By Eric Deggans
Times TV/Media Critic
After 25 years hearing legions of comics tackle his omnipresent baritone, it is downright spooky to hear Larry King's distinctive voice asking his maid to find the remote control.
But these are the conversations you have when you're retired. And King joined those ranks about three months ago, departing CNN's flagship show after 25 years in mid December.
Still, the 77-year-old broadcast pioneer seems to be working harder than ever: commenting on the death of longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor; negotiating a spot on the hip news satire The Daily Show; organizing a touring one-man show; and cracking jokes about his successor at CNN that left observers unsure how much he respects new host Piers Morgan.
Reached at his California home, the man once known as Lawrence Harvey Zeiger was preparing for an appearance this weekend at a fundraiser for the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater St. Petersburg, musing on his roots in Miami and the irony of starting a comedy tour at the same time as Charlie Sheen.
When news broke you might join The Daily Show, I thought: don't they usually make fun of people like you?
Well, I'll be making fun of myself, too (laughter). Jon Stewart called me about 10 days ago, asked if I'd like to be a regular contributor starting in April. I'm going to do a takeoff on my old column for USA Today called Nobody Asked Me. I would just say things like, "If the banker's got a moustache, you're not gonna get the loan." Bob Costas used to make fun of it. A lot of the magazines made fun of it.
You're also doing a comedy tour at about the same time Charlie Sheen will be on the road.
Wow, me and Charlie? Well, I don't know what Charlie's going to do, but in my case, instead of just getting up and talking, this is going to be more of a produced show: backdrops and videos and lot of walking around, a full, 80-minute show. (King says a Tampa stop is scheduled Jan. 21 at the Straz Center).
Given your comments about Piers Morgan, do you regret leaving CNN?
What I said was that they made a mistake in promoting it like he was going to be dangerous and watercooler stuff you've never seen, and that's not true. It's a good talk show. The only answer that got mixed up was somebody asked me "Do you miss it?" And I said, well, when you've got a thing like Japan or Libya or Egypt, of course I miss it.
Didn't you compare watching him to seeing a car drive over a cliff?
The joke was about leaving the job; it's like mixed emotions. When you got Charlie Sheen or the Kevorkians or … not the Kevorkians, the girls …
m The Kardashians.
Yeah, Kardashians. I don't miss that. It's like watching your mother-in-law go over the cliff in your new car.
I hear you've already scheduled some of your CNN specials.
I did all the Alzheimer's tests. You will see those tests, and then we interview people, famous people, who've had Alzheimer's in their family, like Angie Dickinson, Ron Reagan; that's May 1. The second special is going to be Johnny Depp, who you never see. The third special is going to be baseball, talking about fathers and sons. It'll be me and my sons, along with baseball players whose sons also play.
Your sons play baseball?
I'm one of their coaches.
I think it'd be kind of frightening to hear your voice yelling from first base.
I wasn't even coaching and I was thrown out of a game. Umpire threw me out. Told me to go back to CNN. (laughs) You know, you get more involved for your children than (watching) the Dodgers.
You started out in Miami; how did Florida shape your later success?
In 1957, I was lucky to go to Miami, where there was no union, so there were a lot of jobs open. I don't think I'm any better than I was when I was in Miami. I lived in South Beach, paid $70 a month. Now it's $70 for breakfast (laughs).
There's that comedy again.
I used to make jokes about your place. I used to say Miami Beach is the only city in America with the population over 60,000 and no cemetery. So when people die here, they put 'em on a park bench in St. Petersburg and nobody knows the difference. (laughter) I guess that's not true anymore.