Joseph Aliaga (1934-2016)

Hello. I’m a friend of Joe Aliaga’s and I’m sorry to have to tell you that he passed away on Christmas Day. He gave his friends a list of people he wanted to know. There’s going to be a memorial service. You’re more than welcome to attend. It would be nice if you could come. There’s going to be lots of people. Again, I’m sorry to be the bearer of sad news. He was ready, and wanted to go, and he is now at peace. Thank you. Bye bye.

I was a client of the psychologist Dr. Joseph Aliaga for 11 years and was touched to be on the list of those to be notified by phone of his death at the age of 82.

The memorial tribute to him was held on Saturday February 4, 2017, at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center at 208 West 13th Street, in Manhattan. Joe was gay, and had been a prominent figure in the New York City gay community.

The event took place in the large Lerner Auditorium on the third floor, and more then 50 people attended. Long tables in the back had platters of small sandwiches, cheeses, fruits, soft drinks and coffee. I arrived 15 minutes before the 1:00 PM starting time.


As I was walking around a man introduced himself to me. When I responded, he knew about me. “Joe spoke of you often.” It was the first of several such amiable, uplifting and informative conversations.

I saw an actor who was a client of Joe’s. Joe had once urged me to see a play that he was performing in. I did, and so went over to tell him all this. This led to a pleasant conversation. There was such collective grief and warmth, that strangers easily interacted.

On a large screen was projected a selection of photographs of Joe with biographical information. He was born in Brooklyn, his schizophrenic mother was Puerto Rican and his absent father was from Spain, he had a paternal half-sister, he had been a tour guide and a bus driver, a transit union representative and an unpublished novelist of several books. That he got a degree from NYU and became a therapist at the age of 40. There were pictures of him from all ages of his life, and of the places around the world that he traveled to.

His ardent animal rights activism was rooted in his life-long love of his childhood pet, a beagle named Popcorn.

Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier was played during this presentation. Later, we were told that this was one of Joe’s favorite pieces. At the end of the event, one of Joe’s favorite artists, Leonard Cohen, was heard singing his song “Anthem.”

There were tall, standing boards with photographs of Joe, and also a table with photographs. These were all used in the slide show, and there was a sign encouraging people to take any they wanted as a souvenir of him. I took the one of him in a blue shirt that accompanies this story, as it is how I remember him.

Two small crates from Joe’s extensive and eclectic CD collection were on display and people could take whatever they wanted. I took an Edith Piaf set, Lena Horne at The Supper Club in 1994, a Frank Sinatra 80th birthday collection and the two disc The Essential Bob Dylan released in 2000.   Joe and I had often spoken of music over the years, and it was fascinating to actually see what great and far ranging taste that he had.

Joe was long affiliated with Identity House which was founded in 1971. It is “a peer-counseling center for the community offering a walk-in counseling and referral center as well as weekly groups where people can talk about issues related to sexual identity.” He moderated many groups there.

Officials from Identity House organized and presided over this more than two-hour glorious remembrance. They spoke at a lectern with a microphone, and then anyone else could either go up to the front, or have the microphone brought to them.

About a dozen attendees shared their memories of and experiences with Joe. A common theme was his concern for his clients and his generosity. How his fees were often so low, so that no one was turned away due to lack of funds, as he nobly believed that anyone who needed therapy should have the opportunity for it. This was a factor of his financial insolvency in his later years.


Another link between many of those who spoke was the long length of their time with Joe. One person had been seeing him for 22 years, and most had been doing so for over 10 years.

A young man spoke of how he came to Joe at the age of 19, troubled by his family’s negative response to his being gay. Joe helped him get into college, and that led to a successful career.

The landladies of his office on West 13th Street humorously recalled their relationship, notable for his lack of aptitude with technology. That was a recurrent reminiscence.

A man who became a client after having been traumatized by his involvement with 9/11, described how after changing careers and becoming computer specialist, he went from being a patient to being friend of Joe’s. Joe often beseeched him for computer help for “that fucking thing!” It was speculated that Joe might have had an undiagnosed learning disability.

