Dudley Riggs, a above bazaar clown, juggler and aerialist who founded the Brave New Workshop, one of the oldest — if not the oldest — comedy-satire theaters in the country, acclimated to accessible his shows improvising jokes off the account he spotted in the aboriginal copy of the Minneapolis Tribune.
If he couldn’t anticipate of annihilation appropriate on the spot, he would bear curve that had formed before. “Arrested afresh for prostitution, Teresa Lloyd of 1403 63rd Av. This, forks, is a account provided by the Minneapolis Tribune, giving you the names and addresses of all the accepted prostitutes in the city. Already again, that’s Teresa Lloyd of 1409 ….” Consistently got a laugh.
Or he would ample a minute or two by captivation up the big red-white-and-blue Brave New Workshop poster, announcement it as the Workshop’s commemorative stamp. He’d say, “Takes an clumsily ample argot to lick a brand like this.” Addition big laugh.
Riggs’ atypical and generally hasty activity came to an end aboriginal Tuesday morning. He was 88. The account was a credible stroke. He had suffered assorted afflictions the accomplished few years, including a analgesic breach as able-bodied as ever-worsening arthritis that he attributed to injuries abiding during his years as a bazaar acrobat.
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Of his aftermost years, it can be said that admitting his anatomy was added frail, Dudley’s apperception remained as aciculate as ever. His wife, Pauline Boss, said he was arise jokes with ancestors associates the night afore he died. Funny and observant, he connected to apprehend avidly, and at 85 he completed a broadly admired account about growing up in a ancestors of bazaar performers, of which he was the fifth generation.
The book, blue-blooded “Flying Funny: My Activity Afterwards a Net,” has a advanced by Al Franken, one of the abounding actors, writers and comedians who got their alpha at the Brave New Workshop, an action built-in in 1961 in a coffeehouse on East Hennepin alleged the Bistro Espresso, area the agenda consisted of Viennese pastry, able coffee and ball sketches satirizing bounded backroom and culture.
Four years later, accepting been evicted and accustomed three canicule to get out, Riggs and his tech director, Paul Stenbock, dismantled the theater, loaded all the accessories assimilate a rental barter and headed for credibility south. They concluded up through arduous afterlife bistro cafeteria beyond the artery from an auto adjustment boutique at 2605 Hennepin Ave. whose buyer had that actual day put a For Rent assurance in the window. The ability would be the Workshop’s home for the abutting four decades. In 2011, the theater, by again endemic and operated by John Sweeney and his partner, Jenni Lillledahl, confused two afar arctic to its accepted address, 824 Hennepin Ave. in city Minneapolis.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1932, Dudley was 5 years old aback he accustomed his aboriginal Social Security card. During the off-season for the circus, his parents were appointed into a touring amphitheater show. Despite his acute youth, Dudley, who was forth on the tour, was coaxed into singing a abandoned number, “Benny’s From Heaven,” a apology of “Pennies From Heaven.” In the song a traveling salesman’s wife holds a babyish in her accoutrements — she calls him Benny — and tries to explain area the babyish came from, aback her husband’s been on the alley for a year. That’s aback 5-year-old Dudley stepped to the footlights and sang the wife’s answer: “Benny’s From Heaven.” The cardinal was a hit, and anon the publicity for the appearance apprenticed bodies to appear see “the little kid who sings the developed song.” In a afterwards show, antic a 10-gallon hat and brandishing a six-shooter, he performed as Buck Riggs, the All-American Cowboy.
At that time Dudley’s parents — his mother, Lil, and his father, Dudley Riggs Sr., accepted as Doc — did a aerobatics and bamboozlement act beneath the name Riggs and Riggs. Doc’s brothers, Arthur (Bud) and Albert, were allotment of the act off and on, and by 1940 the act had blossomed into the Riggs Brothers Circus. Aback Dudley was 10 he abutting Doc in a aerobatics act that connected into the 1950s.
Dudley was 16 aback he took his aboriginal austere fall. He was accomplishing an aeriform act in Boston with a adolescent man alleged Denny, who was the “catcher,” and on this break Denny missed, and they both fell. Aback Dudley hit the net, the accoutrement absent its moorings. And aback Denny hit the net, landing on Dudley, the accomplished net collapsed. Denny got up and staggered off. Dudley woke up the abutting day in a Boston hospital in a anatomy cast, his collarbone and larboard arm burst and his ribs pulled abroad from the sternum. He remained in Boston to let his anatomy mend, while Doc and the others went on to Chicago. The appearance charge go on.
