It was billed as a roast of Oscar Goodman—which sounded like it would involve a parade of foul-mouthed comedians taking the podium and really cutting loose on the cringing subject. But impressionist and roaster Rich Little gave it away when he said, “It’s not going to be a Dean Martin or a Friars Roast.” A true Friars Club roaster like Don Rickles, Little said, “would destroy the mayor.” So the heat would be turned down a bit.
Before the festivities, Goodman held court at Lombardi’s, an Italian restaurant on the second floor of the Plaza hotel-casino, site of the event’s kick-off party. Flanked by showgirls, he was asked, Are you up to this? “What, the roast?” he replied. “It’s for a good cause. Everybody is going to have a good time. When I walked in here it reminded me of the old Las Vegas. There’s not a person under 90 in here.”
Later, in the Plaza’s red-on-red showroom, Goodman sat onstage next to his wife, Carolyn, for the roasting. It turned out Mrs. Goodman was in on a ruse with self-styled mob funnyman Vinnie Favorito. They had conspired to sneak Goodman’s prized menorah out of his house and present it to the mayor onstage, as a comic demonstration of the mob’s reach. “We still have the power!” Favorito said. The audience of several hundred howled with laughter, though Goodman seemed perplexed.
Congresswoman Shelley Berkley took a turn at the podium. After praising Oscar, she fired some zingers his way. “Carolyn told me,” she said, “Oscar’s idea of oral sex is to talk about himself.” She kept going: “Oscar is having a really bad day. He put on his shirt and the button fell off. He picked up his briefcase and the handle fell off. He raised his martini glass and the olive fell off. This poor man is afraid to go to the bathroom.”
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She then offered the mayor a certificate of congressional recognition. Oscar mockingly shot back, “This is nothing but a piece of crap” and ripped it to shreds. The audience oohed and ahhed as Berkeley scrambled to pick up the pieces to tape them together, and took the tattered document backstage.
Comedian David Brenner, a neighbor of Goodman’s in Philadelphia, where they grew up, recalled when the city tore down the row houses on either side of Goodman’s, leaving the wallpaper from the interiors of those units suddenly on the outside of his. Said Brenner, “He would tell everybody, ‘You can’t miss it—it’s the one with the bunny rabbits ...’”
Receiving a proclamation from the governor of Hawaii—presented by a young, grass-skirted hula dancer—Goodman cracked, “I promise you, I will not rip this up.”
And so it went, the roast of Oscar Goodman turning out to be more of a gentle sauté. At least it was for a good cause: the ShowBiz Society, a charity that helps ailing entertainers.