Review of Larry Hankin’s “How To Be Homeless”

Hankin2How To Be Homeless – a stage performance by Larry Hankin at the Fanatic Salon.

Reviewed by Lisa Robins

Accompanied by a wailing saxophone intro, the inimitable Larry Hankin bounds onstage through the intimate, packed, cheering house, for the latest incarnation of his stories of living on the street. Larry ran his one man show, “How to be Homeless”, a.k.a. “Street Stories”, (both titles used indiscriminately) at Fanatic Salon on Sawtelle in Culver City, the beloved intimate venue enabling classic improv comedy such as my long time fave, Off the Wall, and the innovative and always entertaining musical game show, Top Tune among many other creative delights. As this wildly kinetic character actor steps on stage, where he belongs, his natural delivery and comedy genius immediately puts us at ease, and on the edge of our seats.

Always a rebel, Hankin started his post-Syracuse University career as a stand up comedian. During his interview with TheNeonRewind.com, Larry reiterated what he once told me, “I always was a funny guy. I just wanted to make people laugh. But, I couldn’t get a job anywhere because I was considered a ‘hippie’…I was like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor – I was too raw to be on TV or the variety shows because I talked about pot and cursed on stage – I was a bad boy….I was opening for The Kingston Trio, Miles David and Woody Allen but … I was booed off the stage, people came at me with bottles – it was really rough. I had to get police protection! I was just a middle-class Jewish kid and I didn’t know what was going on.” So he joined “Second City”, and subsequently became a founding member of “The Committee” the anti- establishment improv troupe from SF.

Larry has made a career of fringe characters. “Escape from Alcatraz”, “Annie”, “Home Alone”, “Pretty Woman”, “Armed & Dangerous”, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, “Billy Madison”, “Seinfeld”(“Mr. Heckles” and “The Guy Who Stole The Raisins”), “Friends”, “ CSI”, “Breaking Bad”, and recently Bill Hader’s new HBO series, “Barry” are among his over 40 films and guest-stars on over 80 TV Shows. Film exploration of his own homeless characters include feisty, old, “Emmett Deemus”, in a series of 3 film shorts (“The Outlaw Emmett Deemus” tryptic on http://www.indieflix.com), and Sometimes Jones in “Solly’s Diner”, his Oscar nominated short.

This solo show crisscrosses between a character study of two people he met while on the street, “Sometimes Jones”, a young homeless scam artist, and “Emmet Deemus”, a 70 year old homeless poet. Instructions and explanations of homeless behavior are given along the way.

He knows his stuff. Larry himself was homeless in S.F. for almost a year, living in his VW van.

In his jeans, hi tops and big brown eyes, Larry raps an introduction for each character with impossibly clever street poetry — “Got so good he stole from himself”. First is the “real” story of Sometimes Jones, a smart, tall, thin, gawky (like Larry) runaway at 15 to S.F., who mocked his grandma and stole from God, among others. A pickpocket by craft, he “got so good he picks the President’s wallet” which triggers a wild ride with a special divine relationship.


Doing nothing more than pulling his hair over his face and somehow aging 55 years in 5 seconds, Mr. Hankin next presents poet and window washer, Emmet Deemus, who lives on the beach in Venice and raps for a dollar, boasting “Beckett writes plays about me”, and “I am a collagist out of clarity for cash”.

One of my favorite aspects of the show is Larry’s instructions on homelessness from the inside- getting through “another tricky day in people land”. As Larry gives a litany of homeless heroes of history such as Jesus, Ratso Rizzo, and Fagen, he presents the stark fact that there are “only 2 things in life you have to do- die and shit.” Along with the many famous broke holy men are tragic clowns who create –“Being homeless is a job with 2 requirements. 1) Get through the day. 2) Find a place to sleep. There are three 8 hour shifts, no pay, no rules of the job. And you call this lazy?? We have the perception that if you’re not sweating you’re not contributing. But Larry points out that these people are not lazy bums….but rather independent entrepreneurs who are not allowed to show profit. Beggar/panhandler/saint — An agent of guilt and pity for profit whose silent partner is the church. More of his wisdom includes, “Don’t knock guilt” and the issue of “compassion burnout”. He asks why do the homeless not like the homeless? And points out some of the things you’re gonna miss-such as these four key items; doorknobs, walls, table, and bathroom. He calls our attention to India – ground zero of homeless. And the distinction between begging vs. panhandling (India respects begging). Larry points out survival strategies such as the D’s and P’s- Deformity, Dementia, Disfigurement, and Prosthesis. True suffering and fake limbs. Proper dress is non-essential, but genitals and breasts must be covered. “Sell the sizzle”, but body fluids are “iffy”. Gather up your rags, prom dress, wheelchair, guilt, jokes, and prosthetics. And above all- “understand your competition”. “Starving children in Africa with flies in their face”, tough to beat!
The show climaxes with Sometimes Jones’ quicksand parable, spelling out all the reasons not to help from all the people who left him there to die, illuminating life’s ironic twists and turns of fate.

Hankins’ perfect timing and crazy stories keep us entranced for the hour which flies by in a flash. Minimalist production values, (just a few sound cues,) somehow create the street life he knows so well. The all too short show ends with a crazy “Too hip, too smart,” Emmet fable.

The same could be said about Larry.

May his show be picked up soon so you can all can see it!

HOW TO BE HOMELESS aka STREET STORIES by Larry Hankin, recently enjoyed a sold out run at Fanatic Salon. Upcoming at a venue TBD.