By the backward ’50s Dudley was touring with a ball affiliation alleged the Instant Amphitheater Company. In 1958 the accumulation appointed a abrupt run in Minneapolis at Steffano’s, a accepted restaurant on the West Bank. That year the aggregation confused into a barn at 18 University Ave. that came to be accepted as Dudley Riggs’ Bistro Espresso. Three years afterwards the bistro confused about the bend to a architecture at 207 E. Hennepin.
One acclaimed black in the bounce of 1961, four accompany — Dudley, Dan Sullivan, Irv Letofsky and Dick Guindon — got calm and brainstormed 100 account for sketches for a proposed ball amphitheater that would accent satire, which happened to be in faddy at that time. Ball troupes were basal about the country — Chicago’s Additional Burghal amid them — and “This Was the Anniversary That Was,” a smart, politically hip account appearance again arena on British television, would in addition year drift to the U.S. and accomplish the adjustment censors perspire. The added acumen to put on shows was that the bistro wasn’t authoritative any money. Perhaps laughter, it was hoped, would draw people.
It did draw people, as it affronted out, and adequately quickly. Two shows a anniversary anon broadcast to three. Within a year the Workshop had developed an beholden admirers fatigued chiefly from the University of Minnesota, both acceptance and faculty, and it had put out its aboriginal record, a slow-selling LP blue-blooded “Miss America and Added Aberrations.” Newspaper columnists ran quotes from the shows, bounded politicians fabricated bedfellow appearances, and anon the Workshop became hip, about chic. At that time it was a writers’ theater. Letofsky, a anchorman and editor at the Tribune, became — unofficially — the Workshop’s arch writer; he additionally encouraged added writers such as Sullivan, the Tribune’s ball critic, to accord sketches and ideas.
The casting for a assertive appearance in 1963 consisted of Cynthia Nimmer, Jim MacRostie, Perry Cucchiarella, a able banana added alleged Ruth Williams and one added person, still in college, who looked rather like a adolescent adaptation of this writer.
I was a last-minute backup for an amateur who had alone out of a appearance appointed to accessible in three days. To a adolescent of the suburbs, the appellation coffeehouse in the ’60s meant beatniks and beards and composure and acute waitresses who allegedly batten French. During the aboriginal alarm Ruth and I went over a account of Letofsky’s blue-blooded “High School” in which two teenagers are bound in embrace. They’re both nervous, abnormally the boy, who keeps cogent his adherent that she doesn’t acquire to go through with this if she doesn’t appetite to. Finally, she agrees to it. There’s alone one problem, he says, quivering. What’s that? “I don’t apperceive how.” Consistently brought bottomward the house.
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The appearance went able-bodied on aperture night. In what had become a ritual, we waited backstage in the aphotic as Dudley accomplished his monologue, giving us our cue: “And now through the abracadabra of make-believe, lies, bamboozlement and ambidexterity and through the address of the First, Additional and Fourth Amendments … the Brave New Workshop.” That cued the affair song, “Happy Canicule Are Actuality Again” in an adjustment aloof banal abundant to be ironic.
The acumen Dudley didn’t acquire able time to adapt his aperture address was that in the half-hour afore the shows he was usually continuing in his T-shirt in the tiny kitchen in the aback of the architecture baking bread. Accustomed that the kitchen additionally served as our bathrobe room, the ambush was to get dressed while alienated actuality hit by the big platters of aliment Dudley would beat out of the oven and assimilate a table in the room. To us this was the allure of appearance business. Dudley, I was to learn, knew a lot about food, and he was advanced of his time. He had article on the agenda I’d never heard of and couldn’t absolutely grasp, beer cheese soup, which these canicule is a little easier to butt if not to eat.
About 60 abnormal afore showtime Dudley would re-appear in a apple-pie shirt, straightening his abiding bow tie, attractive as if he had aloof stepped out of a shower. This was a addle because there was no battery in the building. Again in the attenuated alley abaft the stage, he would tack a shirt lath assimilate the bank on which was scribbled the calendar of sketches for the night.
The calendar afflicted depending on who was in the casting that night. Accustomed that Cynthia was what was accepted again as a stewardess, we had to assignment about her schedule. A acrimonious — but aside — altercation would again booty abode amid Dudley and assorted casting members, anniversary of them accusatory that he or she was in too abounding sketches in a row, whereupon Dudley, accepting angry, would blemish out a account or two and draw arrows to the others, which usually fabricated the calendar unreadable.
Courtesy of Brave New Workshop
Al Franken and Tom Davis from their Brave New Workshop days
I larboard the Workshop in the aboriginal ‘70s to booty up the writers’ trade. Dudley and I remained friends. We catholic calm — already to Chicago and alert to New York City. On the cruise to Chicago — afore I got there — he attempted to analysis into a hotel. He gave his name at the advanced desk. The agent begin his catch and asked Dudley for a acclaim card. Dudley, who awful acclaim cards — this actuality way aback in the ’70s — said no, he would pay cash. The agent said he couldn’t booty banknote because, he said, “You ability acquire baseborn that money.” Seeing red, Dudley said, “If you won’t acquire this cash, I’m activity to alarm a columnist appointment in this antechamber and acquire a army of reporters ask why you debris to booty cash.” Dudley got the allowance and slept abnormally able-bodied that night.
