Mark Pitta and Ronnie Schell perform this week on Tahoe’s South Shore
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
This marks the first time comedian Mark Pitta has been up here since he moved to Georgia. I bet the San Francisco Bay area native can’t wait to be back up here as the heat and humidity out there must be killing him. He will perform this week with Ronnie Schell.
I’ve known Pitta for many years and he always has a request when he comes out here. He’s a huge fan of the “The Godfather” saga and most folks know that “Godfather II” was shot on location right here in Lake Tahoe (along the West Shore); Pitta asks me to secure a boat and take him out to where Fredo was shot not far from the Corleone compound (Google it kids).
Pitta rode the 1980s comedy wave that introduced the world to fellow San Francisco Bay area comics Robin Williams, Kevin Pollack, Dana Carvey, Will Durst and Rob Schneider to name a few. He made quite a name for himself in the San Francisco comedy scene, but made the inevitable journey to Los Angeles where he would make appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Mad About You,” Fox’s “Totally Hidden Video,” and on Comedy Central. He did eventually tire (OK, burned out) being down there and moved back to Northern California where he landed a great gig being the entertainment reporter for FOX affiliate KTVU Channel 2 (seen here in the Lake Tahoe/Northern Nevada area on KXRI channel 11 out of Reno). Pitta loved the gig, but hated getting up at 3 a.m. weekdays — and in true form he decided to just sleep in one day. It’s amazing he didn’t get fired. No, that would come later on when the television station changed management.
After that it was back on the road for Mark and then he hit pay dirt booking comedy every Tuesday night at the famed Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. Word got out and Tuesday night became the biggest night of the week for Mill Valley, selling out consistently to see some pretty big-name acts. Back then part of the attraction going to “The Throc” on Tuesday night was seeing an unscheduled performance by Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and/or comedic legend Mort Sahl, all who lived just minutes away from the theater. In fact, one of the most memorable experiences of my comedy career happened when I was scheduled to perform with comedian Bob Zany, and Robin Williams decided that night to make an impromptu appearance! That was one night of comedy I will never, ever forget.
Two things come to mind when comedic legend Ronnie Schell performs up here. The first being at age 83 he still loves the craft and performing in front of an appreciative crowd. The second being Ronnie just didn’t plan for his retirement. Ronnie has been doing comedy for so long I joked when I first met him that I was surprised to see that he was in color! His career stretches well over six decades, and even after all this time he still bills himself as “America’s Slowest-Rising Young Comedian.”
In addition to his stand-up routine, Ronnie is probably best known for his television work playing opposite Jim Nabors in the classic 1960s television sitcom, “Gomer Pyle, USMC” and on “The Jim Nabor’s Variety Hour.” I remember his character as Marlo Thomas’s agent, Harvey Peck, on ABC’s “That Girl.” He has so many credits, but some of my favorites include him co-starring with Goldie Hawn for two seasons on the CBS series, “Good Morning, World.” It’s cool to see him still doing comedy because he wants to by choice — and not because he has to; I think in part because Ronnie loves performing in front of an audience. He’s really old school; well, he’s just really old.
Ronnie is great to hang with because he has all these showbiz stories that comics love to hear. Ronnie used to joke that the late Harvey Korman “used to borrow the first part of my act,” which I just assumed was the norm back then; especially since the late Milton Berle was notorious for “lifting” jokes from other comics. Ronnie knew Berle and a ton of other comedic legends including Tim Conway and the late Rodney Dangerfield. In addition to his television credits Ronnie has done his fair share of movies, too, being in Disney’s “The Cat From Outer Space” (that’s Ronnie’s voice you hear as the cat), “The Revenge Of The Red Baron” and Carl Reiner’s “Fatal Instinct” starring Mickey Rooney and Laraine Newman. In 1999, Ronnie co-starred in two independent films, “View From The Swing” with Tim Conway and Jennifer Grant, and the comedy, “Pride And Peril.” Ronnie Schell was installed as the “Honorary Mayor of Encino” for the 10th year and continues to do comedy shows with his fellow comedy group, “Yarmy’s Army,” although a lot of them have passed on in recent years.
Schell was originally from the East Bay, living in Richmond, and he started out in San Francisco back when Mort Sahl and The Smothers Brothers appeared, playing the legendary Purple Onion and The Boarding House. He’s a graduate of San Francisco State and puts on this great comedy benefit show every few years that helps the athletic department. About six years ago I was fortunate to be part of one of those shows working alongside legends Tim Conway, Tommy Smothers, Rich Little and Will Durst, with Ronnie Schell hosting.
He also was the voice for a new public transportation system launched in the Bay area that would be known as BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Speaking of Bay area, Ronnie was given a lifetime achievement award (the first one ever) at the annual Comedy Day celebration in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park that has taken place for over 40 years now.
Howie Nave is the MC at the Improv at Harveys. The comedy club is inside Harveys Lake Tahoe. Shows begin at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and tickets are $25 plus fees, except Saturdays. Tickets are $30 on Saturdays.
The Improv is dark on Mondays and Tuesdays. Must be 21 or older to attend. More information is available by calling 775-586-6266.