‘Hello dere’ comedian holds key to longevity

Asking the staff of Ping Pang Pong how the dim sum thing works is starting to turn into one of Marty Allen and Karon Kate Blackwell’s stage routines.

The bug-eyed Allen asks what this or that dish is. The server replies in a heavy accent. Allen looks bewildered. Comedians and joke styles change, but miscommunication is eternal.

And it’s starting to look as though Allen is too.

The “Hello dere” comedian is 85. But he doesn’t want his wife to make that announcement as a nightly part of their new show at the Gold Coast, which opened this weekend and is booked into July.

“Is that what makes me successful?” he asks with a shrug.

It’s nice that he’s not trading on brazen sentimentality, even though Tony Bennett’s 80th birthday seemed perfectly legit for a retail ad campaign. And yet, authenticity helps sell Allen’s wild hair — whisper thin now, but still a signature bird’s nest — the bulging eyeballs and the cuckoo comedy routines.

When Allen & Rossi made their mark as a duo in the Ed Sullivan era, it was Steve Rossi lobbing the soft serves that set off Allen’s drunken wine-taster or addled football player. For years now, his wife has served up the punch lines, adding a new dimension to the old routines.

“It’s been a long time since Nichols and May, Stiller and Meara, Burns and Allen,” he says. “It’s a brand-new thing.”

The next few weeks will determine if the two still have the strong bond with Las Vegans as when they filled the same cozy Gold Coast showroom in 2000. Locals have been onboard ever since Allen and Rossi (still a Las Vegan as well) reunited at the old Vegas World in 1990.

The strong reaction to Allen and Blackwell’s recent New Year’s Eve booking surprised Boyd Gaming officials, who were quick to take notice and sign them to replace “Forever Plaid.”

But Allen and Blackwell have done almost 300 cruise ship performances since their last Gold Coast stint, suggesting their appeal isn’t bound by the county line.

“The kids don’t know who we are but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “They get hysterical laughing because it’s physically funny.”

What’s the secret to his longevity?

“It’s easy,” says his younger wife, a singer who met him in California more than 25 years ago. “Marty has the ability to sit down in his seat and go sound asleep. We can take a cab in New York City, and you know how loud that is. Eight blocks, and Marty can take a nap.”

She says people don’t realize how old he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if audience members miss the guess by a few years, but I suspect they still know they’re cheering on some kind of record here.

As his wife says, “This little baby, he belongs to everybody.”

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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