“Oh, boy!” people say of Freddie. “You just ought to meet him some time! He’s a riot, that’s what he is—more fun than a goat.”
Other, and more imaginative souls play whimsically with the idea, and say that he is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Still others go at the thing from a different angle, and refer to him as being as funny as a crutch. But I always feel, myself, that they stole the line from Freddie. Satire—that is his dish.
And there you have, really, one of Freddie’s greatest crosses. People steal his stuff right and left. He will say something one day, and the next it will be as good as all over the city. Time after time I have gone to him and told him that I have heard lots of vaudeville acts using his comedy, but he just puts on the most killing expression, and says, “Oh, say not suchly!” in that way of his. And, of course, it gets me laughing so that I can’t say another word about it.
That is the way he always is, just laughing it off when he is told that people are using his best lines without even so much as word of acknowledgment. I never hear any one say “There is such a thing as being too good-natured” but that I think of Freddie.
You never knew any one like him on a party. Things will be dragging along, the way they do at the beginning of the evening, with the early arrivals sitting around asking one another have they been to anything good at the theatre lately, and is it any wonder there is so much sickness around with the weather so changeable. The party will be just about plucking at the coverlet when in will breeze Freddie, and from that moment on the evening is little short of a whirlwind. Often and often I have heard him called the life of the party, and I have always felt that there is not the least bit of exaggeration in the expression.
What I envy about Freddie is that poise of his. He can come right into a room full of strangers, and be just as much at home as if he had gone through grammar school with them. He smashes the ice all to nothing the moment he is introduced to the other guests by pretending to misunderstand their names, and calling them something entirely different, keeping a perfectly straight face all the time as if he never realized there was anything wrong. A great many people say he puts them in mind of Buster Keaton that way.
He is never at a loss for a screaming crack. If the hostess asks him to have a chair Freddie comes right back at her with “No, thanks; we have chairs at home.” If the host offers him a cigar he will say just like a flash, “What’s the matter with it?” If one of the men borrows a cigarette and a light from him Freddie will say in that dry voice of his, “Do you want the coupons too?” Of course his wit is pretty fairly caustic, but no one ever seems to take offense at it. I suppose there is everything in the way he says things.
And he is practically a whole vaudeville show in himself. He is never without a new story of what Pat said to Mike as they were walking down the street, or how Abie tried to cheat Ikie, or what old Aunt Jemima answered when she was asked why she had married for the fifth time. Freddie does them in dialect, and I have often thought it is a wonder that we don’t all split our sides. And never a selection that every member of the family couldn’t listen to, either—just healthy fun.
Then he has a repertory of song numbers, too. He gives them without accompaniment, and every song has a virtually unlimited number of verses, after each one of which Freddie goes conscientiously through the chorus. There is one awfully clever one, a big favourite of his, with the chorus rendered a different way each time—showing how they sang it when grandma was a girl, how they sing it in gay Paree and how a cabaret performer would do it. Then there are several along the general lines of Casey Jones, two or three about negroes who specialized on the banjo, and a few in which the lyric of the chorus consists of the syllables “ha, ha, ha.” The idea is that the audience will get laughing along with the singer.
If there is a piano in the house Freddie can tear things even wider open. There may be many more accomplished musicians, but nobody can touch him as far as being ready to oblige goes. There is never any of this hanging back waiting to be coaxed or protesting that he hasn’t touched a key in months. He just sits right down and does all his specialties for you. He is particularly good at doing “Dixie” with one hand and “Home, Sweet Home” with the other, and Josef Hofmann himself can’t tie Freddie when it comes to giving an imitation of a fife-and-drum corps approaching, passing, and fading away in the distance.
But it is when the refreshments are served that Freddie reaches the top of his form. He always insists on helping to pass plates and glasses, and when he gets a big armful of them he pretends to stumble. It is as good as a play to see the hostess’ face. Then he tucks his napkin into his collar, and sits there just as solemnly as if he thought that were the thing to do; or perhaps he will vary that one by folding the napkin into a little square and putting it carefully in his pocket, as if he thought it was a handkerchief. You just ought to see him making believe that he has swallowed an olive pit. And the remarks he makes about the food—I do wish I could remember how they go. He is funniest, though, it seems to me, when he is pretending that the lemonade is intoxicating, and that he feels its effects pretty strongly. When you have seen him do this it will be small surprise to you that Freddie is in such demand for social functions.
But Freddie is not one of those humourists who perform only when out in society. All day long he is bubbling over with fun. And the beauty of it is that he is not a mere theorist, as a joker; practical—that’s Freddie all over.
If he isn’t sending long telegrams, collect, to his friends, then he is sending them packages of useless groceries, C. O. D. A telephone is just so much meat to him. I don’t believe any one will ever know how much fun Freddie and his friends get out of Freddie’s calling them up and making them guess who he is. When he really wants to extend himself he calls up in the middle of the night, and says that he is the wire tester. He uses that one only on special occasions, though. It is pretty elaborate for everyday use.
But day in and day out, you can depend upon it that he is putting over some uproarious trick with a dribble glass or a loaded cigar or a pencil with a rubber point; and you can feel completely sure that no matter where he is or how unexpectedly you may come upon him, Freddie will be right there with a funny line or a comparatively new story for you. That is what people marvel over when they are talking about him—how he is always just the same.
It is right there, really, that they put their finger on the big trouble with him.
But you just ought to meet Freddie sometime. He’s a riot, that’s what he is—more fun than a circus.