The Comic Collaborator Behind The Divine: Eric Kornfeld!

Mister D: I’ve always wanted to find a good article on Mr. Eric Kornfeld, because he always seemed too shy about giving me anything to print about him. Well, I finally found something.

I was fortunate enough to meet him on several occasions and he is as kind as he is funny. Hope you all enjoy:

Photo: Bette Introduces Eric Kornfeld To Atlantic City

Happy Returns
By Tracy Rasmussen
Reading Eagle Correspondent
December 2004

PROVING THE ADAGE that No. 2 tries harder, Eric Kornfeld — voted second wittiest senior of Reading High School Class of 1971 — has made a career out of being one of the wittiest writers on the planet. And while you may never have heard of Eric Kornfeld, you’ve almost certainly heard his jokes. He has written for Rosie O’Donnell (he was nominated for an Emmy in 1988), Carolyn Rhea, Judy Gold and, most recently, Bette Midler. He has written television pilots, movies, his own standup act and countless other projects, and he’s happy to say that “it all started in Reading.” In fact, it did. Kornfeld was reared on 18 th Street in East Reading, one of three boys born of an Italian mother (Toni) and Jewish father (Kurt).

“It was crazy growing up,” Kornfeld said. “There were all these reasons for me not to be funny, but I was. Things happen and I was able to use humor to get over it for my whole family.”

In fact, his sense of humor was nearly fully developed by the time he graduated high school (as evidenced by that almost-wittiest award) and he set his sights on college (he started out as the University of Pittsburgh and then transferred to Kent State, graduating in 1976) and a career in acting.

His first job was in a show called the “Hoop-Di-Do Revue,” where he was, “an actor, singer, dancer,” he said. “Pretty much a singing waiter.”

That job led to the touring company of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” where he said his career took a turn.

“I just sort of morphed into a stand-up comedian,” he said. “Then I did “Star Search” and did stand-up everywhere.”

In fact, one of his favorite and most nerve-wracking places to perform, was in Reading.

“It was always a great time,” he said, remembering several New Year’s Eve gigs in the 1990s. “It was the most fun I’ve had,” he said. “I think it was because it was in Reading and people knew me. People would come up to me and say, ‘I bet you don’t remember me…’ and I always did. I remember that one guy even showed up with photographs of us when we were kids. I might not remember the name, but I remembered the people, or that I’d seen them 12 days before graduation. I’d go back and do those shows in a minute.”

Of course now he doesn’t have the time.

Since 2000 he has been doing a lot of writing for Bette Midler — he wrote nearly all of her “Kiss My Brass” show — and still works on writing jokes to localize the tour.

The plan is to have a “joke template” where Midler can insert local jokes into the show at each new city.

Kornfeld spends his days researching the cities and the neighborhoods and comes up with some funny stuff that he runs by Midler almost as she’s about to take the stage.

“I met her four years ago and we got along,” he said. “I wrote the holiday show that she did for Goldman Sachs at the Javits Center and the show went great. I just decided that Bette Midler would love me. She hired me to do some free-lance scripts and then I did some benefits for her.”

Kornfeld said that he was especially blessed at this time because Bruce Vilanch, who usually wrote for Midler, was deeply ensconced in “Hollywood Squares” at the time.

Then came the big break, when Midler decided she wanted to go back on the road … and she wanted him to write the show.

Not only did he write the show, he also came up with the song parody that opens and names the show, “Kiss My Brass.”

He’s also particularly proud of several bits in the show, including a spoof on Britney Spears’ marriage called “The Britney Bunch,” and a video segment in which Bette Midler appears as the defendant against the CBS eye logo in Judge Judy’s court.

“She’s on trial for badmouthing her own TV show,” Kornfeld said. “Gary Coleman is the bailiff.”

Kornfeld wrote one episode for Midler’s ill-fated television show, but the show was canceled before that episode ever was aired.

So he was happy that Midler stayed in touch during her decision-making process about the tour.

“I wasn’t sure she really was going to do the tour,” Kornfeld said. “Bette Midler is a very smart, incredibly complicated woman and she’s just a natural producer. She’s always coming up with things to do.”

Thankfully for Kornfeld, she decided to move forward with the tour.

He learned quickly that he always had to be ready with concepts, skits, and songs.

“Every talented person I’ve worked with has always waited until at least 10 minutes after the last minute to do something,” he said.

He has received calls at 2 a.m. to work on an idea. He has written jokes just as comedians were about to go on stage.

“It’s part of the job,” he said. “And because of it, I’m always thinking of new things.”

Midler’s taking her time about the tour (it took nearly two years from concept to the first show) turned out to be a good thing because Kornfeld was working on other projects, including a pilot he’s doing for the Food Network about a chef, called “Cook This! ” He’s also working on content for Fuse-TV, a cable network geared towards kids 12 to 17.

“It’s like MTV was back when it started,” he said.

Kornfeld also has been chatting with John McDonald (the two met when McDonald was the band leader on “Rosie”) about doing an original musical together.

“I love having the ability to do things like develop a show,” he said.

It’s one of the best parts of his career, although even he agrees that it’s hard to take time off when you’ve got so many irons in the fire.

When these projects get off the ground, it’s likely that Kornfeld will become a household name.

But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter to him that celebrities get credit for his words.

“It’s part of the job,” he said. “And I know when I’ve written a good show or a good joke. Bette’s really great about it though. She told me to go out and get publicity for (writing) the show. She really wants everyone to be successful. She’s incredibly generous in that way.”

Still, he’s trying to find time in his very busy life to get back to Reading to spend time with his mother, widowed 12 years ago.

“I’m always thrilled to be going back to Reading,” Kornfeld said. “My mom has been so supportive of my career. My whole family has.”

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