Cabaret Through Time Fridays At McElrath Cabaret: Woody Allen–Join Us!

Welcome! Fridays are the day when we at the McElrath Cabaret Blog are going to present blog posts in our Cabaret Through Time series. We are going to present historical cabaret singers, performers, venues, writers, and musicians, and will begin to compile a cabaret timeline. We hope that you find it informative, and that you enjoy it!

Woody Allen–A Cabaret Comedian

Today’s focus is on the multi-talented Woody Allen.  Much has already been written about today’s subject such that a short blog post cannot do him justice.   I choose instead to mention a very few of the highlights of his early career in cabaret.

I have referenced several websites for information on Woody Allen’s early years as a comic, and links are provided below.  There are also some biographies written on Woody Allen.  They include:  Woody Allen on Woody Allen, by Woody Allen and Stig Bjorkman; Woody Allen:  A Biography, by John Baxter, Woody Allen:  A Biography, by Eric Lax, and The Unruly Life of Woody Allen:  An Unauthorized Biography, by Marion Meade.  Allen also has his own website, which has a focus on his film work.  There are also two albums of his comedy act:  Standup Comic, and Nightclub Years 1964-1968.

From an early age, Mr. Allen was good at creating stories.  In an interview on NPR, he also mentions that he loved to play ball, and played ball and won medals in track when he was a student at New York University and City College of New York.  His parents both worked, and didn’t make much money, and so Mr. Allen went to work at age fifteen, doing what he was good at:  writing jokes, which he sold to a local newspaper for $200 a week.  He over time wrote jokes and other comic material for Herb Shriner, a radio and TV personality and host, as well as Ed Sullivan and Sid Caesar.  Writing jobs for The New Yorker magazine followed, and he was also a writer for Candid Camera, the popular television show.

As a change from writing jokes for others to perform, Allen began working himself as a stand-up comedian, using jokes that he had written, in cabarets, or nightclubs, from 1961 through 1964.  Cabarets were not only the venues where singers performed, but comics also shared the same stages with these artists.  The needs are similar for both types of performers:  a small room that can seat one hundred or fewer patrons, and an audience willing to go along for the ride that the entertainer takes them on, creating an intimacy where audience members felt that they got to really know who the performer was, and a loyal and dedicated following can be formed.  Allen was lured away to film, in order to act a little, and write and direct a lot, starting around 1965, and so his cabaret work waned at this point yet continued until the late 1960s, but it was in cabaret where he developed his well-known neurotic persona that he has used to delight audiences past and present.  He performed his stand-up comedy at the Duplex, a nightclub in Greenwich Village.  According to the website Musicals101, the appeal of these performers at these rooms was that “Savvy club owners encouraged performers to develop their skills, as both Broadway and television looked to these clubs for fresh talent. Audiences came regularly, hoping for a first look at performers the whole country might soon be cheering for.”

Allen describes the cabaret tradition in the United States thusly:  ”[The cabaret tradition consisted of] stand-up comedians, who worked on TV, who worked on the Borscht circuit.  The borscht circuit is the Jewish summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains, where all the Jewish families used to go.  They all had borscht, so they used to call them the Borscht circuit.  And lots of comedians played there.  Everyone played there:  Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, just every comedian you could think of went up there and entertained.  And apart from that there was TV and there was night clubs (from Woody Allen on Woody Allen by Woody Allen and Stig Bjorkman 29).


A very brief timeline for Woody Allen (not complete–only a few major highlights)

1935–birth; born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in the Bronx, New York

late 1940s-early 1050s–he began calling himself Woody Allen

1954–began writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and for Sid Caesar

beginning in 1960s–has played jazz clarinet and performs live; had a regular gig on Monday evenings at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan

1961–began his stand-up comedy career

1965–wrote his first produced screenplay, What’s New Pussycat?

1966–started writing for Broadway, wrote the play Don’t Drink The Water

1966–Directed his first film, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

1977–Annie Hall wins four Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Director

1994–Writes and directs Bullets Over Broadway, Academy Award nominated

2011–a documentary was made of Woody Allen, called Woody Allen:  a Documentary, directed by Robert B. Weide.


What I like about Woody Allen’s work in cabaret is that he is an entertainer first and foremost.  I also like that there is a connection between cabaret singing and comedy.  Cabaret performers are always looking for funny moments to add to their patter, and you end up having to write your own jokes a great deal of the time.  It is not easy to be funny on paper, yet Allen has consistently been so for decades.  He is a genius at his craft of writing and performing, and today’s cabaret performers would learn a great deal by reading his works, watching and really listening to his writing in his films, and watching early live performances of his nightclub acts whenever you have opportunity.  He was also very good at finding a persona that worked for him when he worked in cabaret shows, and cabaret singers will do this to a degree when they make a character choice for acting a song.  Cabaret performers could benefit in finding venues for singing cabaret performance that also cater to comics, because the audiences who appreciate both art forms are similiar in that they are people who are willing to listen and join in the moment, which creates an experience for them that is memorable, and why they are such die-hard fans of both art forms.

Below is one of Woody Allen’s classic cabaret stand-up comedy bits–for your enjoyment!


And for the fun of it, Woody Allen on the great television show, What’s My Line:

What is your favorite Woody Allen joke or comedy bit that he wrote? Leave us a note in the comments below—we always love to hear from our readers!

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Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:

Mondays:  Cabaret Soiree Cabaret Blog Link Party

Tuesdays:  Cabaret Tip Tuesday

Wednesdays:  Ask A Cabaret Question

Thursdays:  Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer

Fridays:  Cabaret Through Time





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About Athena at McElrath Cabaret

Athena McElrath is an entertainer with a love for theatre and singing. She enjoys delving in the area of historical cabaret, researching the singers and clubs that were in business from before 1920 to the present, in New York and beyond.
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