*The Yiddish word for comic/jester is “komiker.”
Freddie Roman was born Fred Kirschenbaum in Jamaica, Queens, New York. He is a Jewish-American stand-up comedian, best known for his frequent (“oft”) appearances at “Borscht Belt” hotels. He was dubbed, “King of one liners” and has been called the “Catskills Court Jester!”
“Well, to this day I’m Fred Kirschenbaum, legally, But, in those days, no comedian kept his real name. If it was too Jewish-sounding; you felt it would be a drawback.” (quote)
Freddie Roman’s father was a shoe salesman (“shush
farkoyfer”). Freddie’s uncle (“feter”) and grandfather owned the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills.
Roman’s son, Alan Kirschenbaum, a TV producer, died at the age of 51 from an apparent suicide (“zelbstmord”).
His daughter, Judy, is a former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney.
“kaledzh”/“di universitet” (college)
Roman went to New York University. He married his college sweetheart (“der glibber”), Ethel.
“yingel”; “boytshik” (teenage boy)
As a teenager (“tsenerlingn”), Freddie became a comic in small resorts, but later left show business to work for his father. He became the proprietor of a ladies’ shoe store. He soon realized that his true love was “not in the shoe business, but show business.”
“shtick” (bits that entertain people)
According to Bill Ervolino, NorthJersey.com, “Roman’s shtick is the time-honored variety one liners that get the job done and the kind of stories—often punctuated with a Yiddishism or two—that elicit yuks without making anyone feeling uncomfortable.”
“di bine” (the stage)
During one of his hysterical performances in which the late Totie Fields was in the audience, Totie offered him the opportunity to join her on her nationwide tour. It was rare to have two comedians on the same show. Being seen by Totie at the Concord was the break that opened doors for him all over the country.
“schmooze” [at Kutsher’s Hotel] - (chat/talk)
Roman said, “I walk into Kutsher’s, I don’t go to the front desk. I walk right into the office, sit down on the couch, and schmooze with Milton for an hour or so. Then we go have dinner in the dining room. And that’s the same with every one of the owners pretty much. It’s not corporate.
“ershtr shtlele” (first job)
Roman’s first job paid $40 a week. He played at the Biltmore, across from Avon Lodge. He slept in the dressing room onstage.
Freddie appeared at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas strip and Harrah’s Atlantic City. He co-wrote and starred in the stage show, “Catskills on Broadway.”
“borscht” (a Russian soup that was made from beets)
“My grandmother would make it and then put in sour cream (“smetteneh”). It was a beautiful color, such a nice color that when you spilled it on the tablecloth (“her tishtekh”), it never came out.” (quote) Source: Downtown Express, June 15-21, 2007).
[about Judge Judy]
“Wonderful two judges are married. When she’s ready, she tells him he may approach the bench.” (quote)
“Mike Tyson is an interesting story. He’s the only person in America who’s driving a $250,000 car, who actually makes license plates for that car.” (quote)
“estsimer” (dining room)
Three or four times a week, Mr. Roman traveled into Manhattan from his house in Fort Lee, NJ, and holds court in one of the dining rooms at the Friar’s Club on East 55th Street.
(Source: New York Times, 12/11/2005, article by Robert Strauss)
Roman sold life insurance to give him some semblance of an income, and then on the weekends worked in the mountains.
“hotel” (same as in English)
Roman was the Social Director at Homowack Lodge in Spring Glen. The hotel accommodated 500 people. The small hotels had to take chances with inexperienced acts. That’s how the young comics got their start.
“What a thrill to be here at the Concord tonight because I started up here in the Mountains twenty-nine years ago at a little hotel called Homowack Lodge just thirty miles from here, and look how far I’ve come in this business—thirty farkakte [shitty] miles!” (Source: “It happened in the Catskills” by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer)
“kase” (box office) scam
When “Catskills on Broadway” was a big hit, there was a box office scam. Roman would get a report on how many tickets were sold. He would look out in the audience (“oylem”) and see that there were far more people than they were telling him. He impounded the ticket box two night in a row. Sure enough, they claimed we had 300, when it was 500. It was a major scam and he was reimbursed.