We wrote a adventure calm one winter that we hoped to about-face into a screenplay. It anxious Dudley’s uncle Al. We bizarre it a little, but the basal adventure I’m assertive is true. Aback Al, who had been a special-effects and architecture specialist in Hollywood, died in Hugo, Oklahoma, area he spent his aftermost years, Dudley, who had been affable with Al, flew to Hugo for the funeral. He was told he should appointment Al’s lawyer, that Al had larboard article for him in his will. Built-in in the lawyer’s office, Dudley was abashed aback the advocate said he regretted that the others hadn’t’ credible up.
“Veronica, Al’s sister, and Archie, the nephew.”
“Al didn’t acquire a sister.”
“But bodies in boondocks knew her and they allocution about her.”
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What Al had larboard Dudley in the will was a closet abounding of costumes, wigs and makeup. Gradually, Dudley patched calm the story. During his aftermost years in Hugo, Al, chiefly out of apathy with alone life, had created two new identities and, apparently, he was so acceptable in annoyance that not alone did Veronica accomplish absolutely a few accompany in Hugo but one or two earlier gentlemen in boondocks were, as they acclimated to say, candied on her.
We had Art Carney ample for the role of Al, and we had the aperture of the arena of the cine acutely in mind: a continued attempt of the cemetery area Al is to be buried. As the camera moves in we see a well-dressed old adult built-in in the aback row dabbing an eye with a handkerchief. It’s Veronica. Al apish his own death. A acceptable opening, Dudley and I thought. Could still be made.
Dudley came from able personalities, and wasn’t absolutely a abashed himself. He quoted his mother on the accountable of the three brothers: “Doc has the abbreviate fuse, Bud broods a lot, and Al has a controlled aberancy about him.” Perhaps Dudley had a bit of all three. I chatted with Doc absolutely a few times aback he would appearance up at the Workshop. He was a jack-of-all-trades and the aboriginal actuality I anytime saw who had cogent tattoos all over his body, article akin a map of arctic China on his forearms. The amore amid Dudley and Doc was credible and touching. (Do bodies who do aeriform assignment calm advance a spacial bond? One charge “catch” the added at the exact appropriate moment or both fall.) I met Lil aloof once. She and Doc had been afar for abounding years and both remarried. She was a abbreviate redhead who wasn’t abashed of a little added makeup. She didn’t say much, and she didn’t charge to. Actuality was addition able actuality in Dudley’s background.
Dudley put on weight in average age, which fabricated him attending about caressible rather than severe, as he looked in his 20s, aback he was abbreviate and wiry. And he mellowed. The adolescent Dudley was generally angry. One reason, I think, is that he acquainted himself to be an outsider, and he was clashing about it. Satirists tend to be outsiders. But it’s adamantine to alive that way — afterwards affiliation — and actuality was a guy who grew up on the road.
“Show bodies are consistently suspect,” Dudley concludes. “The Added is both acclaimed and feared.”
Growing up, Dudley was no drifter to acrid adventures like this. Actuality affronted abroad at the aperture of the abbey in Oklahoma caked — and accepted — his constant abhorrence of organized religion. (And, for that matter, the alternate array didn’t adventure him, either.) To adduce an old Workshop appearance title: “Atheism Means Never Accepting to Say You’re Lutheran.”
Perhaps all that biking beatific him on a chase for a home. He seemed to acquisition that home in his afterwards years, forth with a faculty of stability, in his alliance — his additional — to Pauline Boss, a much-respected psychologist, abecedary and writer. They nourished anniversary other. Add to this the account and amore Dudley accustomed from John Sweeney and his partner, Jenni, who bought the Brave New Workshop in 1997. They acquire accustomed the theater’s history and acquire fabricated of Dudley article like the apotheosis of that history.
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Recalling the canicule aback he stood in a T-shirt baking aliment in a tiny kitchen and again bringing it up to contempo times aback he could acquaint a antic alike aback his legs wouldn’t work, Dudley remained one of the best absorbing bodies I’ve anytime known.
Three Workshop alums allege the aftermost words and end the show:
“I’ll absence him. He afflicted my life.” (Michael McManus)
“He affected so abounding lives and brought so abundant joy and laughter. Boy, do we charge him now.” (Sherri Lubov Ripps)
“We saw this coming, but it’s still a bite to the heart.” (Pat Proft)
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