Joe’s passion for the arts was chronicled and he had many clients in the field. A devoted moviegoer, his colorful film reviews were legendary. One person detailed Joe’s lengthy, serial phone messages that were movie critiques worthy of The New York Times.

I remembered his story of visiting his local hardware store and seeing fabulous paintings hung near the cash register. The owner of the store did these. Joe tried to interest an art agent patient of his in them. “I have so many clients that I can’t get any attention for already. I can’t take anyone else on,” was the pragmatic response.

An Indian man movingly told of his 30-year involvement with Joe. With Joe’s encouragement he pursued his passion for writing and this culminated with the recent publication of his book of short stories. Alas, this was too late for Joe to see this.

On the lighter side, a heavy-set male client of Joe’s sang a hilariously compelling rendition of the classic “Twisted” song, “My Analyst Told Me.”

It was recalled that Joe believed that happiest times of his life were in the free-spirited era of the 1960’s Greenwich Village coffee houses. His Leftist and very Liberal politics were discussed. He was warning all year that Donald Trump had a very good chance of winning the presidential election. Joe based this on his long ago days as a cross-country bus driver, and his knowledge of life outside of New York City. “I know how those people think!”

An older friend of Joe’s refreshingly brought up his earthiness. “Joe traveled around the world, but he didn’t spend all his time in museums!” He lightheartedly went on about Joe’s sexual exploits that continued on into his later years, and how though he urged others to settle down, but had no interest in doing so himself.

A very emotional series of recollections were from a man in his 20’s, who was a volunteer with SAGE (Senior Action In A Gay Environment). He detailed how during the last year of Joe’s life he regularly visited. They would watch movies and he would read aloud to Joe, but they never finished any of these works as Joe would tire. How forgetful Joe had become, and how they would converse about the same things each week. It was a beautiful case of the very young helping the very old.

Joe’s physical and mental decline began in 2012, when he slipped on an icy street and broke his shoulder. It was after that, that we switched from office visits to phone sessions.

In January 2016 after getting off a bus he fell in the snow and hobbled to his office for a therapy session. The patient asked if he was all right, as he appeared to be in pain. Joe described the incident and the patient looked at his monstrously swollen knee and demanded that they go immediately to a hospital emergency room. They did, and the fractured knee was diagnosed.

After surgery, Joe had to go into a nursing home for rehabilitation. His stay turned out to be permanent, necessitating giving up his East Village apartment. A close circle of friends and colleagues took care of his needs until he died.

I visited him only once at the Upper West Side nursing home that he had been transferred to. That was because he made it difficult, and I sensed he had mixed feelings about me seeing him while he was in less then ideal condition.

We spoke on the phone. He had an old flip, cell phone. I expressed the desire to see him. We set up a date a few days ahead. I called that morning, and he said it wouldn’t be a good time and set up another visit. I called that morning and he said okay. An hour later, while I was on the subway he said not to come. A week later I went over without advance notice.

I had not seen him person for three years. He was wearing a hospital gown, and was in a wheelchair, with his knee heavily bandaged, and had lost a good deal of weight. He was poring over an old notebook, writing in it with a pen. He was happy to see me.

We caught up, and he was unhappy about the facility, and was making plans to go somewhere else, which never happened. He was rueful, “Oh, Darryl, it’s not good…”

I was there about a half hour, and he said goodbye and so I left. We spoke a few more times on the phone. One time he asked if I would visit. I said yes, and it was left that he would tell me when. That never happened. Once, I had voice message where he just bellowed my name. I returned the call but never heard back. I called again and didn’t get a response.

I felt guilty about not having been more in contact with him. During the tribute though, someone went on about how Joe didn’t believe in guilt, especially when we are faced with difficult situations that we really have no control over and have to make a decision. I did my best under the circumstances, and I felt he knew that, and that he wanted things to be as they had turned out.

“I was one of Joe’s low-fee patients,” I said in beginning my reflections. It was near the end of the tribute. I had been wavering about getting up to speak, and it was now or never. “Every few years, he would reluctantly ask if it was possible for me to pay $5 more.” I then told my story about Joe and me.

