"It's cold and raining," Soupy Sales was saying by phone from his home in Manhattan. He paused, then added: "Oh good, I just saw a Dalmatian with thermal spots. . . . I drove past the zoo this morning and the polar bear was wearing a grizzly."
For those who plan to catch his show at the Coach House on Sunday night, be assured: He's still Soupy after all these years.
During the peak of his popularity in the 1960s, Soupy Sales boasted a nationwide television audience in the millions. And there were as many adults as there were pubescent and pre-pubescent baby boomers who loyally tuned into his dinner-hour show to feast on the corny jokes, the wacky skits and the silly bits with White Fang ("the world's biggest and meanest dog"), Black Tooth ("the world's biggest and sweetest dog") and Pookie, the puppet lion who showed up at Soupy's window every day to sing and exchange barbs.
Of course, it wasn't all fun and games on the show's patently cheap set: There was the blackboard on which were written the daily Words of Wisdom ("Be true to your teeth and they won't be false to you").
Life magazine chronicled the Soupy phenomenon. So did Look and Time. Sales turned out a series of hit comedy albums. He did the Ed Sullivan show. And at the height of the Watusi, the Jerk and the Swim, he even created his own silly song/dance called the Mouse.
"The Soupy Sales Show" was, as the \o7 Soupmeister \f7 himself puts it, "a monstrous hit."
Even Frank Sinatra asked to be invited on so he could be creamed with one of Sales' trademark pies.
Doing a guest shot on the show quickly became the "in" thing in Hollywood as other stars followed Sinatra's lead. On came Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, Mickey Rooney, Burt Lancaster--and Robert Cummings, who was, Sales said, "the only guy to send me a bill for 75 cents to get his clothes cleaned." And it wasn't a joke, he added. "The man was furious."
The Coach House show is the first in a series of Southern California dates that Sales has lined up this week: He'll be at the Strand in Redondo Beach on Tuesday, the Belly Up Tavern in Solano Beach on Wednesday and the Palomino in North Hollywood on Thursday, April 30. The Sunday night appearance marks the first time Sales has performed live in Southern California since he was on stage at the Comedy Store in Hollywood in 1976.
That's not to say he hasn't been performing. During the past 15 years he has been doing shows at comedy clubs all over the East Coast as well as at the Dunes in Las Vegas and Harrah's in Atlantic City. He even occasionally fills in for morning radio-show hosts.
It's not hard to guess who shows up for a Soupy Sales show.
"My biggest audiences come from people who grew up watching me," said the ever-ebullient comedian, who, when asked to define his appeal said, "I'm very approachable."
Sales, 66, was born Milton Supman in Franklinton, N.C., because, he joked, "I wanted to be near my mother." He earned a degree in journalism from Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., and began his career in radio in 1946. But he's no stranger to Orange County. He was stationed near San Diego while in the Navy in the '40s, and he remembers driving through Laguna Beach and seeing the red-bearded Eiler Larsen, Laguna's unofficial greeter, on Coast Highway.
During the heyday of his TV show in 1963 when he was broadcasting live from Los Angeles, he even performed at the Orange County Fair. ("The Orange County Fair was really something; I mean \o7 big \f7 crowds.")
Sales, who bemoans the lack of comedy variety shows on television these says, said he enjoys working in comedy clubs.
"It's the only creative outlet I've got now to perform," he said. "To perform stand-up comedy in a club, that's the most exciting profession in the world. You're like Spartacus going into battle because every show is a different audience. And you're not hiding behind anything; you're yourself out there and being judged on your own merits."
Although Sales said there are no pies in his fast-paced, high-energy stage show, he does talk about his old TV show.
"I do a segment on what a typical show would be, with the Words of Wisdom and the Soupy Shuffle," he said. "People like it, and it takes them back to it."
The rest of the act, he said, is "a potpourri of different things. There's music in it and some parodies. There are some good stories and I talk about some current stuff."
He has, for example, been following reports of the recent search for Amelia Earhart's airplane.
"They found part of her shoe and part of the plane in the South Pacific," he said. "Unfortunately her luggage turned up in Cleveland."
Laughing, Sales added: "And I have Words of Wisdom for ya. My Words of Wisdom for today are, 'Never buy a TV set from a man on the street who's out of breath.' "
Sales is not sure how to explain the popularity of his old TV show. Maybe, he said, it was because he worked so close to the camera.