Mel Miller started his show business career in August 1963. Together with Mel Green Mel Miller formed a folk group called Mel & Mel ( original hey?). Mel Miller and were both at Art School and did gigs on an amateur basis. One night the audience just weren’t listening to the music, so Mel Miller decided to tell a joke - AND THEY LAUGHED. A whole new world had opened to me, so Mel Miller started combining jokes with the folk music and became the most popular folk group in town. Mel Miller used to work at Des Lindburgs club - The Troubadour (R5.00 a night and a meal for a 4 hour gig). Mel Miller were spotted one night by an agent - Don Hughes who offered Mel Miller a professional gig at the the Edward Hotel in Durban for three months. Mel Miller soon became a household name there. Mel Miller returned to Jo’burg to cut his first LP and were joined by Julian Laxton as a backing guitarist. The LP was recorded in one day and release, and lo and behold Mel Miller were offered another three month contract at the Edward. This time Mel Miller went down as Mel Mel & Julian - the contract was extended for two years, and believe it or not Mel Miller played to packed houses for the whole run. While Mel Miller was there they recorded two more LPs.
From there Mel Miller went to Cape Town and Appeared at the Coral Lounge in the Grand Hotel, Deals Hotel in East London, the Elizabeth Hotel in Port Elizabeth and returned to the Edward until Mel Miller left for Israel in 1967 as a volunteer and while there, Mel Miller carried on with his folk music/comedy act in Eilat at a club called “The End Of The World”.
The first night Mel Miller was on stage, Mel Miller made a grammatical error in hebrew and the audience laughed, so from that night Mel Miller did all his comedy as a new immigrant using all the grammatical errors and slang Mel Miller could lay my hands on.
Returning to South Africa in 1970, Adam Leslie saw Mel Miller at the Nite Beat folk club and offered Mel Miller a part in his revue theatre (The Adam Leslie Theatre). The show was called “Hair Hair”. I think that this was the most important phase of my career, because Adam taught me stagecraft and how to think on my feet. For example - He would come to Mel Miller with a piece from the newspaper and we had to write, choreograph, dress and stage a sketch on the subject that very night. As a member of a revue company, Mel Miller was surrounded by people who had been doing this stuff for years - it was like being paid to go school. Mel Miller owed a huge debt of gratitude to the likes of Hal Orlandini, Ian Lawrence, Anthony Fridjohn, Shirley Sherman and mostly Adam Leslie. Mel Miller was only doing small walk-ons, and when Adam had a heart attack Mel Miller was informed that the next night Mel Miller was to take over all his parts (which were 90% of the show). Mel Miller spent the whole night and together with Valium and lots of coffee managed to get the whole lot under my belt.
It was all over the papers and the night Mel Miller opened in Adam’s role, (to Mel Millers horror) all the critics were invited. Mel Miller was lucky to get rave reviews and stayed with Adam leslie Theatre for three years in shows such as “Group Hairier” ,“The Adam Leslie Revue” and “A Tribute To Cole Porter”.
After the run with Adam Leslie, Mel Miller appeared (as Snoopy) in the South African production of “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”, followed by “What The Butler Saw”, “Mama, Is Terry Coming Home For Good” and “A Long Days Journey Into Night”. This final production convinced Mel Miller that he would never be a serious actor - Mel Miller was too full of nonsense for that (I mean, how could you be an angry young man when there was so much sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll to be had). While all this theatre was going on, Hal & Ian introduced me to radio and Mel Miller started doing character parts on the serial programs for Springbok Radio - “The World of Hammond Innes”, “Marriage Lines”, “Jet Jungle” and “Squad Cars”.