After feeling overwhelmed by several situations I went to Identity House’s drop-in counseling at The Center and spoke to a very sympathetic counselor. He set up an appointment at Identity House. I spoke with someone there and was then given the names of two therapists to make appointments with.

The routine was to have a prospective client meet two possible therapists and give them a choice of whom to go to.

The first was a nice man in his early 30s, who classically mostly listened in silence with occasional “Ahs.”

The second was a bearded, loquacious and bald old man with twinkling eyes. He was a cross between Sam Jaffe and Ralph Bellamy in Rosemary’s Baby.   That was Joe. Though not Jewish, his patter was sprinkled with Yiddishisms, and he came across as an old-time, street smart New Yorker.

“I’m 70. I wanted to be a writer and wrote six novels that I couldn’t get published. I eventually became a therapist. Many of my clients are artists and performers. I know what the frustration is like of being an artist…”

I told him of my feelings and situation. By the end of this introductory exchange, I thought that he was clearly the one to go to.

Into the third year came what I believed to be the great breakthrough that made the therapy invaluable. While we were conversing he proclaimed:

“You seem much more hardened then when we started.”

“Thank you doctor! Then it’s not my imagination! I do feel less hurt and vulnerable. It takes less time to get over setbacks and disappointments then it used to.”

“What do you attribute that to?”

“It could be the therapy and it could be just getting older. It’s probably a combination of both.

“I think you’re right.”

The years went by, visiting Joe at his office weekly. Past traumas were explored and present ones analyzed. He was particularly insightful regarding my relationship with my difficult mother. He briefly alluded to his own mother, and learning years later that his mother was schizophrenic, and had been institutionalized, must have given him a unique perspective on the subject.

Many times we got caught up in discussing movies, plays and musical performers. It was not unusual to for there to be a 20-minute detour onto the greatness of Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra or some other ionic figure.

He was constantly affirmative about my acting ambitions. “You have a great presence and are very funny. I could see succeeding on the stage. Keep at it!” “Any auditions this week?”

From inquiring of another client of his who was a moderately successful actor, he brought in a list of helpful hints for joining the performing unions and about contacting agents that he shared with me.

That I was single was another facet of his concern. I was encouraged to join online dating sites. “Go to bars but watch the drinking.” He was overjoyed when I eventually entered into a significant and lasting relationship for the first time.

Following the first six years, after the past had been mined and the present was better, our sessions took on a more conversational tone.

There was a month long hiatus into the eight years when he was recuperating from his broken shoulder. Then began the phone call era as he had to cut back on seeing people in his office. Talking once a week on the phone became a ritual of debatable benefit.

Last year, the day before our phone session he called me to say he would have to call me later then we planned. This was due to his being in the hospital for his broken knee.

“We won’t be able to talk today,” was his message the next day. I could hear him yelling with pain. It was left that he would let me know when we would continue.

Two weeks later there came an awkward and brief conversation as he announced that we wouldn’t be able to continue at all because of his condition. I was relieved and sad at the same time.

“No matter how long you go, the last four years weren’t necessary,” was Nora Ephron’s remark about therapy. As usual with her quips, this pithy pronouncement is humorously true.

Indeed, years into therapy I questioned to myself about whether I should stop. Several times during the phone call era, I almost did. Joe was declining. He couldn’t remember things, and I would have to give a recap/summary of subjects we had discussed many times before. There was even a time when he called me by someone else’s name and once asked who I was.

A portion of each session would be devoted to the checks I sent. Did I send it? He got a check. What weeks did it cover? He got confused about the date of a check. Still, I continued our sessions.

Friends were aghast that I still went on with him. I felt he had helped me considerably and that I was now helping him. He obviously didn’t want to give up. Like most people in their later years, he wanted to be useful and to have something to do. Besides, his fee was very low and I still believed in the benefits of talking to a professional, even with diminished capacities.

Our later conversations could be exasperating, but there were also chats that were fulfilling. That it came to an end due to his wishes seemed natural and fitting. He offered to refer me to someone else, but I declined.

