A song to make your troubles disappear
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Renita Jablonski: OK, I’m sure you’ve heard enough references to the Great Depression lately, but here’s one you might enjoy. In the 1930’s, burlesque shows were popular in New York City because they were cheaper than Broadway. The most popular burlesque show was Minsky’s.
A new musical in L.A. tells the story of Minsky’s. George Wendt plays one of the characters. You might remember him as “Norm” on Cheers. Our Online Host Scott Jagow sat down with Wendt to discuss how bad times can be a source of artistic inspiration.
Scott Jagow: So what’s the basic story of this musical? This is set during the Great Depression. How is that woven into the story?
George Wendt: Well, it’s hard times for Billy Minsky, and it’s hard times for the community. And he feels like when he’s ready to shut down, his right hand character, she rallies him and rallies the troops with notions that people need a laugh, people need to relax, have a good time in the face of misery and depression.
Jagow: Well yeah, for example, there’s a song, “You Gotta Get Up When You’re Down.”
Wendt: Yeah, that’s the one . . .
Jagow: I think it goes, “People need something to make their troubles disappear . . . “
Woman: Joy in the middle of pain and misery / A tune on a fiddle to chase your frown / The going is rough, but remember / you gotta get up when you’re down!
So there’s an element of escapism. Are you sensing that on stage or with the audience?
Wendt: Mmm, you know it’s just a comedy, romantic comedy that works. But it’s curious, you know, entertainment used to be considered a recession-proof industry because of this very notion that people need to forget their troubles. But in this world of deregulation and vertical integration, of all the massive Time Warners and General Electrics and things, they used to sort of scoff at labor issues — say, potential actors’ strikes and stuff — by saying we’ve got, you know, widgets in Pennsylvania, we don’t care about this little blip on our big, vast portfolio. But now, you know, show business is still doing fine, but it’s being dragged down by all the other entities that these mega corporations are tanking with.
Jagow: I’ll tell you, one thing that I always thing of when I get down or when times are tough, I always think of one of Norm Peterson’s saying from Cheers, which is: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”
Wendt: Yeah, yep, that’s a trueism.