Maybe it was a month or so ago; I was on my way home on the New York State Thruway, and I chose to stop at a truck stop near Fonda. The plan was simple – fill Cardachrome up with unleaded, get a couple of diet colas and some snacks at the convenience store, and break up the long driving with a bit of a rest.
While I was in the convenience store, I perused the rack of old CD’s and DVD’s, and it was there – among the dusty Louis L’Amour “books on CD” volumes, that I saw it.
The Best of Ollie Joe Prater: Triple Trouble.
I never thought I’d run into this material ever again. I gotta get this.
I looked on the back of the CD for the price tag. Dirt cheap. A few minutes later, I was back on the New York State Thruway, with Ollie Joe Prater’s truckstop standup comedy blasting trough my car stereo and me laughing away like I hadn’t laughed in a long, long time.
Understand something – there’s no way the Times Union’s going to let me link to Ollie Joe Prater’s filthy comedy routines, either on YouTube or elsewhere – just because his comedy would make Howard Stern blush.
The Triple Trouble CD comprises a full-length Ollie Joe Prater performance in Huntsville, Alabama – as he talks about his weight (at one time he was 500 pounds, and at 5’2″, he was taller horizontally than vertically), his drug addictions (he described how cocaine felt as the equivalent of drinking a strong pot of coffee, packing his nose with baking soda, scraping his nostrils with sandpaper, and throwing his money in a fire), and his relationship with his family (one time, when asking his father to help purchase a car, his father said that Ollie Joe had to get a haircut; Ollie Joe replied that Jesus had long hair, so it was okay for Ollie Joe to have long hair; his father said that Jesus also walked everywhere and didn’t need a car).
Ollie Joe Prater’s recordings, along with those of comedians John Foxx and Jay Hickman, were the staple of Laughing Hyena Records, whose owner, Arnie Hoffman, made a ton of money by selling cassette tapes and CD’s at truckstops throughout the United States. I interviewed Hoffman for an article I wrote for Goldmine magazine, and at the time he recalled working with and recording Ollie Joe Prater.
“Ollie Joe Prater was the second comedian I ever recorded,” said Hoffman, “and we did real good with his tapes. He didn’t take care of himself, he got up to 500, 600 pounds, to the point where he couldn’t stand any more, it was like putting a 400-pound barbell on your back. He would sit on a stool and wave his arms around, then he’d walk a long walk to the end of the stage and sit in a customized chair, he later went home in a van with a hydraulic lift.”
Ollie Joe was also known to be a comedian off the stage as well. “When we were recording Ollie Joe, he was only 450 pounds then – he hadn’t gotten REALLY large – and one night, during the recording session at the hotel, somebody pushed the elevator button and it opened up, and Ollie Joe was naked in the laundry cart with a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam. Comedy doesn’t stop when they leave the stage.”
Ollie Joe Prater made several appearances on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, and was a regular at the Comedy Store in Hollywood – at one time, he was on the same performing bill as Richard Pryor.
Ollie Joe Prater – or Gilbert Hartzog, as he was known to his family – died in November 1991. He was only 44 years old.
But his ribald and off-color humor still makes me laugh every single time I hear it. And if you type in “Ollie Joe Prater” on YouTube, you’ll find several of his comedy routines. And they’re still as funny as the day when he recorded them.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to add this little CD to the rest of the material I’m taking with me when God calls my name.
That is … if God’s too busy laughing his tush off, because he’s also hooked on Ollie Joe Prater’s comedy material.
This made me laugh out loud, but not for the obvious reason.
In Chicago, in 1981, my partner (Karen McVeigh) and I started out in Chicago as a comedy duo. Shortly thereafter, we became arguably the top act, or at least the most ubiquitous. By 1983, we were the house comedians at the Chicago Playboy Club, at Opal Station (a bar on the Far North Side), and at the Chicago Comedy Showcase (a now-defunct comedy club on the Near North). Second City sometimes hired us to fill the bill at Second City ETC, their “overflow” space on Wells. We were also the most frequent comedy act at Byfield’s, then located in the Ambassador East. We toured all over the country, headlined everywhere, but concentrated on the Midwest markets (as they were easiest to get to), right alongside acts like Ollie Joe Prater, Emo Philips and Judy Tenuta (who were dating at the time), and John Riggi (now executive producer and frequent director of “30 Rock”).
Ollie Joe Prater had a reputation. The reputation was, “Don’t perform if Ollie Joe Prater is in the house.” Ollie Joe Prater was *the* comedy thief of the 80s. Do your best routine on Wednesday in front of Ollie Joe? It’ll be in Ollie Joe’s set by Friday. If you HAD to go on — if you were on the bill and couldn’t get out of it gracefully — you’d hope you were on stage before him, so that you could do your own material before he could do it for you.
My partner and I were mostly immune to this because we were doing a two-person act; there was very little of ours for Ollie Joe to steal. But most other acts were not so lucky. Younger comics who knew the score, and were most protective of their material, would actually refuse to go on if Ollie Joe was on the bill. Older comics, who expected a little respect among their peers, loathed to perform if Ollie Joe was on the bill, and might try to get away without doing their strongest material to avoid it becoming an instant part of Ollie’s act. Ollie mined most of his material from comics who either didn’t know his reputation, or were so hungry that they felt they had to perform all-out anyway and take their chances.
So just remember when you’re listening to that OJP album: most, if not all, of that material was written and originally performed by other comics VERBATIM. Ollie Joe was one of the most reviled and most unethical comics of his era.
“the most reviled and most unethical”
Somehow I don’t think this is a problem for Chuck.
Hah! Maybe you know him better than I do. 🙂
It’s phrases like “Ollie Joe Prater’s comedy material” that made me laugh. It was dependably not Ollie Joe’s material.
Josh – unfortunately, I never heard that material performed by anyone else OTHER than Ollie Joe Prater, so I always associated those jokes with him. Okay, there was a joke that he and Jay Hickman shared – one about the consistency of pudding in a refrigerator with the punchline, “Well, pour me a glass” – but I guess when one DOESN’T know that the material came from other sources, it does make a big difference as to how the material is perceived.
Oh, I understand that! I wouldn’t expect people outside of the comedy industry to be very aware of this kind of thing. Milton Berle was, supposedly, one of the biggest material thieves of all time, and nobody remembers the people *he* stole from, either.
For the most part, Ollie Joe (and my partner and I) worked in an era just before thousands of comedians’ material became enshrined on video via cable TV shows like “Evening at the Improv” and so on (although there was a little overlap towards the end of his career). Had Ollie Joe hit the scene a little later, he might not have been so bold in his theft.
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