Comedian and rabbi Mike Fine wants comedians not to die alone
“When you’re on top of the world doing [Ed] Sullivan...[you have helpers],” he said. “But when you’re older and frail, there aren’t a lot of people you can trust."
By BRIAN NIEMIETZ/ NEW YORK DAILY NEWSUpdated: AUGUST 26, 2018 13:40
New York (Tribune News Service) - A rabbi, a writer and a stand-up comic walks into the lives of dying comedians … you haven’t heard this one before.Rabbi Michael Fine makes a living as a humorist, but being a one-man audience for fellow comics as they near death has become his calling. Now he’s trying to raise money to buy space in a cemetery so that comics who die alone spend eternity in each other’s company.“What I see a lot in the entertainment field is that we don’t get married, we don’t have children for whatever reason, we don’t have a 9-to-5, most are transient, we don’t have stock or annuities,” Fine said. “I’m in that life also.”When Fine, 36, isn’t preaching at the upper West Side temple near his home, he’s a comedy writer who’s penned jokes for the Friars Club roasts of Quentin Tarantino, Dennis Rodman and Padma Lakshmi and worked with Robert De Niro on the 2016 film The Comedian.He came to grips with the lonely end met by many comedians in 2010, after “Sgt. Bilko” star Mickey Freeman, a mentor figure he had met at the Friars Club, got sick. Fine would frequently stay with Freeman in the hospital so he wouldn't be alone. The 93-year-old funnyman was married but had no kids.“He was my friend … but It was a learning experience,” Fine said.In 2016, when comic Max Alexander was in the final throes of throat cancer, Fine became the 63-year-old bachelor’s caretaker. That’s when Fine came up with the idea of doing fund-raisers to cover solitary comics’ final expenses. He was moved by the fact comic Elayne Boosler helped raise $52,000 for Alexander with a Kickstarter page that got contributions from comics including Judd Apatow.Advertisement“They’re going through enough, they shouldn’t have to worry about money,” he said. Fine, who claims he has $10,000 in credit card debt from helping sick comics, says he’s spending time with a “very well-known comic” who’s in hospice and has no family in the area. In this case, the man isn’t having money issues but is a friend who needs help.“When you’re on top of the world doing [Ed] Sullivan, going on the road, doing this movie and that movie [you have helpers],” he said. “But when you’re older and frail, there aren’t a lot of people around and not a lot of people you can trust.”Fine also comforted radio host Joe Franklin and comedian Irwin Corey in their final days. Franklin succumbed to cancer in 2015. Corey, who was one of Lenny Bruce’s favorite comics, died last year at 102.The next step for Fine is taking care of comics after their final bow.Through his organization, the Jewish Burial Fund, he’s raising money to buy 200 plots in a New Jersey cemetery so comedians who die alone wind up together in the end. As a rabbi, Fine has more than one reason for wanting to see Jewish comics buried together.“A lot of lonely performers get cremated,” he said. Jewish law looks doesn’t look favorably on cremation. “At the cemetery, they’ll spend eternity with other comics.”Lucky for Fine, many of his funny friends are still alive and well and they meet up daily at a park on 57th St. and Ninth Ave. to have a laugh. That crew includes Rodney Dangerfield’s longtime manager Ed Sommerfeld and comedian Bob Greenberg, who’s quick to do spot-on impressions of past greats including Jackie Gleason and Curly Howard. The star of the show is “King of the Catskills” Bernie Burns, who, at age 90, has asked Fine to oversee his long-belated bar mitzvah. That was one of the topics when the group got together Thursday to discuss when and where that ceremony will take place. Just don’t expect a big turnout if there’s a Bris.“I’m not going to the circumcision,” Greenberg joked.
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