top of page
  • Writer's pictureKaren Terhune Duncan

Not Funny Anymore

Back in the 70s I’d often walk past the iconic mansion on East 55th Street and admire its magnificence. Years later I was a frequent guest, enjoying opulent events, dinner parties, and lunches. I loved going to the Friars Club.

It was a private New York City club, famous for its risqué roasts. Most of the membership was in some form of show business. Luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, Sid Caesar, Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, Ed McMahon, Jerry Seinfeld, and Joan Rivers were members.

I say “was” as it’s now essentially closed. An aging membership, topped off by Covid, was the last nail in the Friars Club coffin. In May 2023 a New York Times article outlined its sad demise, and it depressed me. The famed 21 Club closed during the pandemic and there’s no sign of its return. The Friars Club was one of the last vestiges of the city’s old and elegant. I loved going to the Friars Club.

Founded in 1904, the Friars moved around to many different locations. The clubhouse was originally built as a residence in 1909 by investment banker Martin Erdmann. The five-story English Renaissance Tudor, that sits between Park and Madison Avenues, became The Friars home in 1957. It’s now up for sale.

I can still feel my hand gliding across the wide polished carved wood banister, up the plush carpeted stairs, past the Barbara Streisand bar (where I once had a drink at a table with soap opera actress Susan Lucci), and into the marvelous, barreled ceiling Milton Berle Room. In the early 2000’s I had a client who I met there for lunch, every Thursday, for a year. I got familiar with the place. The “fraternity” of men had changed, and luminary women had gained membership.

In 2007 Doug and I moved, and our delightful new neighbors were a couple who would become great friends. Sherry and Stephen were members of the Friars Club. Stephen was on the Friars board, and often they would generously include us. We always went dressed. Coat and ties for the gentlemen. Always. I loved going to the Friars Club.

Once, we were dining with 3 other couples, during football season. A gentleman across the table asked the gentleman sitting next to me, how Adrian Peterson was doing? I thought this such an odd question. I knew Peterson was a running back. Anyone who knows me knows that while I love the Steelers, I follow pretty much all football (college and professional). Yet this seemed out of place. Peterson played college in Oklahoma and was with the Minnesota Vikings professionally. These were all New York men.

“Are you a fan of the Vikings or Oklahoma?” I asked thinking I might impress these men. They just stared at me.

“Karen,” the gentlemen next to me finally said, with a smile. “I own the Minnesota Vikings. Adrian had surgery on his ACL today.”

What saved my ass is that I knew Adrian Peterson had gone to Oklahoma, and that sparked a wonderful conversation with this NFL owner, who is indeed a New Yorker and who with his brother and cousin bought the team in 2005. They still own them. I loved going to the Friars Club.

On a spectacular evening in 2015 we dined at a party with Hank Aaron and his wife Billye. We were there to celebrate Neil Sedaka’s birthday. Neil then performed, and it was like sitting in his own living room, listening to him sing and tell stories. Hank and Billye were the most charming, congenial couple. I loved going to the Friars Club.

At the roast for Martin Scorsese, to which we were beyond generously included at Stephen and Sherry’s table, we rubbed up next to Jerry Lewis (who was Abbot, essentially president, at that time) Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Juliette Lewis, and Kristin Chenoweth, who really is funny! I loved going to the Friars Club.

When Martin Scorsese said to Jerry Lewis, “I’m honored to be in a fraternity of filmmakers, but I’m really flattered that the Friars think of me as an entertainer.”

Starting in 1950 Friars began their annual roasts of famous comedians or actors. They have roasted comedy legends like Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor, and Billy Crystal, as well as other celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Hugh Hefner, Quentin Tarantino, Betty White, and Terry Bradshaw.

We attended the Friars Club Roast of Jack Black where upwards of 3000 members, dignitaries, celebrities, and friends gathered to pay tribute through outrageous one-liner barbs. The late Bob Saget serving as the Roastmaster said, “We only roast the ones we love.” One of the Friars Club’s most important mottos.

That night popular targets for ridicule included Jerry Lewis and his advancing age and his age-old criticism of women in comedy, the sexual proclivities of Bob Saget, and outrageously hilarious jabs (back at Jerry Lewis) from Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer. I loved going to the Friars Club.

Their signature event of the club for decades, The Roast has been its no-holds-barred night where celebrities are affectionately cut down to size with witty and playfully scathing jokes told by friends. Though outlandish dinners with verbal banter and teasing began in the early 1900s, the first official roast took place in 1949 with Maurice Chevalier as the guest of honor. At that time the events turned into exclusive affairs that only male members could attend, the language was so vulgar, even waitstaff were told to leave the room. Times changed. And women were very much a part of every Roast. Every event. I loved going to the Friars Club.

In 2017 we had our last evening at the Friars Club as a “farewell dinner” to us, and to Sherry and Stephen, who were also retiring south. That night their good friends Deana Martin (daughter of Dean) and Steven Maglio sang to a jam-packed room of gloriously festive and politically incorrect Friars.

Deana, whose voice is pure gold, sang her dads hit. Steven Maglio and a small orchestra filled the Frank Sinatra Dining Room with the songs of the Chairman of The Board in a musical tribute called "Not Just Sinatra" His voice is magic. I loved going to the Friars Club.

If you’ve enjoyed the series” The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, as Doug and I have, the final episode was shot in the actual Friars Club. The final real-life event at the Club. It was a fitting end to that show, and a clever tribute to the end of a glorious era.

I miss going to the Friars Club.

Our last time at the Friars with Stephen (top row) and Sherry (next to me) and Lissie and Hal, also neighbors.

372 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page