Tommy 'Bucky' Hamilton is an all but forgotten comedian - which is part of his comic genius. Although few remember his name, his legacy lives on.
He was known as, The Joker Prince - King of the Dressing Room Act.
Bucky performing his first Dressing Room Act - a breakthrough moment at 'The Comedy Shed,' in London.
Have you noticed how every channel on TV features a stand-up comedy show? We weren't always so spoiled for choice. Of course, there's always been funny men and women, but it seems these days anyone with a gag gets a primetime slot. Trailblazers like Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Joan Rivers and Bob Hope all helped pave the way for our present-day laughter-makers, but there were lesser lights worthy of note too—Jokers who slipped under histories comedy-radar.
My father was a huge fan of Tommy 'Bucky' Hamilton. Dad is in his eighties now. His memory has been fading since his teens, but ask Dad who made him laugh most and he’s sure to holler, "Bucky! That darned Bucky!”
Bucky was a little known gag-smith from Iowa. His star shone briefly in the late 50's, before a new generation of Beatnicks, Hipsters and laughter-makers arrived on the scene.
Bucky was ahead of his time. He shocked the conservative, post-war 50s with his new-brand of cutting-edge observational humour. His biting satire was risque and controversial, but still, "Side-splitting," according to Dad.
"I first saw Bucky in '56, at the Talk of the Town in Reno," Dad said. "The place was barely full, maybe 15 people at best. There was a stripper and some lame magician who got right up the crowd's nose and ended-up getting booed off. Everyone was drunk. Fights were breaking out between staff and customers. It looked really bad. The manager ushered Bucky on to try to calm things down, but when Bucky appeared some wag shouted, 'Fuck off back to ya mama, you ass!’.
Trouble was brewing, but Bucky just replied, quick as a flash, ‘Why?’
His timing was brilliant. He executed this one word punch-line with perfection. I was in stitches…funniest thing I’d ever seen!
Well, the guy in the crowd got even angrier. Bottles were thrown, and the manager ended up bundling Bucky off in a taxi, to the sound of approaching police sirens."
Bucky performing his Dressing Room Act, in Milan, during his World Tour in the late 50s.
Later Bucky performed at the Laughter Express in Vegas. Dad was there again, intrigued by this rising star.
By now, Bucky had developed his act into a whole string of acerbic responses to audience hecklers.
“Fuck you, loser!” an audience member would scream.
“But why? I’ve every right to be here,” Bucky would reply.
These hilarious comebacks formed the bulk of his early shows, or at least as much as he could get through, before being bundled off.
Buckys razor-sharp replies would quickly pass into comedy folk law:
“Can I finish?”
“Hey. Hey, now come on, please.”
“Who said that?” Wannabe comedians still repeat these brilliant lines, and variations of them, to this day. Bucky delivered his brilliant retorts in a deadpan manner, with just a slight hint of fear. He performed with the persistent threat of being beaten up, which added much to the humor of his act.
It was Bucky who invented the, “But why?” comeback.
Dad said the retort quickly caught on, even though Bucky himself been has been mostly forgotten.
“Whenever I've had the police at my door for minor misdemeanours I've always sarcastically replied, 'But Why'? Then I’d think of Bucky and burst into fits of giggles, much to the annoyance of the boys in blue,” Dad confessed.
“Even the grandkids do it, ‘but why, Grandad?’.
But why indeed?
I see his legacy everywhere.”
Over the years Bucky’s act became shorter and shorter, due to the egarness of fans for Bucky to get right to the hilarious climax of his show—the part where exited the stage.
Soon Bucky couldn’t get through the opening two minutes before the hostilities begin and he was sent running behind the curtains for cover.
His breakthrough performance came when listed first on the Bill at the Comedy Shed, in Camden, London. The crowd were having none of it, screaming from the start, before he even took to the stage, “Off! Off! Off!”
Bucky was too quick, his mind sharp as a tack, and so he just stayed in his dressing room for the entire act!
“What a performance!” Dad reminisced. “Brillent! He couldn’t get off the stage, as the crowd demanded, for he’d never gone on stage!
Pure improvised brilliance! The most exceptional comedy-comeback response in history!”
The New Royal Portsmouth Theater fire, 1972.