The paradox is that though I agree with Nora Ephron I now miss those phone calls. When I concluded my remarks I felt the eerie sensation of wanting to tell Joe how well my speech had been received by several people there afterward.

I Am a Pumpkin

“Oh Mr. Huston, I want to be in the theater!”

“We all do kid.  We all do.” A young, starry-eyed Eli Wallach to a weary Walter Huston outside a Broadway theater stage door in the 1930’s.

At 41, some men are arguing cases before The Supreme Court or performing brain surgery or accruing benefits from a civil service job.  At that age, I was on stage at a former Times Square porno theater in front of an audience of two.

Nude except for a grass skirt, a wild, white wig, my face painted with blue and white stripes à la National Geographic, dancing and chanting non-sequiters such as Michako Kakutuni and kugel, all in order to portray a witch doctor summoning the undead for “The Dance of The Zombies.” I did get to sort of meet Joe Franklin.

witch-doctorSome years ago over the summer, after responding to a casting notice on, I became involved with a sketch comedy group organized by the Anne Riceish looking Pam.  In her 30s, rotund, usually swaddled in black, with tresses of dark hair, and vocally talented, she was one of those vibrant characters one often encounters on the fringes of show business.  It is virtually impossible for the unconnected to connect with the entertainment industry decision makers who are secluded in impenetrable glass fortresses. The dreamers are left to flap around “creating their own opportunities,” often led by charming, mentally unbalanced schemers.

With the assistance of her low-key, Grateful Deadish, pony-tailed husband Nick, she assembled a group of eight actors and comics.  For a month we rehearsed their dozen short spoofs and parodies, a few of which were very funny.  Some of the gems were about Harry Potter, reality television, temperamental actors shooting a porno (I was the exasperated Gary Marshall type director) and my tour de force as “Dr. Lou,” the soothing host of “Teen Talk.” I advised a 16 year-old girl to keep her football captain boyfriend by having sex with him, and a boy to use heroin instead of marijuana.

Rehearsals took place at a small, East Village art gallery that the owner rented out after hours to theatrical types at bargain prices.  This project reached a thrilling finale when we actually recorded them in a real sound studio in The Film Center building under the guidance of a real producer.

Supposedly Pam had connections at Sirius Radio and our efforts would eventually be broadcast during The National Lampoon hour and CDs would be sold and we’d all be getting money.  However, no contracts or releases were produced for us to sign and our addresses were never collected to send us our checks.

While our future ticket to riches was being edited, Pam unleashed plans for her/our next glorious endeavor, The Haunted Side Show. This would be a 30-minute Halloween extravaganza to be performed six times a night.  Based on charging the public $20 and selling out, (her last year’s similar event had “lines around the block!”) we’d EACH get PAID $40 PER SHOW meaning over $200 A NIGHT.  WOW!  As the art gallery was double booked, this presentation took place at the outdoor seating area of a coffee bar on Avenue A.  We then did three readings in this bucolic setting.  Since she didn’t have to pay rent to the gallery, our refreshments were taken care of.  The show consisted of sketches at a scary carnival presided over by “Coffina,” a sort of crypt keeper Emcee.  We divided up the other characters.


Adorable, 23 year-old, blond, longhaired Jeremy would play The Pirate, Dracula, and Jack The Ripper who executes Coffina. The Dorothy Parkerish Laura, as a vicious Mermaid and as Dracula’s victim.  Dizzy, mature but ageless Brenda, as a fortuneteller with a haunted voodoo doll.  The amiable and chubby Patsy as a German accented witch reminiscing about Hansel and Gretel.  I was to be Frankenstein’s Monster and an audience member tormented by the possessed voodoo doll.


Rehearsals went on for a month a few days a week usually at the art gallery, once at a popular rehearsal hall on Lafayette Street.  Reaching October with no word on WHERE we’d be performing was odd.  When pressured Pam said, “I think it will be in a loft in Soho…The Mermaid’s tank is built and the vampire’s coffin is almost ready…”

Our original troupe was supplemented by one of Pam’s associates. Colin, a 30ish Mario Cantone type who would be performing an original monologue as a wildly gay Igor and as The Witch Doctor. Another newcomer was Mira, an attractive belly dancer in her late 20’s.

