Good comedians can create laughter out of even the most difficult situations. In his career as a sidekick, writer, impersonator, voice talent, and host, Alan Muskovitz has seen and done it all. Listen in as Alan joins our host, Jordan Levin, in a spirited conversation about comedy and what it takes to get laughter out of your audience. Alan retraces his roots in radio, working with the legendary Dick Purtan, the creation of his most famous persona, “Big Al” Muskavito, and his views on why doing clean comedy is difficult. Alan shares insights on today’s world and why comedy is still the best medicine.
Listen to the podcast here:
Alan Muskovitz – Sidekick, Writer, Impersonator, Character Voice Talent, And Producer For National B.
I’m happy to be here with the great Al Muskovitz. For our readers who have been living under luck, He’s an actor, writer and impersonator. He was the producer for eighteen years for Dick Purtan until his retirement in 2010. He also hosted for five years on Mich Albom’s afternoon drive talk show, WJR AM 760 Detroit. A small snippet into the world of “Big Al” Muskovitz. Thank you for being here.
It’s great to be with you, Jordan. I thought maybe this was an exercise intervention where you were going to force me into your training program. I’m not surrounded by a lot of people so I assume I’m safe.
I’m putting up quite appropriately at this time.
Necessary but not appropriate.
How have you been doing, Al? How’s the whole pandemic treating you?
It’s been better. We’d all rather not go through this but there has been a certain upside to not being around as many human beings as I’m used to being. I haven’t missed the human race as much as I thought I would. I do miss my friends and miss going out to breakfast and having a cup of coffee. In the world we live in now, I am better off being stuck at home.
We learn to adapt over time and we have to run with it and make the best of it.
Otherwise, I’ve been great. Like everybody, I’m trying to accomplish projects I haven’t done or I’ve promised myself to do. I am trying to get back into exercise mode. I’ve wasted the pandemic not exercising too much but I’m now getting out because the weather’s better. Thank God, everybody in my family has been well and I hope in your family. We have to make do. There is some light at the end of the tunnel but some folks out there are making it tougher for us to get through the tunnel. Everything can stay on a positive course.
Impersonations either come fairly naturally or they don’t. It’s not something you train for.
Here’s a thought I had in my head, when did you or those around you recognize that you had the ability to entertain and that became your direction in life?
Like a lot of folks who do what I do or did, you’ll always hear them say I was the class clown. I was a respectful class clown, always doing goofy things in class but I didn’t pursue an entertainment career to much later in life. I got lucky to end up working for Dick Purtan. I started when I was 40 years old. I had been in radio in high school at Southfield High, WSHJ. I was doing sports there. I also did some sports up at WMSN, the Michigan State radio network. That was fabulously fun and a great experience.
I didn’t get into radio until much later when a dear friend of mine, Sherry Margolis of Fox 2 news, was getting a kick out of my sense of humor and threatened to call the producer, Gene Taylor and tell him about me, my voices, characters and comedic talents. Sure enough, I got an audition. Fast forward, I got hired by the Dick Purtan show part-time initially and then full-time in 1996. It wasn’t always part of my repertoire. It was always part of my personality but I didn’t pursue it actively. I’m grateful to Sherry, though she doesn’t like to take credit for it, to getting me on the air and that changed my life.
I think about Michigan State. I went to Michigan State on the radio back at that time. What was that like being on the radio in college?
It was great. Michigan State has a network communications department, television and radio. They had fabulous programming. I had access to great studios. I covered Big Ten football for a while. I covered the game where Michigan State beat Ohio State when Ohio State was rated number one. That was in 1974. I was in the press box for that. I got to cover the Big Ten track and had the great honor of meeting Jesse Owens. I had a lot of exposure to a lot of fun things by virtue of being part of that department. It was great. I had a pregame show with a dear friend of mine who was my sports director, Gary Mescher, up in East Lansing. We did the pregame shows for all the football game. It was exciting. It was a great introduction but still, even after all of that, I didn’t go into radio. I went into advertising for eighteen years before getting into radio.
Let’s talk about the whole advertising. That has been a complete blast. Every day, you go back and forth of putting your stuff together, explain that experience if you would.
It changed my life. Dick Purtan treated me like family and gave me a tremendous opportunity. I flourished. I loved it. I felt like I had been hired by Johnny Carson, quite frankly. It was a great ensemble of talent. It exposed me. I got to meet and interview celebrities, travel to New York and Disney World and broadcast and Chicago. At the same time, it was the most exhausting experience that I know I’ll ever have. I’m not complaining because it was exhilarating and wonderful. For fourteen of those years, I probably averaged 4.5 hours sleep preparing material for the next day’s show for fourteen straight years, 24/7, 7 days a week working. It exhausted me. To this day, my brain hasn’t recovered. It was a dream job. I loved it and I still do. It’s quite a bit of creative work. Those years were exhilarating and unbelievably exhausting.
The bottom line is you had a fabulous time. That’s all that matters.
I wouldn’t change a bit of it. Dick Purtan was, to me, the Johnny Carson of the radio. He’s a National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. The reason I say he’s Johnny Carson is that he wanted everybody around him to excel and shine. He was the maestro. He’s incredibly funny in his own right but at the same time, as the leader of his show, he wanted everybody around him much like Johnny Carson wanted people to come on his show to be entertaining, he wanted us to do our best in that regard.
That’s a great lesson for people to learn because a guy with that structure could be able to push that in other people and expect the best of others.
He had no ego. You weren’t taking away from him. You were adding to him. He had a great perspective about that. We had so many talented people on our show and it paid off. It was wonderful then he retired in 2010. We have been off the air for several years.
It’s harder because the people cannot be actors and actresses, radio, TV, entertainers, there comes the time in life where it’s time to move on and do something else.
When Dick announced his retirement, I was thrilled because I said, “I don’t think I could do this another year.” I started when I was 40. It’s not that I’m an old man but I was so exhausted. Sadly, too, along the course of the way, we lost two of our major players on our team, Gene Taylor, producer and Doc Andrews, the great sportscaster. They were great members of the Dick Purton show and they, unfortunately, passed away much too young. That upped everybody else’s responsibility on the show and it made it even more tiring to put on. By the time Dick retired, I was glad he did because I was pretty much exhausted from what we had done. At the same time, he held on for a while, too because he wanted to keep his folks employed. He deserved to retire. He’s doing great. He hasn’t looked back and I’m happy for him.
Let’s talk about the “Big Al” Muskavito. I assume that’s something they do came up with and then you took it from there,
It takes a lot harder work to be funny in a good, clean way.
The way that was created was Dick invited me to join the show full-time when he switched over from Q95 here in Detroit to WOMC. Dick wanted to create an on-air character that was real but not real. My name being Alan Muskovitz, Dick had a thing for living the New York accent, fumbling guy persona. We went with Muskovitz and we changed it to Muskavito. As I once told, Harry Belafonte, a famous, wonderful singer and actor, I told him once because I performed with him once on stage at the Opera House in Detroit, I said, “I’m Italian by morning and Jewish by night.”
I was “Big Al” Muskavito in the mornings and that character was created in Dick’s living room. We somehow came up with it. I was bigger then. I was probably about the same weight then. Free food on the radio business put quite a bit of weight on me for a time. We had “Big Al” and that’s where it all started. I was real but I wasn’t real so I could get away with a lot of stuff that you couldn’t always get away with if you were 100% real. A lot of it was tongue-in-cheek and a lot of people believed a lot of the stuff they should not have believed.
That’s the thing though. If you’re Muskavito, anything goes.
Everything did go. I interviewed many celebrities, which was the biggest thrill of my life. What I patterned my character on was I was a so-called journalist. I would ask offbeat questions. Not embarrassing, not dirty, not the Howard Stern-ish shock jock kind of stuff but enough to maybe fill people go, “What?” and have to come up with some answer. My calling card was to do offbeat interviews. That’s my favorite thing that I love to do. I had to interview a lot of famous people and it was exciting.
What about your most favorite question that you had asked different females on the show, “What are you wearing?” The question is if the show is going on now, could you have gotten the way with it now versus then?
I used to ask female callers to show what they were wearing. Before they’d hang up, I go, “Excuse me. By the way, if you don’t mind me asking, what are you wearing?” I was a sweet and sensitive tongue-in-cheek, chauvinistic, politically incorrect person but never obscured to the point of doing crazy stuff. To answer your question, I think about that a lot now. There’s a lot of things I’m not sure I could do now. I know for sure there are several things. Some of which I should be able to do but because of the world we’re living in, it’s a real sensitive time.
Some of it rightfully so. I think back of what I did on the air and I shiver sometimes with some of the stuff I did. Not that it was appalling but in the conversations that we’re having now, I don’t believe I could do a certain percentage of what I used to do. There’s no question about it, but I am also sensitive to the fact that we’ve gone overboard in that direction, too, where comics, comedians and satirists have to look over their shoulders all the time and apologize for doing satire. It’s a fine line. You have to be sensitive to what’s going on in the world but you’ve got to remember the context that it’s within. I think about it every day when I create something.
What is the part of your life like that of being a jock, juggling for those eighteen years doing this and it never stopped? It still never stopped and you probably said, “I wish I could have done XYZ back then.”