At the same time Mel Miller started to do stand-up comedy at “Athens By Night” in Hillbrow (before Hillbrow became Lagos ext.2) By now Mel Miller had dropped the music (I thought that with a voice like mine you don’t want to mess up too Mel Miller - in the first person many songs), and did stand-up comedy - mostly characterisations and jokes linked together in the form of stories. But there was still something missing. Mel Miller was doing comedy that people laughed at, but didn’t necessarily have to think about. One day Mel Miller was in town and went to a record shop called the Long Player and the only comedy record Mel Miller could find was of Lennie Bruce. Mel Miller couldn’t believe what Mel Miller was hearing - a man standing up in front of an audience and telling it like it is. It was like hearing a cross between Mahatma Ghandi and Vlad the Impaler. Mel Miller knew at that moment that this was what Mel Miller should be doing - speaking about the issues of the day. Mel Miller started copying Lennie Bruce’s sketches and re-wrote them with a South African twist (with only mild success ). Mel Miller then started looking around at the society he lived in and suddenly a whole new world opened up, (South Africa has always been a good country for comedic material). We have proudly bred politicians and public figures who have consistently raised the standards of ineptitude to a whole new level. Mel Miller realised that this form of comedy, in a repressive country like ours, was bound to cause trouble, but what the hell - if I was going to go down, I was going down with a bang and not a whisper.
Ten years had passed in my career, but Mel Miller now had a style. At the time the Top Of The Carlton club only hired overseas acts, and when one of them fell ill Mel Miller was the first South African to be asked to fill in for a few nights. Mel Miller was then offered a contract to work there and did four seasons, breaking attendance records every time. At that time in South Africa, each hotel chain had a cabaret circuit, and Mel Miller started to do country-wide tours. The Southern Sun, Holiday Inn and Crazy Horse circuits (and others that I’ve blocked out of my memory for fear of permanent trauma) taught me a lot about getting the audience on my side - and with my kind of comedy in South Africa, that wasn’t easy.
It was quite gruelling being away from family and friends for 8 months of the year, but Mel Miller was makinga name for himself (TV wasn’t around at the time, so it was all word of mouth). In 1976 TV started and Mel Miller was asked to appear in a program called “Potroast and Biltong”. The idea of the program was to pit South African comedians against British comedians. The adjudicator was Clark McKay The program took off, and at one stage we had more viewers than the BBC program “The World At War.”We were paid the princely sum of R35.00 per show (even then it was bad money), but for the first time a million people could see us by just pushing a button. Mel Miller also appeared on “The Everywhere Express”, Us Animals And Things” and “Punchline”. It had taken me 12 years to become an overnight success!! By now Mel Miller was pushing the envelope even more and in 1985 after a show at the Carlton Hotel, Mel Miller was picked up by the security cops, taken to the Hillbrow police station and roughed up for my anti-government comedy. My phone was bugged and my family threatened. For the next ten years Mel Miller concentrated only on corporate comedy (which was more private). In 1990 Joe Parker persuaded me to start working in clubs again and Mel Miller started at O’hagens in Dunkeld Centre. The word got around that Mel Miller was back into club gigs and Mel Miller started to get back into the circuit of clubs and pubs. At the beginning of South Africa’s transition, Joe Parker and myself wrote a revue called “Nelson De Klerk and His Amazing Technicolour Country” which played to packed houses for 6 weeks. In 1995 Sam Hendriks asked Mel Miller to take part in the Smirnoff Comedy Festival in Cape Town. After being out of the public eye for 10 years, Mel Miller was concerned that the public had forgotten him. They hadn’t. The reception that Mel Miller received in Cape Town was so overwhelming that Mel Miller returned to Johannesburg, resigned his job as art director in a publishing company and have been into full time comedy ever since. Mel Miller have subsequently appeared in nearly all the Smirnoff Comedy festivals, co-wrote, produced and directed a show with the late Shaun Griggs - “ Things To Do In Jo’burg When You’ve Forgotten That You’re Dead” (packed for three weeks), sold out at the Grahamstown Festival twice, toured with 3 of my own shows (Captain Chaos, Captain Chaos Flies Again & Divine Madness), worked in Israel with Cyril Green and Eddie Eksteen, and in London as part of a South African Comedy Festival. My last show in June 2008 - “Mel Miller’s Big Fat Comedy Show” at Montecasino drew 3000 people in 2 days
This my 46th year in comedy and I’m enjoying it now more than ever.
Here’s to another 46.
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