Lifestyle News and Features: The Press of Atlantic City
July 7, 2002
By SCOTT CRONICK For The Press, (609) 272-7017
MAYS LANDING - If you're over 50 and frequent casinos, there's a good chance you know who Charlie Prose is.
You may know Prose for his kind-hearted potty humor, his friendly jabs at himself, his great piano playing and his all-around "great guy" personality. What you might not know is that Prose is a multi-Platinum artist.
No, Prose isn't selling as many CDs or videotapes as Eminem or 'N Sync, but he's certainly holding his own. To put things in perspective, to be eligible for Platinum certification by the International Recording and Media Association, each video release must attain a minimum of 50,000 units sold or $2 million retail sales in the United States.
Prose's two videocassettes - "An Evening with Charlie Prose," taped live at Trump Plaza, and "Love & Laughter," taped at Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort in Laughlin, Nev. - have not only been certified Platinum, but exceeded even Prose's expectations.
"I never even thought about getting certified, but the company that manufactures my videos (VXB of Brooklyn, N.Y.) called me and suggested we look into this after I made my last order for 5,000 videos," Prose said from his Mays Landing home. "They knew I could be certified in some manner, maybe Gold or whatever. When they were done doing their audit, they told me I was eligible for Platinum status. I was elated. I couldn't believe it. I didn't expect it at all. After looking over everything, we sold double the amount needed to receive Platinum status on these videos."
Getting started in show business
Of course, getting to this point in the 56-years-old's life was a long journey.
The Mount Carmel, Pa., native, who now claims the reason for his success is hard work and just being an "everyday man" on stage, broke into the business working clubs in Wildwood with material that was more risqué than his harmless jokes today.
"Once I had children, I realized the vulgarity had to go," said Prose, who has two daughters, Michelle and Alicia, with Linda, his wife of 38 years. "I didn't use it at home and I wasn't going to use it in public. I didn't want my daughters going around saying, 'I can't believe my father said that!' People that I idolized, like Red Skelton and Danny Thomas, never needed to curse, so I figured, why do I?"
Prose's philosophy would eventually pay off. An album he cut in Wildwood in 1984, "Charlie Prose Live," became certified gold last year. It shows the clean Prose.
Hitting the buses
The comedian/musician/singer/pianist, who has a degree in marketing from Elizabethtown College, earned his stripes as a performer at the Playboy casino in the early 1980s. Prose had an idea that would change his life forever.
"The casinos were starting the bus programs to get people here, and I was the entertainment at the Playboy," Prose said. "So I had my cassette tape and I wondered if the bus drivers would play it on the way to the casinos. So it became a mission for me and my friend Dennis Flynn to get that tape to every bus driver. We never imagined what would eventually happen."
Soon enough, a bus ride to Atlantic City wouldn't be a bus ride without hearing the comedy of Prose. At first, the tape was played to lure people to his show. Eventually, the bus drivers would have ordering slips for people interested in buying the tapes. And as video buses became common, so did Prose videos. Today, bus drivers still show Prose on trips to Atlantic City and gladly handle ordering slips for people who want their own copies.
Hard times get better
But it wasn't always great for Prose. A new entertainment director at the Playboy let Prose go and sent the performer into a six-month depression. He didn't work in Atlantic City for more than three years.
His booking agent, Debbi Fitzpatrick, convinced him to return to Atlantic City in the mid 1980s, and he's been there - as well as all over the country - ever since.
His 13-year Christmas show, now at Bally's Park Place, is the longest-running holiday show in Atlantic City. He plays more than 200 shows a year, including the 2,500 seat Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling, W. Va., which he sells out every time he goes there. He has also sold out the Niagara Falls Convention Center, which seats 5,600 and the 3,800-seat Star Plaza Theater in Merriville, Ind.
"There's nothing like the feeling of playing to that many people," Prose said. "Hearing all of those people laugh is just a great feeling."
All of these shows and appearances make it possible to sell his merchandise. He currently has five CDs ($14.95), cassettes ($9.95) and two videocassettes ($24.95) available. He also sells teddy bears, T-shirts and hats. At one time, he even had Charlie Prose cardboard sunshades for car windshields.
Prose also boasts a mailing list of more than 350,000 people for which other entertainers have offered him large sums of money. Last year, Prose spent more than $100,000 in postage just to get his publicity material and some merchandise out to his fans.
"I don't think it's right to sell the list," Prose said. "It would betray the confidence they have in me to do that to my audience. I love them and appreciate them too much."
And they love him.
On a daily basis, Prose receives handmade "Tu-Ta-Roos," empty toilet paper rolls decorated as everything from American flags to animals. The "Tu-Ta-Roo" comes from a routine Prose does about himself as a child: All he needed for entertainment was a toilet paper roll so he could sing "Tu-Ta-Roo" through it. Corny, but people relate.
Prose, who decided years ago that Mays Landing would be his home because he loves the people and the area, acts like a proud parent at his Mediterranean villa-style home. He shows off pictures of himself with Telly Savalas, Tony Bennett, The Lettermen and Shirley Jones. He also has photos of his homemade pond - called "Lake Tu-Ta-Roo" of course - which serves as his source of relaxation and inspiration.
In the future, Prose hopes to develop as an actor, something he fared well with performing in "Send Me No Flowers" last year at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Clinton. In 2003, he'll perform "Never Too Late," also at Hunterdon. In the fall of 2003, he plans to take "Send Me No Flowers" to Pittsburgh..
"We started 'Send Me No Flowers' on Sept. 6 last year," Prose said. "We were 50 miles out of New York City, and we never missed a performance, even after Sept. 11. I realized more than ever that people need to laugh. And I'm more committed to this thing now than ever."
Prose will also continue to host and organize the Helping Hands Telethon (formerly Easter Seals), which he helped start 19 years ago. The event funds a Hazleton, Pa., clinic for children with autism, Down Syndrome and learning disabilities. This year, Prose helped raise $204,000 at the telethon.
As for the future, Prose will continue to tour, and he's working on a new piano CD of holiday music, another video planned for 2003, and he may even decide to write a book about his life. He also has immediate plans to expand his Web site: www.charlieprose.com.
"You have to be able to dream," Prose said. "Tony Orlando said, 'It's all about the show.' He's right. It's all about pleasing the audience. The rest will come naturally. I always follow that philosophy. People like me because they can relate to me. I'm not afraid of showing my vulnerable side. I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself. I'm not afraid to talk about what really happens in life. And in the end, it's obviously appreciated."
(Charlie Prose's videos, CDs and cassettes can be found at
www.amazon.com or at his shows.)
To e-mail Scott Cronick at The Press: