To the serious cigar smoker, cigars are no laughing matter. That is, of course, unless the cigar smoker is a comedian. Comics don't just smoke cigars; they turn them into major props, actual elements of the bits which crack up their listeners. This article is dedicated to the cigar smoking comedians of past and present, those who have allowed us to find out exactly what happens when “two cigars walk into a bar.”
Groucho Marx: The best known cigar smoking comic (or even just cigar smoker) is probably Groucho Marx. His cigar was a constant fixture. He set the standard for cigar smoking aficionados. The current crop of funnymen copy him by just puffing on, or pretending to puff on, a cigar and growing their eyebrows out for two or three years.
George Burns: Preferring cigars over most things in life, George Burns was also rarely seen on stage without a cigar. Starting his vaudeville career using cigars as props, Burns eventually became synonymous with cigars; the two were inseparable. Upon his death at 100, he was buried in a suit, with three cigars in his jacket pocket.
Bill Cosby: While Bill Cosby didn't smoke cigars in public or use cigars as props as frequently as other comedians, he was once an avid cigar smoker, a habit he has since given up. This was a hobby he began in order to copy Groucho Marx, one of his comedic idols. In an episode of “The New Bill Cosby Show,” Groucho Marx appeared on stage, looked at Cosby and said, “You smoke cigars I see. They're a handy thing to have for a comedian – assuming, of course, you are a comedian.” And here we thought Bill Cosby only smoked pudding pops.
Milton Berle: Whether he was performing in front of a packed house at a Vegas hotel, or becoming television's first major star, Milton Berle always maintai
ned a magnetic charisma. During the golden age of TV, he became known as “Uncle Miltie” a nickname attributed to the endearment America felt towards him. Though he wasn't a drinker, Berle was an avid cigar smoker and an avid gambler, spending days smoking cigars at the horse races.
Ernest Kovacs: A pioneer of telvision, with his ad-lib routines and off-the-wall antics, Kovacs helped turn comedy into what it is today. As series such as “Laugh-in” were modeled after his creative genius, a creative genius that led him to knock down the wall between audience and performer, Kovac was nothing if not innovative. He smoked only Havana cigars in his personal life, although he was the spokesperson for the Dutch Masters brand. Nonetheless, the commercials for Dutch Master Cigars featuring Kovacs are still regarded as some of the funniest of all time.
David Letterman: David Letterman is now as much the symbol of late night television as was Johny Carson. He doesn't smoke on screen, but he does smoke cigars off camera during commercial breaks. He then appears back on stage with a face of guilt, looking like a cat that just ate a canary.
Comedians and cigars have always gone hand-in-hand. From silent pictures to current comedy the only bit of luxury made for comedians is cigars. But that doesn't mean comedians are the only ones who should smoke cigars. That notion, naturally, deserves the biggest laugh of all.
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