I did pretty much left everything on the table back in those days. The best part was being a semi-real person because, believe it or not, my family’s private. Folks on radio share a lot of personal information more than I could ever. I was pleased that I wasn’t totally real because I didn’t expose too much about my personal life, my family life and my kids. My kids had a tough enough time going to school and their teacher saying, “I heard what your dad said on the air.” I didn’t want to punish them anymore by telling too much about their lives on the air. It was nice to be able to be semi-real.
Of all the famous people that you’ve met through the years and you’ve interviewed, all of them, Johnny Carson, who do you think has got a profound influence on the way you went about doing things?
Even when I was little, I was old at heart. Even when I was a little boy, I had a fascination with all kinds of different comedians. I was influenced a lot by them. The first comedian I loved and memorized his albums was Bill Cosby. It’s interesting what has happened in that regard. Back in the day, he was great, clean humor. I loved his albums. I would imitate him. I would do the dialogues from them. Watching Ed Sullivan and watching Hollywood Palace and then watching the Carsons. Exposure to a lot of different comedians. I’m loving George Carlin. I love all the old Jewish comedians. I had a chance to interview and spend some time with Jackie Mason, Henny Youngman, Jerry Lewis and Shecky Greene. It goes on and on.
I was a pig about interviewing these folks to spend time with these legends. To get to interview them and have a little bit of quality time with them was great. Those are a lot of the influences back in the day. I’ve always admired it because good, clean humor, observational humor is difficult to do. It does take a skillset. When the shock jock, real filthy kind of comedians, that’s a lot easier to do. It’s super easy to do dirty comedy. You get up on stage and you can swear. You can do whatever you want. You can say outrageous things and it gets attention. It gets to last but that’s not an avenue I ever went down nor would I ever. It takes a lot harder work to be funny in a good clean way. Clean doesn’t mean you can’t have innuendo and get close to the line but not to go over it.
Hearing all of those different names, you can relate to it more than I can. If you had to be ingrained into that, what I’m thinking about this is how much actual training did you have with teaching that practice when you could with your parents or siblings? Did you practice lines or it just came about to you?
Good, clean humor, observational humor is difficult to do. It takes a skill set.
Most people who do what I do will tell you it just happens. As far as impersonations are concerned, you will practice those. Most of the time, I found they either come fairly naturally or they don’t. It’s not anything that is groomed in any certain way other than it’s part of my natural personality to do what I do. I can’t say that there was any kind of training. It’s not something you trained for. It’s something you try to hone your craft better when it comes to writing or the actual impersonations. There’s not any course or training that I took or did that made that difference.
Christie Brinkley, I had a crush on her. Down at Disney World, we were broadcasting there and she was a spokesperson for General Motors. To give you an idea of some of the things I would do, I went to her because I had press access to her. Before we started interviewing her, I said, “Would you mind pretending me being an ex-boyfriend of yours?” She played right into it. We pretended that we had had a relationship and how come I hadn’t called her. These are the kinds of things I used to do with celebrities to put them on a little bit. Ninety nine percent of the time, they usually cooperated. I’m not sure why I brought that up. It was my idea of letting people know I met Christie Brinkley.
What I’ve noticed through the years is laughter is always the best medicine.
During this pandemic, I wrote about in The Jewish News, how can you be funny during a pandemic? How can you create humor out of this situation? There are times during tragedy that you take a pause for a little bit. When we were on the air and 9/11 hit, we had to pause for a brief time but that’s what our show was good to do at. We shared the emotion of the times with our listeners and then slowly, you can feel it melting away and we could start to somewhat get back to our humorous ways.
It’s the same thing with the pandemic. You have a half million people and counting have passed away. How can you possibly be funny? It takes common sense and control about where you can go to be funny. The bottom line is when you said it’s the best medicine, you have to continue to be funny. You can’t get away from it entirely but you have to understand the appropriate timing for what you’re doing. Eventually, I’m getting back to writing funny stuff. You’ll find that there’s some humor about the pandemic, too because that’s what satire is. It’s taking on the real world with a little bit of a twist to it. Within reason, you got to laugh at the insanity that is our world.
It’s challenging us, all the things that we’ve mentioned so far. I’ve used the word before, pivoting. When you pivot, take a pause, step back and see what is going on. Sometimes, it comes out better on the other side of it.
After things get back to normal, it’s interesting to find out how people reacted to this, how they decided to live their lives differently, how they changed careers. If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it made us aware of what we’re capable of doing and things we had put off doing. We saw how delicate life is. You start to do things that you didn’t think you’d be able to do. It’s taught a lot of people a lot of lessons, that’s for sure.
