The art of the tummler

art of the tummler


Partner and I were down on Cape Cod a few weeks ago, and we ate at our favorite restaurant, Captain Parker’s in West Yarmouth. The bar is always crowded with locals (always a good sign), and the dining room is always crowded with tourists like us (also a good sign), and the seafood is excellent.

 

 

I recognized our waiter on sight, as he’s waited on us before. He was a big cheerful guy, who worked the room like an expert; he chatted us up, wanted to know if we were golfers (which flattered us both, as we’re not golfers by a long shot); he got involved in a long conversation at a neighboring table about a recent Red Sox game; he jollied up the nearby birthday-party table by wanting to know where everyone was from, and pretended to know terrible stories about people from those towns.

 

 

He was, in short, a tummler.

 

 

From Dictionary.com:

 

 

tummler [toom-ler]: noun

  1. 1.     A male entertainer as formerly employed by resorts in the Catskill Mountains, who combined the duties of a comedian, activities director, and master of ceremonies, and whose responsibility was to keep the guests amused throughout their stay.
  2. 2.     Any lively, prankish, or mischievous man.

Origin: 1930-35 Yiddish tumler, one who makes a racket.

 

 

Many of the comedians of my childhood – Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers – worked as tummlers early in their careers. Most of the big Catskills resorts have closed down since those days, of course. But the personality type (see definition #2 above) will go on forever.

 

 

Our friend at Captain Parker’s is a good tummler: friendly, amiable, and with a excellent sense of when to stop.

 

 

Some tummlers, however, do not have this nice awareness of their role. They think of themselves as the lives of the party, and end up being – well – obnoxious.

 

 

I think we all know a few of these. They’re noisy, and they never let up.

 

 

We like an occasional dose of Jerry Lewis or Milton Berle. We don’t want to live with them.


 

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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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