Roman performed at The Mill Run Theater in Chicago.
It was a suburban theater in the round (“kaylekhik”).
It was eventually torn down. Roman said, “they probably built a Wal-Mart there now.”
Freddie made his motion picture debut in the movie, “Sweet Lorraine,” co-starring Maureen Stapleton. Lorraine
is an 80-year-old hotel that is in need of major renovations
and hasn’t got the heart—or the gelt—to keep it open.
Roman is the hotel’s good-natured Social Director.
“oyftretn” (to perform; to act)
Roman did a gig in Apartheid South Africa. He worked with Shirley Bassey, a black artist. At every performance 1,000 seats were kept for one dollar, so that her black following could come see her.
Roman also played at the Copacabana several times. The Copacabana opened in 1940. The club was also known for its chorus line, “The Copacabana Girls,” who had pink hair and elaborate sequined costumes and fruited turbans. Barry Manilow sang, “Copacabana,” but Roman did a high school prom show there.
“orn” (Jewish coffin
“A couple married for forty-seven years; the woman dies. At the funeral, the pallbearers swing the coffin, which hits the wall. From inside the coffin, the woman yells, ‘Oh, my God!’ She lives another four years. She died again. The pallbearers are swinging the coffin. The husband yells, ‘Watch out for the wall!’ Screams!” (Roman joke)
“kvetsh” (complainer, winer - slang)
“EKG” (Estimated Kvetch Grade) - coined by Lisa Allay Klug, “Cool Jew.”
“baklogn zikh” (to complain)
“I just got here from Boca Raton. My old fans from New York are down there. They’re thrilled to see me. I tell them about the woman who complains to the hotel, ‘I’ve been coming down here for twenty years. This food is poison! And such small portions!’” (quote)
Roman’s friend was Mal Z. Lawrence. They worked at the same time in the mountains. His contemporaries also included Sal Richards and Dick Capri.
“A guy checks into a hotel with his wife. He goes to breakfast, goes to Simon Says, eats lunch, sits around the pool, rows on the lake, plays softball, eats dinner, goes to the early show, goes to the late show, then goes to the coffee shop. Finally, at four in the morning, the wife says, “Let’s go to bed.” “Why?” he asks. “Who’s appearing there?” (Roman joke)
“elf yorn” (11 years)
“Eleven years ago I became president [of the Friars Club] for two years. I’m like the Fidel Castro of comedians. I’m president for life.” (quote)
“Vos ahfen lung iz ahfen tsung” (What’s on his mind is on his tongue)
“Helen Thomas wanted very much to be here [Friars Foundation Applause Awards] tonight but she’s getting Woman of the Year Award from B’nai B’rith.” (quote)
FYI: Veteran White House journalist, Helen Thomas, said that Jews who live in Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go “home.”
“kneydl zup” (matzoh ball soup)
A man comes in to the same deli for 12 year every night and orders a matzo ball soup. One night he pulls on the waiter’s sleeve and says, “Taste the soup.” “There’s nothing wrong with the soup,” the waiter says. “Taste the soup,” the man insists, shoving the bowl toward the waiter.
“What the heck are you talking about?” the waiter says. It’s the same soup you’ve been eating every night for 12 years. Nothing’s the matter with it; we make it the same way.”
“Taste the soup,” he says again, sending the waiter over the edge.
“Ok. OK. Stop hollering. I’ll taste the soup!…Where’s your spoon?
(told by Freddie Roman, with credit to originator,
sitting shiva [for the Borscht Belt]
“…Will I mourn? No, I will celebrate (“yoyvin”) it. I will talk fondly about it. There will be a little sadness, but I promise people will laugh (“lakhn”) that night. It was a wonderful era and I’m thrilled that I was part of it at its height. But as I look back on it, I miss it.” (quote)
(Source: “Freddie Roman Spills the Borscht” by Will McKinley, downtownexpress.com, 6/15-21, 2007.)
“Un azoy geyt dos!” (And that’s the way it is.)
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