Especially now, it’s time to be. In 2020, we had shut down and we couldn’t be open for 2.5 months. We ended up pivoting, shifting and going online. We were doing online classes. We maintained our membership at the gym. Each business has a way to pivot.
I’ve been hired a couple of times to be an emcee or to entertain via Zoom. You’re talking about pivoting. We’re all involved in this indirect communication. It’s tough to know, everything I’m saying, how it’s being perceived or accepted. I’ve done events where I’m looking at bunches of faces on a screen and it’s hard to know if your material is working or not. It has forced us and me to develop a whole other skillset on how to do what I do in a different format. It’s been enjoyable though.
You’re a great emcee. I’ve seen you host a couple of different charity events. Is there a particular charity that you’re passionate about and why?
I get exposure to a lot of different charities by virtue of what I do. I emcee at a lot of charitable events. I get enriched in a lot of joy out of every single one I do. By virtue of being associated with Dick Purtan for well over 30 years, we’ve been involved with the Salvation Army Bed and Bread Club, which has been an inspiring program. We still do their radio funds every year. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be a part of that and what they do and give back to the folks who are in need of food, shelter and also in need of support to get their lives back together. I’ve been involved with that.
I had the good fortune of emceeing an event for the Holocaust Center. That was inspiring. I wrote an article for The Jewish News about can’t make a dream out in Montana. By virtue of what I do, I get a lot of exposure to a lot of charities. They’re all, in their own right, enriching and they enrich me. For years, I did an event for athletes with disabilities. If you want to be inspired, this event was unbelievable. These athletes have overcome to become superior athletes but with challenges. You talked about perspective. I’m trying to think off the top of the ones I’m personally involved in. I have been with Jewish Senior Life for many years, the Eight Over Eighty, which are people nominated who are 80 years old or older who are still participating in the community. I participated in that, not that I’m 80, I’m the emcee. We did an event together for the Lions Hearing Club several years ago where you were a great motivational speaker. You’re fully aware of what these great organizations do and how they inspire.
You talked about the different things that you do. You wear so many different hats. Where do you feel most comfortable, writing, in front of the camera, radio or emceeing?
There are three things that I enjoy doing the most. The first thing would be writing. I used to write every day. I estimated that I must have written over 5,000 scripts in my career in radio but those were different. Those were 3 to 5-minute comedy scripts with dialogue between characters. When I got out of radio and had the opportunity to start writing for The Jewish News. I write a humor column every month for them. I also write feature articles quite a few about veterans. I have a strong place in my heart for our military men and women. I’ve written a lot of articles about them especially our World War II veterans in the greatest generation.
As I’ve been building up a resume of writing and I’ve written on a bunch of different topics, I can’t believe how much of a love for real writing I’ve had. Besides scriptwriting, I’ve gotten into some real journalistic writing that’s been incredibly rewarding to me. That’s number one. I still love doing voiceovers. I do a lot of auditions. Voiceover work is the hardest work to get. If I can get one commercial like Flo from Progressive or the guy that used to do the Verizon commercial and get one of those voiceover gigs and last for ten years, it would be great. I do a lot of auditions. If I’m lucky enough to pick up some voiceover work for some major companies, I enjoy doing that.
Emceeing and speaking is one of my all-time favorite things because I love being in front of a live audience and having some fun but I do love mixing it with emceeing for charitable events because then, it’s a two-edged thing. You get to do something good and something fun. Those are the main things keeping me busy. I’m also producing a few television commercials with a friend of mine who I used to work with in the radio business, Milton Feldberg. He’ll be happy if I give them a plug. It’s called fortysix/5. He calls me on occasion to help write or produce a commercial but he’s doing some television and commercial work. It’s great work. I’ve been doing some of that as well. All kinds of different things. Desperate for attention. That’s why I would never turn you down to talk about me.
That’s the whole point of it. I want readers to know more about you and how awesome you are. That’s where we’re at. What do you do to recalibrate your mind or to take time for yourself?
If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it made us aware of how delicate life is and do what we had put off doing.
I love being outside every waking moment I can when the weather’s nice. I enjoy walking and I’ll sit on the bleachers at some high school and stare out at the trees or go for a walk on the Rails-to-Trails. I also like to sit on the couch and watch Animal Fight Night where I’m watching Tigers fight elephants or things like that on the Animal Planet Channel. I’m lazy. I chill. I’m not a real traveler and risk-taker. I’m even-keeled. My family would completely disagree.