Several swings who would cover all the parts were engaged to gives us a break from the undoubtedly grueling six performances a night routine. These lost souls were Lucy, a wide-eyed kook in her early 20’s, Ellen, a nurse in her 40’s Shirley, a raucous, thin, frizzy-haired Lesbian in her 50’s, and Bernard, a hunky opera singer in his 30’s.

Through emails and surreptitiously in person Laura and I shared our doubts.  We had met many years earlier when we were young NYU bohemians, lost touch and miraculously met up again during the forming of this troupe.  She rattled off a list of conflicts expecting Pam to declare that maybe she should drop out.  “That’s okay.  We’ll work around you!”  I took a wait and see approach.

About a week before performances were to begin Pam sent out an email proclaiming that the show would be at The Laugh Factory in Times Square!  Incredible!  At Eighth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets it was a great location.  Rehearsals were to be held in the adjacent office building.



The Laugh Factory was originally the lavish sex palace Show World. In its pre-Giuliani, Disneyfied heyday, its three floors housed $.25 peep booths, small private rooms with women behind glass catering to the desires of the men who put money through slots, and selling areas with a variety of pornographic material and sexual paraphernalia. It had been converted into an Off-Off-Broadway theater complex and in the last two years was the New York City branch of the Los Angles comedy club. Outside, speakers blared the sound of loud laughter to get passersby’s attention. In time this seemed like a mockery of our efforts. The red and black décor with red walls, and small-mirrored tiles arranged in numerous triangles on them were preserved from the building’s licentious past. A bartender said that the place was haunted by the ghost of a murdered prostitute found in the ladies room. “Cut up real bad. Sometimes you smell her perfume…”

There was a spacious room for headliners and for big shows, and upstairs were a small cabaret and our theater. With 100 seats, it was an impressive venue suitable for genuine theatrical events. The backs of the rows of chairs were equipped with small tables where the audience’s required minimum of two drinks could be placed.

Lucy and Ellen called Pam to quit. Pam believed that it was because she chided them for not knowing their lines at recent rehearsals. Nina, the professional makeup artist that had been engaged, announced that she has last minute tickets for a motivational speaker at Madison Square Garden and has to leave soon. Pam had not obtained the promised makeup spray gun and Nina also has not brought her makeup kit, so she uses the Rickey’s assortment Pam bought to make me up. I do look great as Frankenstein’s monster.

“Where’s Mira?” The belly dancer did not show up. During rehearsals she confided to me her reservations about not getting paid as she is in high demand for paid parties and events that she’d have to refuse in order to perform in this show.

On our opening night no one came. This unattended performance was used as a necessary run through. We then goofed around and wrapped it up at 10:00 PM. There had been no “big sandwich” that had been promised by Pam during rehearsals. She had claimed that her sister was an executive at Subway and that we’d be supplied with a free food. Earlier, Pam was eating and no mention was made of food for us. The phrase “big sandwich” became short hand to express our frustration.

The next night as there were no tickets sales, Pam decided that we should use the time to hang outside in front of the theater and out flyers for the show. I stood on 8th Avenue dressed as The Monster accosting weary commuters on their way to The Port Authority.

“I’m a friend of Pam’s but she’s a great con artist! She CONNED The Laugh Factory into giving her the theater for free as well as the rehearsal space. ‘I’m very well known and have a following. My Halloween show last year was sold out!’”


“PLEASE! She was a $10 an hour witch at Madison Square Garden last year! They’ll throw us out of here!” cackled Shirley. During one of the run throughs when we were playing zombies she grabbed my crotch.

Outside, flyering as The Witch, she bellowed “Live Pussy!” to guys leaving the next door X video emporium. She tells me that she is not coming back tomorrow as this is taking time away from the one-woman show that she is developing. We exchange business cards. I’ll miss her playful bawdiness.

