Gary James' Interview With
The Man Who Made Elvis Laugh
Sammy Shore knew all the greats and worked with all the greats including The King Of Rock 'n' Roll - Elvis Presley. Sammy Shore was and is a professional stand-up comic who between the years of 1969 and 1972 traveled the U.S. with Elvis, opening the show for him every night. Sammy of course is the owner of the world famous club, The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, where countless comedians have launched their careers. Sammy has written a book about his time with Elvis titled The Man Who Made Elvis Laugh. Sammy graciously took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.
Q - Sammy, is this book of yours about your life or your time with Elvis?
A - It's about the time I spent with Elvis, the first few years with him. All the things that happened to us. The fun part. It was just a trip. It really was. It was something that very few people have had that honor to share that with him.
Q - I remember Elvis in 1976 and I don't believe he had an opening act.
A - No. He didn't start until '69 with me. Shecky Green was with him ten years before that at The Frontier Hotel. Elvis was his opening act.
Q - So, you opened the show for Elvis from '69 to '72?
A - Right.
Q - How did you get that gig?
A - I was working with Tom Jones in Vegas at The Flamingo Hotel. Elvis was a big fan of Tom Jones. He came to see him with The Colonel and saw me and that was it. He hired me on the spot. They were gonna open at the new International Hotel in three weeks and The Colonel and Elvis came backstage. The Colonel said "Sammy, you're damn good, guy. You want to come open for us?" "Yeah, Colonel." "I like your brand of humor." I said "Colonel, I like your chicken." He said "Good, boy. Don't lick my fingers." So I opened for him in three weeks at the International Hotel and stayed with him for those three years.
Q - Why didn't it last beyond three years?
A - Because Alex Shoofy was the president of the hotel, who was a big fan of mine and told me, why don't I go into the lounge when Elvis wasn't there and do your own show. Do the Sammy Shore show. I said "Do you think Elvis would mind?" Alex said "Listen, I pay him. Don't worry about it. I'll take care of The Colonel. Just go in and do it." He paid me a lot of money. I went in there for four weeks and did just fair and when The Colonel found out I was in the lounge there, he said "You can't work with Elvis now. We don't want a lounge act working with Elvis." And he fired me and that was it. Alex said he would take care of me and he couldn't take care of me because no one tells The Colonel what to do. That was it. That was the end of my experience with him. But, if that didn't happen, the Comedy Store wouldn't have opened. I would still have been an opening act for Elvis Presley until he died in 1977. So in essence, was better that I went on and found out a few things about myself and discovered a few things about myself and grew, besides being just an opening act for Elvis Presley.
Q - Did you go on the road with Elvis?
A - Yeah. I went all over the whole country with him.
Q - I can see how that must've been some experience.
A - It was a wonderful experience. It was a lot of fun.
Q - Did you get to spend any time talking with Elvis?
A - I spent a lot of time talking with him. We talked about just about everything. We talked about religion. We talked about comedy. We talked about life. We talked about everything. I don't remember the specifics. He liked me a lot. I made him laugh. And that's what the book is called, The Man Who Made Elvis Laugh. It's onAmazon.com. It was the number 5 Best-Selling book in Memphis. It was number 5 about three or four months ago.
Q - Have you been out promoting the book?
A - Yes. I've been doing that for the past couple of months.
Q - Elvis conventions?
A - Yeah, I did all that. They had me come back to Graceland, a show for them at Graceland with Shawn Plush. He's a tribute artist that won a contest out there. I did a show with him in front of 5,000 people. It was like going back in time. He looks and sounded just like Elvis. I thought it was Elvis. That's how good he was.
Q - What kind of guy did Elvis strike you as being?
A - He was what everyone says about him. He was a terrific guy. He was just one of the guys. He was just the same as we all are. He was just a person. A Southern guy, very lucky to get where he got. He was very grateful for everything he got. Everyone just had a good time. It was like being with the neighborhood gang.
Q - Did he ever say "Sammy, I'm unhappy."?
A - Yeah, well, I don't want to get into that. It's personal. I don't want to get into that. We talked about a lot of intimate stuff. I really don't want to discuss that, talk about that. Some of it is in my book.
Q - Did you like Colonel Parker?
A - (He was) terrific. I traveled with The Colonel on the jet. We went all over the country. Elvis and the boys were on the jet and I was on the jet with the Colonel. I was like his boy. I did everything with him. "Get some sandwiches Sam. Go get this. Go get that." "Yeah, Colonel. I'll get it." Bo, biddy be, biddy bo. So, I had a lot of fun with him. It was just terrific. The same thing that Sonny West said, the same thing that Joe Esposito said. It's all the same thing. Everyone went through the same thing with Elvis. Some a little more, some a little less. It was all the same. There's nothing new that you can hear from me. Nothing new from anyone else. It was basically just all the same.
Q - It had to be tough to be an opening act for Elvis. People are there to see Elvis.
A - That's normal. First of all, they didn't even know there was an opening act coming out. But when I came out, it was like "Wait a second." And there were some nights when Elvis had a hard time following me. That's how good I was.
Q - How did the audiences treat you?
A - They loved me. Did you hear what I just said? Some nights Elvis had trouble following me. It took about 5 or 6 minutes to get going, 'cause they didn't expect what they just saw with me. They didn't expect it. Then all of a sudden they're laughing their asses off.
Q - How long were you onstage?
A - About 25, 30 minutes.
Q - I imagine you had to come up with new material...
A - Every time I came back to work with him at the Hilton International, I always had a lot of new material.
Q - How about the road?
A - The road, you kept the same thing all the time.
Q - In the years you spent with Elvis, did you start to notice a decline in his presentation?
A - No. Not the first 3 years, no. I don't know what else to say to you. All the stories are the same. I was the opening act. I just went out in front of him and did what I did. They were nice. They played games with me. I was doing a preacher bit, Brother Sam, 500 people. I kept looking up at the balcony. I kept looking up there when I was doing the bit. Elvis was always backstage watching me do that bit. That was one of his favorite bits. I'd say, "Give me an Amen you people in the balcony. You wanna be saved? Well, jump!" One night they threw a dummy off the top of the balcony, with a rope around it's neck, fully dressed.
Q - You must've worked years in order to position yourself in Las Vegas.
A - Yeah. I was in the business at least 20 years. I worked with Tony Bennett. I worked with everybody.
Q - Did you have the same agency as Elvis, William Morris?
A - Yes.
Q - I have to admit, I've never interviewed someone who opened for Elvis.
A - That was just someone who opened for him. When I finished, it was the same all over again. Whatever it was with Elvis, was Elvis. Elvis' stories. Not about my stories. About his stories. Did he do that? How 'bout that time that... I said "Look, do me a favor. Get my book. It's all in the book (laughs) So, I wrote it in the book.
Q - Did you ever at anytime look at Elvis and say "I'm with one of the most famous performers on earth"?
A - Well, it was just that after awhile, he was just another performer. He was just another star. I worked with all of the stars. I didn't miss one. Elvis was just one of the best. They were all the same to me. Everyone had their story. And Elvis was Elvis. I mean, there was no difference. Everyone had their own personality. They had their own fan club. Basically, it was all the same.