That was Rico Diaz’ tag line. Rico was our improviser, our very own Second City, Groundlings, and First Amendment rolled into one wiry black guy with horn-rimmed glasses. And he was a complete enigma.
After weeks of going over my act with Mike I had finally begun to get a glimmer of craft. Of Rules. Yes, we didn’t have to just perpetually wander in the dark, hoping we’d trip over usable comedy. There seemed to be actual, universal, generally accepted comedy precepts – rules – that we could work with, e.g.
- paint pictures with words (the clearer, the easier for the crowd to see);
- take sharp left turns (lead ’em one way, go the other);
- tell the truth; and of course,
- the Rule of 3s.
Everyone knew the Rule of Threes. Things in threes were always funnier. 1-2-3. Done. Two’s not enough. Four’s too much. Unless your bit’s a list, then the sky’s the limit.
But just when I thought I was beginning to grasp some of this, Rico came along. He didn’t do jokes or set material; didn’t seem to notice that there even were rules. As it was, he barely had a discernible act. And whatever he opened with always quickly mutated into something completely alien, so you never knew exactly what you were seeing.
The first night I saw Rico he opened with a couple awkward one-liners that somehow morphed into a long, palsied Tom Waits impression, with Rico spastic, hunched over, smoking a lit cigarette, and growling out lyrics. Of course no one in the audience had any idea who Tom Waits was. But if we had, we would’ve likely thought the impression impeccable.
After the Waits routine, he reverted back to plain “Rico” now suddenly aware of the audience and almost embarrassed by what had happened onstage, as if he’d been momentarily possessed. It lent a tremendous level of freakish innocence to the whole thing. Up to that point, Rico was probably taking more risks on the eye stage than anyone.
I suppose Rico embodied the most important comedic rule of all: at the end of the day, there are no rules. No one really knows anything. Anything – anything at all – at any time – could potentially work on stage. That was the beauty of comedy.
Offstage, Rico was an extremely sweet, shy guy, not one to socialize or play into the friendly rivalry that the rest of the comics shared. Most nights he’d hang out only for a few minutes after his act and then disappear – occasionally for months at a time. And just when you started to wonder whatever happened to him, he’d be back in the line-up.
He was fairly schizophrenic about his name, too.
My momma said to me, “Ri-co! Ri-co! Ri-co! What – are – yoooouu – doing?!
He played the line so lyrically, Roger started announcing him that way:
Let’s give a big hand for Ri-co Ri-co Ri-co Di-az!
But as nice as that was, after a few months he’d suddenly get introduced by another name: Bruce Wade!
“Rico – what happened to Rico? Who’s Bruce Wade?”
“That’s my name. My real name.”
“Yeah. But Rico sounded great. Everyone knew you as Ri-co! Ri-co! Ri-co!”
“Yeah. I know. I just thought I’d use my real name for a change – see how it sounds – ”
That lasted for a while. But then a few months later, Roger introduced him again:
Give a big hand for the comedy stylings of Ri-co Bruce Wade!
And a few months later:
Bruce Rico Wade!
Bruce Rico Rico Wade!
Bruce Rico Wade Diaz!
Bruce Ri-co Ri-co Diaz!
What a chameleon!