It also became apparent that the show is not very good. From the audience and from behind the stage curtain I watched the parts that I wasn’t in. Curtain pulling became problematic as the deputized stagehand, a short, goateed boy in his mid 20’s, never returned after opening night. From then on, the actors had to coordinate the back stage technical elements as someone had to.

The spectacular opening sequence was Pam emerging from a large upright coffin center stage. Encased in black, her face madly painted and wearing a red and black Mrs. Lovett wig, she proceeded to greet the audience with expository bad puns and then sang a lengthy original blues number accompanied by a rickety cassette played over the sound system. This was intended to begin the show with big laughs that as the ever-present curtain puller I never witnessed. She was always discombobulated by the difficulty of locking the door of the coffin. As she wrote the material it was fascinating to observe that her recitation of it always varied.

Another bit that thudded was a song sung by Pam in a Baby Jane Hudson blonde banana curl wig and Patsy as French conjoined twins wearing a connective striped outfit. They sat sewing while performing their Franco-English chanson, which never came out with the desired alternative and simultaneous effect.

The Stockholm Syndrome is the notable psychological phenomenon where over time hostages identify with and form a sympathetic bond with their captors. It also exists in The Theater.

Actors starved for opportunities to perform find themselves in a negligible project usually spearheaded by someone of questionable sanity. Instead of sensibly withdrawing, as they instinctively know they should based on similar past misadventures, they sublimate their powers of reason. They stick with it by formulating delusional rationalizations for staying. “You never know!” “Someone important may see it!” “It’s not that bad.” “It could get better.” “I do have a good part.” “It’s too late to leave it would be unprofessional.” Outlandish claims by the instigators could happen. The cast often shares these insights secretly after the project is well underway. “I wasn’t sure.” “That doesn’t sound right.” “This is the worst thing I’ve ever been in!” On opening night, “One down, eleven to go!”

Throughout the run I check with the box office about our tickets sales. Usually the ticket agent was a funny, African-American girl.

“Do you know if any were sold for tonight?”


“No you don’t know or no, none were sold?”

We laugh. “None.”

Sometimes, “OHHH you have two customers for the next show!”

I give the information to the cast as Nick who runs the lights and sound, invariably lies, telling us about fantastical high-ticket sales to pep us up.

One would think that a 30-minute show that had been rehearsing for a month would be pretty good shape.  GAFFES GALORE.  Sound miscues, flubbed and forgotten lines, people not position for entrances, the curtain was improperly pulled thus obscuring the crucial dancing voodoo doll. I was in that bit and did pull the platform with the doll out, “It would be great if we could see him!” I improvised.

Being the truly deranged individual infected with theateritis I am, it did have its exhilarating qualities.  Two women were in genuine hysterics when I was wheeled out as The Monster and brought back to life.  Especially when I leapt into the audience to grab one of these ladies.  The 2001: A Space Odyssey/Zarathustra theme was supposed to be playing during my resurrection.  Apparently no recording was obtained as Coffina HUMMED it.  Later, when I was an audience plant that was brought up by the fortuneteller, it had been obvious this actress was flailing.  I looked in her eyes and saw she was totally lost.  I had to feed her cues.  It went well.

Had a glass of wine at The Laugh Factory bar to come down from the high.  Saw JIMMIE WALKER schmoozing with the crowd of about 20 after his 8:30 show.  He is still alive and around.

Like being 16, and in summer stock…

At 11:00 PM many of us got dressed and left taking the side entrance to avoid Coffin outside flyering in hopes of attracting people for the midnight show.


I arrive at 6:00 PM and am the first there except for Pam. She reprimands me for leaving early last night as she supposedly had two guys interested in seeing the midnight show. The cast last night did not actually leave after getting dressed but went for a drink and returned! I plead confusion. Colin, I later learned was in costume for my part of The Monster, but no one actually attended the show.

Later on, Pam continued her habit of defensively thinking out loud. “I spent $2000 on a publicist! Unless people start coming, I’m never getting my money back!” Seeing the lack of makeup and supplies it seems unlikely that there was ever that much money to spend on publicity. “When I get that money back, I’m going to pay you guys!”

