An interview from the Uncut archive
He just passed away, at age 92. He was my old friend. A great guy, a really great guy. He started managing us right at the beginning.
What do you think he saw in you?
He was a jazz guy, he was managing Dave Brubeck. We had a No 1 record by the time we met him, “Sound Of Silence”. A lot of people liked Simon & Garfunkel, so I guess he saw what people saw. He was a funny guy, honest. Many, many years passed and we still remained friends. We lived not too far apart so occasionally we would have dinner. He loved to tell jokes. He was one of my main source of jokes. People stopped telling jokes, people don’t tell jokes anymore.
Tell us a joke, then.
Tell you a joke? Let’s see. What can I give you? Here’s one of them. This guy’s got a cat. He’s absolutely dedicated to his cat. His brother says to him, “Your life is totally dominated by the cat. Why don’t you just take a trip to Paris for a week? I’ll take care of the cat, he’ll be fine.” So he leaves specific instructions how to take care of the cat. Flies to Paris. Next morning, the first thing he does is call his brother. “Hi, I’m here. How’s the cat?” “Oh, the cat. The cat’s dead.” “What? Oh, my God. I can’t believe it. What kind of way is that tell somebody news like that?” So the brother says, “How am I supposed to tell you?” He says, “You do it gradually. ‘The cat is on the roof. But it’s fine. The fire department are coming so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.’ Then the next day you say, ‘The cat fell off the roof but fortunately he landed in a tree. He seems to be settled. The police are coming to get him.’ Then the next day, ‘The cat fell out of the tree, broke a leg. But we got the best vet we could. He says no problem, he can set the leg. He’ll be fine.’ Then the next day you say, ‘We gave him anaesthesia, we did everything we could, but we just couldn’t save him.’ That is how you tell somebody a thing like that. But forget it. How’s mum?’ So the brother says, “Mum is on the roof…”
I’ve always wondered whether there was much crossover between the stand-up comedy, jazz and folk scenes in New York in the 1950s and Sixties…
Yeah, there was! Lenny Bruce and jazz, the Kingston Trio and folk. My father was a musician, so there was always this musician humour going around. I was funny anyway when I was a kid. Artie was funny too, that’s why we became friends. We had the same absurd sense of humour. That, and we were the only two guys in the neighbourhood that wanted to sing. So there was a connection at the time. But it’s long gone now and as I say, people don’t tell jokes anymore.
Did you see Inside Llewyn Davis?
No, I skipped it. I heard it was terrible. It was based on Dave Van Ronk, who I knew. But they didn’t. I like the Coen brothers, I think they’re really good – really good – but I figured, you’re never going to get Dave Van Ronk right. He was a real character, and they’re going to try and capture the folk scene and they’re not going to get it and I’m going to look at it and say, “That’s not how it was.” A funnier film on that subject is A Mighty Wind.
You were in Annie Hall…
Yeah, Woody Allen asked me. It was fun. I’d get my lines and I’d say, “You want me to play this rock’n’roll producer, but that’s not the way he’d talk.” So he’d say, “Say whatever you want but just make sure that you end it with, ‘Come on back to our hotel room because it’s going to be very mellow.’ Make sure you get that in – ‘It’s very mellow’ – because my joke is based on ‘It’s very mellow.’ But otherwise just say whatever you want.” That’s what I did. That was it.