My Buddy Is No Daddy Dearest

Son lovingly conjures Hackett's legendary humor

Sandy Hackett's dad never went to his baseball or basketball games.

"He used to tell me that everybody would make a big fuss and take attention away from the game," Hackett says.

But there was a way-cool flip side to being the son of a famous comedian.

"He'd take me into the locker rooms at NFL games. He'd say 'C'mon, let's go meet some of the guys.'"

Buddy Hackett also enjoyed taking his son to the office, which is how the 11-year-old Sandy ended up on television for the first time. The youngster told a joke on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, a racy smash that many 11-year-olds weren't even allowed to watch.

"So yeah, there was a yin and a yang about growing up with him. He didn't come to my games, but how many kids get to go hang out with their dad and wind up telling a joke on the No. 1 show on television?"

Before you could say sock it to me, Sandy had 20 Laugh-In appearances under his belt.

Hackett, as you might imagine, has plenty of stories, some of which he'll tell this weekend at the Berger Performing Arts Center. Invisible Theatre is bringing Hackett to Tucson for two performances of My Buddy, a solo show about the legendary comedian whose career lasted more than 50 years.

"It's not a tribute show or a re-creation of his act," says Hackett on the phone from his Los Angeles home. "It's really a father-son story. It's about things that happened in my life, a life that was not without mistakes along the way. Mistakes by both father and son."

Even so, this is no Daddy Dearest.

"He was a great dad and a great husband," Hackett says. "I also think he was the funniest guy to walk the planet. He woke up funny. He thought funny."

Johnny Carson certainly agreed with that assessment. Buddy Hackett, who died in 2003 at age 78, had more appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson than any other guest.

Sandy Hackett says he has the natural ability to sound like his father, a gift that comes in handy in My Buddy.

"When he's speaking in the show, I do his voice," says Hackett, who also sings a few songs, including "My Daughter." "My dad wrote that song for my sister's wedding, and for many years he closed his show with it."

Sandy Hackett's wife, Lisa Dawn Miller, who knows a thing or two about famous fathers, helped develop My Buddy, which was first performed in 2012.

Lisa is the daughter of Ron Miller, a prolific songwriter for Motown in the 1960s and '70s. He wrote the lyrics to "For Once in My Life," a hit for Stevie Wonder that became one of the most covered songs in pop history.

One of his lesser-known songs, an entertainer's lament called "45 Seconds of Love," is included in My Buddy.

"What I love about the show," says Susan Claassen, Invisible Theatre's managing artistic director, "is that you get Buddy Hackett's backstory and you get it from the man who knew him best."

Claassen spoke recently about the show to a theater appreciation class at the University of Arizona.

"Ninety-nine percent of the students had never heard of Buddy Hackett," she says. "But then I mentioned Disney's The Little Mermaid and they said they loved him as Scuttle."

Audiences also loved him in the 1960s comedies It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Disney's The Love Bug.

"Buddy Hackett was an original and I think that's what people responded to," Claassen says. "He created a persona and he stuck with it."

Hackett's often raunchy humor was based on "absolute honesty," says his son. "Some comics do observational comedy, some do impressions and some guys are dirty just to be dirty."

But Hackett used four-letter words in his act to tell a story, his son says, and never for mere shock effect.

Although Hackett's "blue" material would scarcely raise an eyebrow today, it caused a stir in its day. He went where few comics dared to go.

"But he had this sweet face, which is one reason he got away with it," Claassen says. "You had this feeling you could pinch his cheek."