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Remembering Mal Sharpe, Vox Populi Radio Humorist


He called himself the last man on the street. Comedian Mal Sharpe died earlier this month at the age of 83.


Starting in the 1950s, Sharpe would dress in a business suit and wander the streets of San Francisco with another serious-looking man. Together they would approach unsuspecting strangers.


MAL SHARPE: Now today, I've stopped a young man. Your name, please?

MICHAEL HOFFMAN: Michael Hoffman (ph).

SHARPE: Michael, I'd like you to meet James P. Coyle. Mr. Coyle is a werewolf.

HOFFMAN: I don't particularly care to see something like that, but...

SHARPE: Can we go ahead?

HOFFMAN: I don't know. It's...

KELLY: Mal Sharpe there with his partner, the late Jim Coyle. They've perfected this ambush style of comedy long before TV hosts like Billy Eichner or Jay Leno were pounding the pavement.

CHANG: With Coyle and later without him, Mal Sharpe posed as a reporter, only he asked questions no real reporter ever would. In one routine, he asked people if they would take a dead person to a ballgame.

KELLY: In another during the Watergate era, he asked lawyers on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to name their favorite fish.

CHANG: Sharpe's man on the street routines were a regular part of NPR's programming in the 1980s and '90s. Longtime listeners of this program might remember his off-kilter dispatches, like this one in 1988 outside the Democratic convention in Atlanta.


SHARPE: We're right outside the Omni with continuing coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Has anybody been talking to you about the moon?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: About the moon?

SHARPE: Don't you think maybe this is the year to find out what's going on with the moon?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: No, not particularly, for the simple fact that we can't get along together down here. Why try to expand it somewhere else?

KELLY: And then there's this, Sharpe's contribution to NPR's coverage of the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights in 1991.


SHARPE: Well, a lot of people want to get rid of the Third Amendment. How about you - Third Amendment rights?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Third Amendment? Do we have one?

SHARPE: Yeah. Are you a lawyer?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Third Amendment - I am.

SHARPE: Soldiers cannot be housed in a private home without the consent of the owner.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, well, gee, that's good to know.

SHARPE: Have you ever had one case where a client has come to you and wants to exercise their Third Amendment rights?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No. I've never had come somebody come and claim (laughter) that they've got soldiers hanging out in their living room that they can't get rid of.

CHANG: Those on this program got to know Mal Sharpe's humor and more. He was tall and sweet, and he really liked going up to strangers and talking with them. For him, it was more than a joke.


SHARPE: You know, you can get into the nooks and crannies of society when you just walk around with a tape recorder and a microphone. And I hope that I've just kind of revealed people and incidents in a manner that you might not normally see it. It's almost, I think, kind of like audio photography, I guess.

KELLY: The last man on the street, Mal Sharpe. He died earlier this month at the age of 83.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMOCK'S "SCATTERING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.