Most apocryphal was when Mira arrived just in time from a gig in Westchester during her belly dance got entangled in the scenery and it hilariously became “The Dance of The Cobwebs.” That was her only performance before she fled the show.

Our one performance tonight was for Patsy’s parents. She plays the German accented vulgar witch who reminisces about Hansel and Gretel. It went well and we wrapped at 10:00 PM.



One very special performance was for Brenda’s male companion and their actress friend. He was originally going to attend last night’s midnight show. “Call him now Brenda and tell him not to come! We are not staying late just for him!!” I growled and was seconded by everyone else.

Jeremy called Pam at 6:30 PM to say he wasn’t coming. This was understandable as lives an hour away in Brooklyn, had been to a party the night before, had attended all of the rehearsals and performances and had had enough. Pam was livid. I heroically interjected as to how to divvy up his parts between Colin and me. The show must go on.


With a puffy shirt, suede vest and an eye patch I became Jack Nicodemus, the 345 year-old pirate who comes out with a vicious mermaid in a tank. Behaving like a carnival barker, I invite the audience to come up and take a closer look. An audience plant is eventually pulled into the tank where it is intimated that he is drowned by the mermaid and that she also eats his liver.

After this bit, while the curtain was drawn, I then changed into The Monster. No time for makeup so I wore a cheap mask.

I also ended up having to play Colin’s role of Mahalo, the witch doctor who summons the dead for the finale. Colin wore the grass skirt over his clothes. Since this was the closest I would likely get to onstage nudity and feeling confident after having gone to the gym for three months, I wore the skirt over my boxer briefs and was shirtless and barefoot. I put on the wig and painted my face with blue and red stripes and gave it my all. Not since the 1940’s when Laurence Olivier appeared in repertory at The Old Vic in Oedipus and The Critic had such dazzling virtuosity in The Theater been witnessed. Had a glass of Merlot after. We wrapped up at 9:00 PM and return (?) to The Laugh Factory on Thursday.


An email from Pam:


Thank you all for your hard work and dedication to this project. It has been a lot of fun to work with all of you and I hope you feel the same.

I know that everyone is disappointed with the attendances thus far. I know I am. Because of this, we are revamping the schedule.

Since there are no advance sales for tomorrow, we are going to cancel the Thursday performances.

Our next performance will be FRIDAY at 8:00 PM. We are pushing for shows at 8, 10 and 12.

Everyone get out there and push the show. Please let me know if there are shows in the schedule that you cannot make.

Thanks again,




Colin has a lucrative engagement for the weekend reading tarot cards and so is no longer with us. His Queer Eye Igor monologue is retired. Not mentioned is the absence of Bernard the opera singer who was supposed to join us this week covering the men’s roles. Nick runs from the sound and light booth to play the audience plant that gets slaughtered by The Mermaid. I assume the mantle of The Witch Doctor for the rest of the run. Two people for the 8:00 PM show and four the 10:00 PM, all strangers. Laugh Factory Merlot for me in between performances. At 11:30 PM we were allowed to leave.


It was a night for the theatrical annals. Five shows! At 8:00 PM there was incredibly nine people, the largest audience of our run. Merlot afterward to unwind.

Most cherished is the audience of four at the 9:00 PM show. It included a professional couple in their late 20’s from Queens, Frank and Lauren. They are good friends of mine who at his instigation have come to see me and often suffer through every show that I’ve been in in for the last three years. These minor works of varying degrees of accomplishment have been performed at venues from The East Village to The Upper West Side and in between.

After the show I met them in the lobby and they were supportive as always. “Great makeup as Frankenstein!” “I couldn’t stop laughing when you chanted Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters as The Witch Doctor!” As I had not promoted this event with emails, phone calls or flyers to anyone else, this praise is the only I shall receive from those who know me. Hugs and handshakes as they leave. Merlot! Next!

Seven people at 10:00 PM. A silent German couple at 11:00 PM. We began dressing at 11:40 PM but a mysterious couple arrive for the midnight show. “FUCK!” bellowed Jeremy as he was late for another party. We raced through it and leave at 12:40 PM.

