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Royce is still around, still making us laugh

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Royce Elliott never seemed to care how large his audience was; he'd walk through a restaurant and launch into his routine of jokes to a table of one the same as if he was on a Vegas stage before a couple thousand people.

He would gently insult me or you the same as he would Frank Sinatra or Mike Ditka, two of the names he would drop simply because he could.

Royce could turn a 30-second excursion, such as dropping something off, into a 30-minute laughfest.

I don't care who you are and where you were when he came around, whether you caught him in Vegas, Branson, on TV or on the radio with his buddy Roger Monroe, with whom he does a show every morning from 6 to 9 a.m. on WOAM-1350, he made you laugh.

So I was surprised Monday night when I went to the Peoria Public Library's north branch to see Royce speak that the room, which holds 120, was barely half full. So, too, was his friend Norm Kelly, who helped arrange the appearance.

It was really a two-fer. Royce and Norm both had microphones and Norm more or less interviewed Royce, getting him to talk about his past and tell people things relatively few knew about the man. Jokes were interspersed throughout the hour-long program, good natured insults between the two friends that showed their mutual admiration for each other.

Two Peoria treasures in the same room. It should have been a full house. I'm glad I went; it was an hour well spent. Sure, I had heard most of the jokes before, but I still laughed. So did everybody there.

Royce Elliott was not just a guy who lucky because he could tell jokes and had a unique delivery that got him gigs in Las Vegas and Branson, made him a headliner for Celebrity Cruises or put at the head table for roasts of sports figures and famous celebrities, like Sinatra and Ditka. He paid his dues, doing standup routines at Peoria bars, the rough ones downtown and on the fringes of downtown.

"They were some rough places back in the day, but it was a good experience," he said.

He told the audience that, like many comics, he got his start in his grade school and high school classrooms as the class clown. "So you were a cut-up in school? You said funny things?" Norm Kelly asked him.

"Well, I though they were funny. I'm not sure the teachers agreed," was the response.

Doing sports banquets around the area led to shows in other places and got him noticed by Barbara Mandrell. He started opening for her and for Conway Twitty in Las Vegas. He said both were "wonderful people to work with."

One reason they picked him up was his refusal to use foul language in his act. "I would not use language in my show that I wouldn't use in talking to my own family. I didn't believe in it. They appreciated that," he said.

He was once named the funniest clean comedian in the country and because of that and his fast-paced delivery of one liners drew comparisons to Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield.

Royce didn't drink or gamble after his shows in Las Vegas. Instead, he said, "I did victory laps through the buffet lines. I got so fat from doing that my doctor told me if I was an inch taller I'd be round."

Yes, a joke many of us have heard Royce tell before. It is still funny. Like he told Norm when asked about keeping old jokes in his act, "I learned that once you get a keeper, you don't let it go."

Royce is not real tall, which is why when he was in school he was called Stump. His best friends, whom he sort of immortalized in his jokes, were Skinny and Booger. Many people thought Skinny and Booger were made up, but Royce not only assured his library audience they were real people, he introduced Skinny as he sat in the audience. "Yep, there's Skinny, a legend in his spare time," he said.

Royce said he had many great experiences, including during the years he did the Celebrity Cruises and the 30 or so times he appeared on The Nashville Network and his act in Branson or Las Vegas.

Those days are gone. But as Norm told me afterward, while expressing his own disappointment in the size of the audience that came to hear Royce, "This is history here, something we should treasure. Royce did a lot of things. He helped get others noticed and helped get Peoria better known. We should grab it and hold onto it while we still can. None of us are going to be here forever."

This is my chance to say thank you to Royce Elliott for being such an important part of Peoria's heritage, for making us laugh through the years. Keep it going a while longer.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).