Silverman stays out of limelight

Jeff Silverman (Photo: Michael Peake, QMI Agency)

Jeff Silverman (Photo: Michael Peake, QMI Agency)

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

One wall of Jeff Silverman's office is full of photos -- mainly of him and ex-Yuk Yuk's stars like Jim Carrey and Howie Mandel.

The next wall over is completely filled with decades of framed newspaper and magazine interviews -- all of them with Silverman's accomplice, Yuk Yuk's founder Mark Breslin.

"And that's the way it should be," says Silverman, an ebullient, happy-faced career second-banana, who has been the "other guy" in some of Toronto's most legendary countercultural institutions -- and who has an autobiography out called Funny Business: Business Lessons with a Cents of Humour.

Said institutions include the Rocky Horror Picture Show era of the Roxy Theatre and the Horseshoe's early punk days (when he partnered with young promoter Gary Topp), the unforgettable three-year TV experiment that was Ch. 47's All Night Show (which he created, making a local star out of comedian Chas Lawther -- aka Chuck The Security Guard), and of course, Yuk Yuk's, where, as president, he carries out business and signs the cheques.

He also vaguely hints he may have been the victim of idea-theft that led to America's Funniest Home Videos.

Given the giant-ape status Yuk's still holds in Canadian comedy, virtually every Canadian comic has either encountered Silverman or knows about him. But "if somebody phones here and asks for somebody to speak about comedy, I point them to Mark," Silverman says.

"When I go to the club, a terrible thing happens; I form opinions. I've had too many fights with Mark over comics I didn't think were worth walking on that stage, and four years later they're stars. Harland Williams, Jeremy Hotz, these guys, for whatever reason, he saw something special in them and I didn't."

So Silverman has stayed out of the limelight. In fact, you could probably count the number of times he's been interviewed on one hand -- and two of those interviews were with me.

One was 30 years ago, when I was a student journalist and The All Night Show was a critical part of my life and that of my fellow night-owls. It was an unbelievably eclectic mix of homemade films, old TV shows like The Naked City, The Outer Limits and People Are Funny, surprise guests (Woodstock vet Richie Havens showed up one night for an acoustic solo set), ancient newsreels like Passing Parade and the films of Pete Smith. In between, "Chuck" would exchange banter with the unseen cameraman Ryerson (Errol Bruce).

Silverman was rightly proud of having talked then-station owner Dan Iannuzzi into leaving the transmitter on overnight (this was back in the days when stations signed off each night, typically around midnight), and he had ultimately unfulfilled dreams of expanding the experiment.

Recently, items from the All-Night Show were requested for the archives of the non-profit Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation, a collection which will eventually be housed in museum form and showcased online.

"They took Chuck's uniform, all the All-Night Show copies I had, and they were thrilled to get it," Silverman says. "It made me feel great. It was a wonderful time. Nothing has ever been like that, before or since."

But did the All-Night Show inspire Dick Clark's second career as a reality TV producer? "There was a comic who was going to L.A. and he had some connection to Dick Clark. And I gave him tapes of the All-Night Show and said, 'Hey, show this to Dick Clark and see if he's interested.'

"He went off with the tape, but it was only a year later that Dick Clark came out with Funniest Commercials, and I'd done that two years before. Same with Funniest Home Videos. I sent him a tape, who knows? It's not like I'd ever go to court over it. But it shows we were ahead of our time."

As for the message of Funny Business, he says, "You can have fun and make lots of money doing it. That's basically the story of this book. There's no part of it where I want to kill myself. I'm good at seeing opportunities."

 


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