During the course of this exhilarating evening some of Pam’s Orson Wellesian pronouncements included, “Next year skeletons with The Werewolf and The Mummy. I’m sure the club owners are trying to take the show away from me and are trying to copy it.”

Obviously due to budget restraints there is no professional makeup remover. Instead, there is a container of super duper baby wipes. After several day of following five performances tonight using scores of them to wipe off the globs of green, gray, white and red and black liquid (for scars) , my face is very red, dry and every line and wrinkle is accentuated. Suffering for art…


With the countenance of a vintage stuffed owl and that of a Friar’s Club Buddha, and wearing a cranberry blazer, JOE FRANKLIN sat through the penultimate performance of The Haunted Side Show at The Laugh Factory.  Except for a woman in the cast playing an audience plant he was alone, which added even more absurdity to this surrealistic spectacle.

Often peeking thorough the curtain I was transfixed as he stared impassively NEVER laughing or reacting during the show.  At first the chronic puffing up of his chest seemed like a reaction but it was just a natural tic.  He did not even respond to my tributary adlibs.

As The Monster I howled “Martin Paint!” and on my line to Coffina, “You doctor?” I improvised, “You Dr. Brown?”  She was rattled, “Who is Dr. Brown?” OF COURSE those were long time sponsors of Joe Franklin’s legendary Channel 9 local talk show that spanned the eras from Eddie Cantor to Carrot Top.

My Yiddishisms as The Witch Doctor also were met with silence.  Following the zombie finale where the undead threaten to leave the stage to eat the audience’s brains, the curtain came down and rose for the cast to take their bows.

He BOLTED.  There was to be no backstage congratulatory visit from this venerated show business legend.  Earlier he was griping to the audience plant.  “Are you going to the stand up show downstairs at 8:30 too?  It’s 8:15 already!”

His renowned warren of an office that was crammed with ancient LPs and historical performing arts memorabilia was in the building adjacent to The Laugh Factory.  Pam ran into him several times during our residency, imploring him to come see our show.  It’s close proximity and his always being on the lookout for new talent must have led him to keep his word. His presence made this performance the supreme highlight of this theatrical folly.

If it had been the last performance it would have been fitting.  Instead, that was for three friends of a cast member who caused a ruckus at the box office when they learned they would be compelled to buy two drinks in addition to the $20 cover.  Pam eventually offered to pay for their drinks as they had old flyers before the club’s policy was known.  THAT was more then the surviving cast of eight diehards got after a month of labor.  Our recompense so far was a medium sized Hershey kiss and one Subway sandwich of our choice.  Our addresses were collected for a future check, “That couldn’t possibly repay you all…”

The drink server distracted them several times during the show taking orders, etc., so many of the punch lines and bits went unappreciated.  The highlight here was when Pam is crouching in a tank, her hand manipulating the gypsy fortuneteller’s singing and dancing voodoo doll puppet.  I, as an audience member come up on stage to stab it with the fortuneteller’s knitting needle and blood spurts out of my chest.  As always, I very carefully proceeded to do this but THIS time Pam HOWLED FOR REAL as the needle pricked her hand.  Symbolic of a great deal.

Afterward there was a false alarm about three people for the 10:00 show.  Many of us got made-up again, but soon Pam and Nick called it a night and the two-week run was over. We took off our makeup for the last time and packed up our stuff.

Pam was distant to me. Had my barbs been overheard? Was she pissed off about my Joe Franklin riffs? Was she really stabbed by my thrusting of the knitting needle?

There were farewells, handing out business cards to each other and promises to keep in touch and then we split up.

Laura and Brenda throughout all of this had been discussing their next appearance together. That was to be in a loony anti-Bush performance art piece performed the next month in a Chelsea gym. The girl playing The Easter Bunny had dropped out recently. Would I be interested in auditioning for the role? “I don’t think so…”

Earlier Pam relayed to us The Laugh Factory’s proposal of adding previously unscheduled performances on Halloween night.  EVERYONE was busy.  Instead, Pam would be doing a solo show as Coffina.


“I love the theater and all the charming people in it!”  John Barrymore.