Mal Z. Lawrence, Catskill quipster, dies at 88

Mal Z. Lawrence, a mainstay of comedy in the Catskills during the latter years of this resort’s heyday and one of four artists who broug...


Mal Z. Lawrence, a mainstay of comedy in the Catskills during the latter years of this resort’s heyday and one of four artists who brought borscht belt humor to Midtown Manhattan in 1991 in The hit show, “Catskills on Broadway,” died Monday. in Delray Beach, Florida. He was 88 years old.

His talent agent, Alison Chaplin, confirmed the death, in a hospice.

Mr. Lawrence rose to prominence in the Catskills in the 1950s, but quickly rose to prominence across the country, performing in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Florida and other stages of the comedy circuit, where his relatively mild, Jewish-tinged humor was greeted with enthusiasm. . For a Florida audience, he might be joking about the Catskills; to a northern audience, he made fun of Florida.

“I worked in a place called Century Village in West Palm Beach”, a routine went. “Working there was like appearing at the Madame Tussauds wax museum. If you didn’t have a disabled parking permit, there was nowhere to put your car.

The Catskills, which drew a heavily Jewish crowd, declined in the 1960s as a summer vacation destination. Mr. Lawrence, however, kept the flame alive; he still performed his borscht belt-style routines as he approached 80, working venues in Florida, New Jersey, Illinois and elsewhere with gear that could have fit comfortably into his number one half a century earlier.

Mr. Lawrence acknowledged that his style of humor had acquired an added dimension of nostalgia, something that he, Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Freddie Roman turned to gold in December 1991 as the original cast of “Catskills on Broadway” . The show was little more than each of them taking turns doing about 30 minutes of jokes, with Mr. Lawrence last. Opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, it operated for over a year and then enjoyed a healthy touring life.

“‘Catskills on Broadway’ manages to replicate the vibe of the Catskills,” Mel Gussow wrote in his opinion premiered on Broadway for the New York Times. “The fundamental difference is that on Broadway there is no bite in sight. But there is a groaning array of jokes about eaters and executioners. As Mr. Lawrence observes, everyone in the Catskills wears warm-up suits. Warming up for what, he asks, sumo wrestling?

Mr. Lawrence has also acted, playing supporting characters in films, including “Rounders” (1998) and “Boynton Beach Club” (2005), and occasionally appearing in plays. In 1997 he was part of the Broadway cast of a cover of “Candide,” directed by Harold Prince, playing (as Ben Brantley’s Times review described it) “a dizzying array of supporting roles.”

To play them, he shaved the mustache he had been sporting for a few years.

“I look 20 minutes younger now,” he told Jewish Exponent at the time.

Manny Miller was born September 2, 1932 in the Bronx and raised there. “Evil Z. Lawrence,” as he has told the story over the years, was the suggestion of one of the early agents, or perhaps several different agents. “Lawrence” was borrowed from a village on Long Island where it appeared. As for the Z, which was nothing, “My agent told me I would get more marquee space,” he said.

He was a decent baseball player in his youth and said he even tried for the Yankees, but nothing came of it.

He was drafted into the military in 1953 and, during his service over the next two years, began to pursue a career in comedy. He looked like Jerry Lewis, he said, and he teamed up with another soldier to replicate Mr. Lewis’ routines with Dean Martin for the enjoyment of his fellow soldiers.

Mr. Lawrence went to work in the Catskills in 1955 at Sunrise Manor in Ellenville, NY.

“I took women for a walk,” Simon Says did, ”he recalled in an oral story for“ It Happened in the Catskills, ”a 1991 book edited by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer. “The first time I made Simon Says, I donated 30 T-shirts. I couldn’t get anyone out.

Soon he was performing, both in Catskills resorts and in small nightclubs in Eastern towns. While he’s never made the leap to stardom on TV or in the movies like Danny Kaye, Buddy Hackett, and other comics that started in the Catskills, he’s worked steadily.

The Broadway show evolved from a well-received overnight show at Westbury Music Fair on Long Island, although not everyone was convinced it would work on Broadway.

“A lot of knowledgeable people said it wasn’t going to be okay,” Lawrence told the Washington Times in 1993, when the tour version of the show performed in the nation’s capital. “I think I was one of those people.”

In 2000, he, Bruce Adler, and Dudu Fisher performed a similarly styled show, “Borscht Belt Buffet on Broadway,” at Midtown Town Hall. He was also the closest to this show.

“Declaring himself delighted to be on West 43rd Street at the height of the offseason”, Laurent Van Gelder wrote in a Times review, “Sir. Lawrence soon covers such topics as troublesome security guards in Florida, gambling in Atlantic City, dining at Catskills resorts, old age, and the effects of marriage on behavior. The public. spell smiling.

In 1980, Mr. Lawrence married Patty Heinz, who survives him. They lived in Delray Beach.

Mr. Lawrence was not one to dwell on the principles or technique of comedy.

“My philosophy is, ‘Do whatever you have to do to make them laugh,’” he told the Washington Times. “What else can we do?”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Mal Z. Lawrence, Catskill quipster, dies at 88
Mal Z. Lawrence, Catskill quipster, dies at 88
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