Enrico Banducci's Legendary hungry i Lives Again!
hungry i Memories 1
EVA BESSIE WILSON, whose father was the Voice Of The hungry I, Alvah Bessie, founded the very first Kingston Trio fan club.
” I grew up at the Hungry i. I was bored with high school, and my Dad, Alvah Bessie, ran the stage at the I, and what a gas to be able to go down there whenever I wanted to and meet the great performers. I got to know many of them as friends, and especially the wonderful Kingston Trio. I consider the i and North Beach as my first soul-home. I was so lucky.”
LINDA HOLLAND, now resident in Oregon, has a comedy memory to share.
“I saw BILL COSBY at the Hungry i when he was just starting out. A handsome, tall and lanky guy that brought down the house with his humor. There was a fellow at the piano playing something jazzy as people were waiting for the show to start. And without any fanfare or spotlight, Cosby comes out and sits with him on his piano bench and starts playing the piano with him, with his nose! At first only a few people noticed, then as the giggling tittered around the room, people realized he was on stage. A stage which , I have to say, was mighty small. Tiny really. BILL COSBY got everyone laughing before he even began his show. It was great.
My friend Edie and I used to go down to North Beach, dressed in black (of course) and frequent the coffee houses. We used to go to this place called Coffee and Confusion on Grant Avenue. We'd listen to poetry, jazzy saxophone solos, comedy and whatever else was on the fare for that night. When most of the kids our age were learning of acid rock and the psychedelic craze, Edie and I dug into folk music and playing guitars.”
Folk singer TRAVIS EDMONSON of BUD & TRAVIS fame, then part of the hungry i's resident group, THE GATEWAY SINGERS, remembers the first night one of the club's greatest legends first walked in.
“There was always a special warm relationship between the folk artists and comedians who shared the Hungry i stage with them. MORT SAHL, when he was there, always tied us into what he was doing, and announced for us, saying `stick around and see THE GATEWAY SINGERS.' We had that kind of support from a lot of the headliners, especially from another particularly nice guy. Early one evening, circa 1957, before the show had started, a young man showed up, saying that he wanted to apply for a job. None of us recognized him - who he was or what he did. And we ushered him in to talk with ENRICO BANDUCCI.
After the two had spoken for about a half hour, the young man came out and went into the show room, where MORT SAUL was just beginning his act. The newcomer sat in the back, and we thought, disappointedly, that he didn't get the job. All the artists had the same feeling, `too bad, he seemed like a nice young fellow.' He'd made a favourable impression on everyone who had met him.
Mort, of course, brought down the house. There were accolades on top of accolades. The stranger stayed till the entertainment was over, and came out of the show room with everyone else after the performances, but didn't leave with the rest of the audience.
LOU GOTTLIEB, at that time leader of THE GATEWAY SINGERS, approached him then, probably out of fellow feeling for a struggling entertainer. The young fellow couldn't say enough to Lou about Mort - how he thought that Mort was so terrific.
`And what's your name,' Lou finally asked. The answer was `LENNY BRUCE.' ``Lenny Bruce, the same Lenny Bruce who does comedy,' Lou asked. There'd been exciting rumors about this new talent, but no one had seen him yet.
“And he replied `yes, as a matter of fact, I'm going to be appearing here in about a month.' And Lou just about died! He just about came unglued. A spot on the hungry I bill had been secured after all.
Enrico Banducci with former Gateway Singer
Travis Edmonson March 2007
(photo by Jonathan Karesh)
LENNY BRUCE stayed around for the following show, and after Mort Saul finished his next set, Lenny went on, and gave a little preview of coming attractions. The evening was electrifying. Of course, everybody was just so excited about Mort. But Lenny topped him that night. He absolutely delighted his audience, and it ended up with all the acts who worked at the hungry I at the back of the room just really appreciating him and enjoying it. MORT WAS there as well, and he really admired Lenny too.
When Lenny came off, we all shook his hand and thanked him. That was a night I will never forget!”
Unforgettable was the night when STAGG McMANN got PEANUTS creator CHARLES SCHULTZ to fall out of his chair laughing.
The running story about Charley Brown and his gang for weeks had been that Linus was going through a nervous breakdown over the fact that he couldn't fine his famed blue blanket. Public sympathy over the loss was reaching a fever pitch.
Stagg McMann, hungry i emcee and one of the world's greatest harmonica players, was going through his act as normal, never realizing that Schultz was in the audience that night. The usual routine was that Stagg would begin playing the Overture to The Poet and The Peasant, then suddenly pause in mid-stream, and shout a line to the audience. On this particular night, he (once-off and quite topically) yelled out “GIVE LINUS BACK HIS BLANKET!”
They literally had to pick Charles Schultz up off the floor, he was so engulfed in laughter.
And the blanket reappeared the very next morning.
Experience your own hungry i reunion with the wonderful DVD featuring commentary by Enrico Banducci and performances by The Kingston Trio, Limeliters, Mort Sahl, jonathan Winters, Stan Wilson + rare Lenny Bruce footage. Just click the icon to order direct from Amazon!