To rejuvenate, there are not many things I do to rejuvenate. I started to go with the flow and I’m grateful for every day that you wake up. I get a lot of pleasure out of life. I’m grateful for a lot of things that have come my way and that I’m around. I’ve become a first-time grandparent. It’s the most amazing and incredible thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s unbelievable. What rejuvenates me every day is being a grandparent. I can’t believe within a year I ended up being on Medicare, Social Security and became a grandparent. It’s having an effect.
The bottom line is that brings you joy, that’s what keeps you happy and sane without being too medicated.
Being properly medicated is important. What you do is great and it’s motivating. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s important to think you can still contribute. I still sit back here and go, “I should be doing this and that. I wonder if I should be doing this.” I’ve had a time of reflection especially with the pandemic about what the next stage is. At times like this, you’re happy to wake up and enjoy the simple things.
It’s exactly the whole point. There’s no could, would or should have. The whole point of this whole show is to find out what those things are for these individuals as to why we always say, “All good things start with you,” because it’s opted you to make those decisions and where you want to go in life.
Ultimately, you’ll know if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing because you’ll know internally if you’re happy or not. I learned a lesson, too. You sometimes have to remember that what you do or what you set out to accomplish, is it for you, your benefit or someone else’s benefit? Should you be doing this? Is it what you’re supposed to do? Is it what you want to do? I go through that a lot saying, “I’ll do the should haves and could haves.” I’ll go, “Do I want that? Who am I doing that for? Is it to impress somebody?” It starts with yourself. That’s my philosophy. You’ve got to be careful that it’s not an excuse not to do things but you want to find the balance between what you think you should be striving for and what you want to do.
I do notice that it’s not easy to define the difference between those things.
It’s not easy to change, either. It takes a great deal of personal willpower and perseverance to try and get yourself out of your comfort zone which I’m not great at doing. It’s a struggle to get outside my comfort zone. I have to continually push myself in that regard.
We all have to do that. We all have to fight those inner demons who are saying, “No.” You have to push through and say, “I can try the one thing and see what happens.”
It takes a great deal of personal willpower and perseverance to try and get yourself out of your comfort zone.
I was at a meeting and somebody said, this is something I can sincerely relate to, “Living in fear. If you live in fear.” Being the personality that I am, I’ve always gone, “What’s going to happen?” One of my favorite things, it’s attributed to Winston Churchill but a lot of people say they’ve said this. It typifies me. The quote is from Winston Churchill. He says, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.” I love that quote because so much about what we worry about isn’t happening. It’s something that could happen. It might happen. What if it does happen? I find the older I get, I’m getting a little bit more at peace about, “Don’t worry about it.”
We worry so much about growing up. As we get older and smarter, you start to realize that if it doesn’t affect you a lot, move on.
Another thing I like is, youth is wasted on the young. Sometimes you have to wait many years before you go, “I get it,” and you wonder why but that’s the learning process. You’re a kid so you’re ahead of the game.
Thank you. That was a wonderful conversation.
I hope this turns out to be your highest-rated show. Thank you for helping me out and how to promote this on my Facebook page. I appreciate it.
That’s what I’m here for. I tell everybody that we’re here to serve and help. They can be happy. If I can help them, I’m good.
Thanks for having me. It was a real honor and pleasure. I appreciate it immensely. I’m desperate for attention so this was right up my alley.
Thank you. We will talk again soon.
- Al Muskovitz
- Jewish Senior Life
- Lions Hearing Club
- Facebook page – Alan Muskovitz
- Dick Purtan
- Salvation Army Bed and Bread Club
- Holocaust Center
- The Jewish News
- Jewish Senior Life
- Eight Over Eighty
About Alan Muskovitz
For 18 years Alan Muskovitz was known to Detroit radio audiences as “Big Al” Muskavito; sidekick, writer, impersonator, character voice talent, and producer for National Broadcasting Hall of Fame radio personality Dick Purtan, until Dick’s retirement from 104.3 FM WOMC Radio in March of 2010. During his on-air career, Al was known for his interviews with world-renowned celebrities, sports figures, politicians, and newsmakers.
From 2013-2018 he had the privilege of being a guest host for Mitch Albom, the internationally best-selling author, and journalist, on his daily afternoon drive-time talk show on WJR AM 760 Detroit. Besides being a guest speaker and emcee, Al wears many creative hats, including writer, director, actor, and voice-over talent for radio, television, and film projects.
Al also is a contributing feature story and humor columnist for the Detroit Jewish News. Since 2014 he’s been a four-time recipient of “Excellence in Journalism” awards by the Society of Professional Journalists, Detroit Chapter. In 2015 Al was voted “Best Column” in the Michigan Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
Al’s most recent, and by far his greatest joy, has been becoming a first-time grandpa to beautiful Hannah last September!