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LIKE FATHER LIKE SON
Life, Love & Plenty of Laughter
By Charleen Earley
Sitting in a comfy hotel room chair in San Francisco with newborn Ashleigh Zayda, bundled and sound asleep across his chest and shoulder, Sandy Hackett rubs his firstborn’s back while answering questions about his show, his life and his dad, legendary comedian Buddy Hackett.
There’s no hush in his voice, “We have this thing since she was born where we never say ‘be quiet’ around the baby,” he says. “We take her everywhere; she’s a part of everything.”
It’s all part of the legacy Hackett, 49, wishes to one day leave behind, the same legacy his father left behind almost three years ago, a legacy of love and laughter. Sandy Hackett, a comedian in his own right, has been starring for the past four years as Joey Bishop in his show, “The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean,” at the Marine’s Memorial Theatre in San Francisco.
No one holds a more superior position in Sandy Hackett’s life than his father, the man who was his greatest inspiration both on and off the stage. “I had a great relationship with my father, he was a terrific teacher as a father and as a comedian. He analyzed everything. You know how comics sit around after a show, you change your words, your nuances, your rhythm, and, all of sudden, your jokes work. My dad knew every joke; you could never stump him. If you told him a joke, he would tell you the original joke. The first thing he ever told me was, ‘If yer gonna go into dis business, learn every joke der ish, cush ya neva know when yer gonna need it!’” recalls Hackett, imitating his father’s voice perfectly.
Son of a Brooklyn upholsterer, Buddy Hackett was born in 1924 and educated at New Utrecht High School. Hackett launched his career with his famous double-talking Chinese waiter recording, “Chinese Rock and Egg Roll.” He became known as a nightclub comic especially in Vegas, where he became one of the biggest headliners in that city's history.
He appeared in the Broadway musicals, “Lunatics and Lovers,” and “I Had a Ball,” racking up innumerable TV and film credits, which include his last appearance on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” (2003) as a talent scout judge in search of the funniest person in America. His second to last voiceover was that of the seagull Scuttle in, “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” (2000). His last voiceover was the voice of God in his son’s show.
Young Sandy Hackett absorbed everything, but following in the footsteps of a legend doesn’t always come easy. “Comedy is absolutely internal because of my father and being around him. It was instinctual and hereditary, but it took a long time to develop for me, to mature, it’s like a wine. You’re in the shadow of the best ever and you have to find your own way,” he says.
Sandy Hackett and his two sisters, Ivy and Lisa, grew up in Ft. Lee, New Jersey and Beverly Hills, California. Sandy made his debut performance at age 11 on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In” and was most remembered by his response to a joke, “I’m just a kid, but I thought it was funny.” He won a statewide public speaking competition in California at age 15 by performing his father’s classic Chinese Waiter routine.
At age 28, he began a 10-year tour with his father. He went on to host the famed Sahara Talent Showcase and for eight-years owned and operated Sandy Hackett’s Comedy Club at Sam’s Town Gold River in Laughlin. He landed a small role in the film, “Cannonball Run II,” a featured role in, “Hot Dog the Movie,” and a starring role in “Hamburger … the Motion Picture.”
But the role that he has taken on that has had the most meaning for him is that of father. “It is the most incredible experience I’ve ever had in my life, I absolutely love it. Emotionally and spiritually, there’s no way to explain it,” he says. “I can’t let go of my daughter. I love changing her, burping her, and, if she pees on me, I don’t care!”
If there were one thing that he could’ve changed at that pivotal time in his life, it would be to have his father see his granddaughter. “I called my mother from the hospital minutes from when we had her, but the only bad part was that my father doesn’t know. But he does know – I know he knows. She looks like him at times, and that just cracks up both (wife Lisa Dawn Miller) of us.”
Hackett married Miller, 40, daughter of famed singer, songwriter, Ron Miller (“For Once In My Life,” “Touch Me in the Morning,” “If I Could,” “Heaven Help Us All”) on April 10, 2005 at Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas, and got his first taste of fatherhood as he welcomed into his life Miller’s son, Oliver Richman, a five-year-old talent extraordinaire who, like his new sister, aside from his toys, has his very own website.
The four live in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas pursuing film and television, while Miller juggles motherhood, a position as first vice president with a large financial firm, and the release of her first album, “Fly Away,” by LML Music.
Miller says, “Sandy and I share the wonderful gift of having fathers who are legends in their respective field.” She adds, “We love working together, there is a mutual respect, admiration and understanding of what it is like to be the child of a legend and yet carve out your own place in the world as well. We put a show (The Hackett’s) together which includes comedy, singing, and tributes to our fathers.”
Sandy says he hopes he isn’t boring Lisa because he keeps talking about his father all the time. He can’t help it. His father, he says, “was the smartest human being I ever met. He was spiritual, intuitive, and he was unbelievably funny. He wasn’t just funny on stage. To watch him walk would make you laugh.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, his father also “was unbelievably well-read, and wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t have the money for med school. He knew everything about medicine. He kept a PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference), and knew every drug. Doctors would call him! He scrubbed up a couple times on several different operations, so that inspired me to do the same thing.”
Miller and Hackett share a common bond of laughter, a biological fix Hackett can’t seem to get enough of or dish out. “Laughter is very healing. It releases endorphins in the body, which is a form of adrenalin; it goes into places in the body and fixes things. It’s a feel-good, biological, natural high for the body,” says Hackett, who says he has abstained from other intoxicants. “I stayed away from drugs & alcohol, never done ’em, I kept a clear head.”
Hackett says his greatest compliment from a fan was: “I want to take you home, marry you and have your child!”
That’s exactly what Miller said to him the night they met at Hackett’s show on March 20, 2003 in Vegas at the Greek Isles Hotel and Casino. “I was there to thank him for booking me sight unseen at the Starbright Theatre for my first show ever. The first time we saw each other that night was during his monologue at his show. He jumped off the stage, into my lap and stayed there, we’ve been together ever since.”
The rest is history-in-the-making, but, in the meantime, Hackett boils it all down to one thing, his legacy: “Family first and everything else fits in the cracks.”
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