportunity to be a genuine, charming host sans the popular snarky-ness so prevalent today. I would like to have a program like The Joe Franklin Show where celebrities are interviewed and up and coming talent get their start.
11. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Wisdom. I wish to continue to learn.
George Bettinger began producing short comedy films by the age of 12, at a time when Kodachrome Silent 8mm film was the standard. "I began way before VHS tape. We had to purchase each 3 - minute film cartridge individually. It was costly for a kid. Three minutes was 50-feet of film stock and then we would shoot scenes and hope that after waiting a week for the 50-foot roll to be processed, something showed up that was usable!" At the same time, George was appearing regularly in school plays and occasionally showing his 8mm custom made films at school.
At a young age, George developed a great appreciation of classic comedians from the golden age of silent and early sound films. By 16, he was impersonating Groucho Marx, Eddie Cantor and other legends, when he caught the eye of broadcast legend Joe Franklin, who featured George regularly on The Joe Franklin Show on WOR-TV. He was also writing and appearing in comedy bits on The Uncle Floyd Show.
In 1982, George created an early cable TV series called Movie Magic, which ran for five years. He simultaneously worked at his father’s world famous little luggage store, Bettinger’s Luggage, on Rivington and Allen Streets in NYC’s historic Lower East Side. There George delighted customers with his impersonations as he sold suitcases.
Throughout the late 1980’s and 90’s, George kept busy auditioning and booking numerous radio and television commercials, playing the voice of the animated red M&M on NBC promos for Frasier and Will & Grace, one of the highlights of his commercial career.
Teaming with his mentor Joe Franklin on Saturday nights on WOR radio as Joe’s "Man of 1000 Voices," gave George the opportunity to release his CD, The Mom & Pop Variety Shop on Original Cast Records.
When given the enthusiastic green light to bring a 90-minute radio program to the internet George used the CD as his template and The Mom & Pop Shop was born.