It seems that he’d clean up his comedy when he did it on TV, which he would regularly do, and people would appear at his shows based on that, and off his performances in things like The Music Man and The Love Bug and be shocked that he dealt in the sort of “blue” comedy that made him slightly more believable as someone who was once Lenny Bruce’s roommate. A woman even sued him for emotional damages once because of how risque his stage act was. You’ll be pleased to know that she lost. But still; it’s weird for those of us too young to remember it to realize that as much of his career was based on telling dirty jokes as being one of the stranger Disney stars.
But Hackett is an official Disney Legend who was also a Borscht Belt comedian. He seems, from what I can tell, to have lived comfortably with that disparity. He apparently called himself a “saloon comic,” I believe both because of his material and because he liked the intimacy of a club setting for his act. Trivial Pursuit believes he holds the record for most-ever guest appearances on The Late Show with Johnny Carson, but it seems he didn’t like that as much as he liked getting up on a stage in a relatively small room—presumably one where he didn’t have to worry about self-censoring to avoid the networks censors.
But he also, it seems, regretted not being able to come back to the role of Tennessee Steinmetz, and I can understand that. Tennessee is such an interesting role that in my only dabbling into “Disney should remake,” I suggested Matt Damon for the part—in part because I’d love to see a Love Bug remake as the first movie he’d done with Ben Affleck in decades, and I think Affleck would be outstanding in the Dean Jones role. But it’s also because Tennessee is a worthy role; the speech he does about the sentience of machines is honestly a really meaty one.
Really, what do you say about a man who did six episodes of Fish Police as a character named Crabby? After a certain point, he didn’t really have to do anything; he’d show up and be Buddy Hackett and that was enough. But a thing I like about him is that he still put in the effort, even in those days. I don’t think anyone ever accused him of coasting, and it would’ve been awfully easy for him to do.
And from what I can tell, people liked working with him. He seems to have been fun to be around, and he and his wife started an animal rescue mission, and his own son actually used to open for him when they were both doing comedy. There’s a lot to Buddy Hackett, and I think people my age and younger really need to delve into him beyond the off-key seagull.