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Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2003 / 24 Shevat, 5763

Phil Perrier

Phil Perrier
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Consumer Reports

Nell Carter gave
me a break | I am a standup comic. Around 1995 I was living near Atlanta and driving around the Country doing gigs at clubs. One night I found myself doing a show for a small crowd at a Holiday Inn lounge in Montgomery Alabama. The crowd was small but appreciative. Any comic knows, one really good laugh can make a show like this; inspire other people around them to laugh, carry you through the rough spots. This was one of those nights.

Toward the back of the room, just beyond where I could see -- thanks to the spotlight in my eyes -- there was a lady with a big, rich booming laugh; one of those unrestrained "I don't give a damn," laughs that came from way down deep.

It was oddly familiar.

As the show progressed, so did her laughter. She never let me down. That big beautiful laugh waited for me after every punchline, like a warm embrace.

After the show, as I nursed a coke at the bar, one of the men from the lady's table asked me to join them, said she wanted to meet me. I walked over. The lady was wearing a sweatsuit and a baseball cap. She hugged me, told me I was hilarious.

"Aren't you Nell Carter," I said.

"Yeah," she said, lowering her eyes, shyly.

She invited me to sit with her, she talked to me for over an hour. Turns out she was staying at the Holiday Inn and shooting a movie nearby. A big time, major budget Hollywood production, directed by Chris Matthau, Walter Matthau's son.The guys she was sitting with were the crew from the movie; cameramen, sound guys, carpenters. She and I drank cokes. I told her I had to give up the booze; she said the same.


She told me I had talent, said I should move to LA, pursue the dream, said to give her a call when I got there.

All the time I kept making her laugh; all the time I'm thinking "I'm making Nell Carter laugh!"

Eventually, the check came for her table, she grabbed it and paid for everybody. The guys tried to thank her, she changed the subject.

She signed a program for me- "Phil- you are sick and wonderful! X X- Nell Carter."

I hoped someday she and I would wind up on the same talk show one night, and I could tell the story; tell Jay Leno or David Letterman how much it meant to me; how much I appreciated her warmth, her encouragemt, her laughter.

She hugged me good night and headed for her room. On the way out I asked one of the crew guys how many stars hang out with the crew; "None," he said.

"But Nell is different. Nell is just Nell."

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JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Phil Perrier