Play: Art: Wyndhams Theatre, London, 1997
When Channel 4 television started in 1982, one of the first programmes I can remember broadcast was the American sitcom Cheers which featured one of my favourite ever comedy characters Norm Peterson played by George Wendt. Wendt experienced household fame as the wise-cracking, beer-loving regular of the sitcom’s Boston watering-hole. All the characters were brilliantly drawn and given terrific lines to say from Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) to Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman), Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenburger) and Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson). Cheers ran for 11 years on the network and then the spin off Frasier starring Kelsey Grammer ran for another 11 years. These two classic comedies were a staple of my Friday night viewing.
In 1995, I had an American holiday to New York City, Boston and New England. When I was in Boston I went to the Bull and Finch pub on Beacon Street. It was great to be there as this was the venue that seen at the start of every Cheers episode ‘where everybody knows your name’ and became famous the world over.
When I worked in London for the Civil Service in the 1990s, Frasier was very popular and it had been rumoured that the actor who played him was in London filming the scripted Neil Simon film London Suite. Apparently Grammer had walked into a packed Friday night pub in Westminster and asked the innocent barmaid for a seat. The barmaid had replied that it was very unlikely and in classic Frasier frustration Grammer reportedly stormed out of the pub. This is all hearsay because alas I wasn’t there.
I was there however in 2012 when George Wendt came over and sat at my table in the Gilded Balloon open space bar at the Edinburgh Fringe. I had seen Wendt on stage in Yasmin Reza’s three hander play Art in London in 1997 alongside American actors Judd Hirsch and Joe Morton. The play had been running for years which I had seen with different casts. It is a great and powerful play where three people argue the justification of one of them buying a blank canvas passing off as a painting for £100,000. Of the three friends, the one who bought it loves it, one is indifferent and one hates it. This starting point escalates into a full blown argument about friendship. It is a great play to see on stage but my chance-meeting at the Fringe with the actor was a surprise. As Wendt ambled over and very kindly asked for a seat, I couldn’t believe I was sitting next to a comedy hero. He told me that he was involved with the show Re-Animator the Musical which was being performed at the Fringe that year. We talked more and I asked him inevitably about Norm. He told me that the producers of Cheers almost went with Norm’s character as a spinoff instead of Frasier but it hadn’t quite worked out. It would have been very interesting and funny to see what would have happened to the character and our conversation came to an end when Wendt launched into a couple of classic Norm lines upon my asking: Sam the bartender: ‘What’s Up Norm?’, Norm: ‘Never mind what’s up Sammy what’s going in!’ and Sam: ‘What’s up Norm?’, Norm: ‘My nipples Sammy, it’s freezing outside!’. Alas, there was no photo opportunity but it was unforgettable meeting the man and our encounter made my Fringe experience very special that year.