A Comedian’s Untold Story in Canton, Ohio

Comedian Ronnie Shakes, seen on The Tonight Show, never had a proper obituary.

(Note: This editor received a text from Kabir Bhatia, who works for Ideastream Public Media, who wanted to know about my first husband, comic Ronnie Shakes. We spoke and he wrote a story, which appeared on February 15, on Ideastream, under “The Cut.” It is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It’s a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream’s producers. Visit: click here.)

Ideastream Public Media

By KABIR BHATIA

Name five comedians from Ohio.

Bob Hope might immediately come to mind. More recently Steve Harvey or Dave Chappelle. Perhaps Martin Mull. Maybe Gallagher?

Surprise: Not one of them was born in Ohio. Yet they’re all definitely connected to the Buckeye State.

Conversely, people might not realize that that Jack Paar, David Wain,  Brian Unger, Ian Frazier and the always-hilarious John Dean were born in Ohio.

Yet there are two other names which belong in the conversation. They came to my attention during the early weeks of 2024 but didn’t fit into a specific story. Pulling them from my reporter’s notebook, they are perfect for “The Cut.”

The first person made 10 appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson”  in the mid-1980s click here. A comedian’s comedian, he’s remembered fondly by fans of stand-up. His material was razor-sharp. His delivery was perfect:

“After twelve years of therapy, my psychiatrist said something that brought tears to my eyes. He said, ‘No hablo inglés.’”

“My doctor gave me two weeks to live. I hope they’re in August.”

“I was an ugly baby. On my birth certificate there was a listing for ‘probable cause.’”

Those jokes aren’t by Ohioans Arsenio Hall, Jonathan Winters or George Wallacce. They’re by Ronnie Shakes, and he would’ve been 77 next week.

Google him or his birth name, Ronald Sakele, and you’ll find about a dozen of his best jokes, an article recounting his hatred of fruitcakes click here. a couple of videos and not much else. Nothing about his difficult upbringing in a family of immigrants, his early diagnosis of epilepsy, the sitcom pilot he was hoping to produce or much else about his personal life or background.

When I first contacted his widow, Sue Pascoe, she texted simply, “No obit – I was in total shock.”

She met her tall, mustachioed husband and his distinctive Brooklyn accent in the late 1970s. Not Brooklyn, Ohio, but Brooklyn, New York. They were a pair of stand-ups who hit it off in the club scene which birthed Jerry Seinfeld, Clevelander Jimmy Brogan and a host of others.

“I had three bridesmaids, and they were all bosomy,” she said, adding “I put them in strapless dresses with slits up the side, I figured the only way I’d look like a virgin is if they looked like sluts.

“At the reception, we had, like, 50 comics and a microphone. I think every comic went up to do some sort of congratulations, but my wedding turned into an open mic night.”

They would be married for just a few years as Shakes’ career blossomed and Hollywood beckoned. Yet he was reluctant to move away from his son and daughter from his first marriage. During his last “Tonight Show” on February 24, 1987 click here , Shakes seemed hesitant to discuss why he was staying in New York.

Pascoe toured as her husband’s opening act; the pair preferred to work reasonably clean, and Shakes was not comfortable with local performers who might clash with his sensibilities. That’s what brought both of them to the Akron Canton Comedy Club in Jackson for a series of shows in 1987.

Ronnie Shakes was booked for a week of shows at the Akron Canton Comedy Club, then on Fulton Drive NW in Jackson Township in May 1987.

“We had gone out for a jog before we’d go to the show,” she said. “We were up on a hill, jogging near a golf course, and he just fell on top of me.”

He wasn’t born here, but Ronnie Shakes passed away in Canton on May 16, 1987 – another comedic talent with a little-known Ohio connection. His widow finds it difficult to discuss but holds the Cantonites who helped her in high regard. A note of thanks appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal on May 26.

“Words cannot express how much the kindness of strangers helped both of us in our final minutes together,” Pascoe wrote. “Thank you for calling the ambulance, helping to administer CPR, providing a towel, holding the IV bags, and your prayers.”

Today, the site of the Akron-Canton Comedy Club is a reptile-themed restaurant which offers free popcorn in the lobby. Sue Pascoe is a journalist in Southern California.  She has no contact with her former in-laws; many of them pre-deceased Ronnie from what she suspects is an undiagnosed history of arteriosclerosis.

The family also split internally due to disagreements over their restaurant, where Shakes had worked buying fish every morning before his showbiz success. Incidentally, his most famous relative was probably his uncle, Georges Sakele, author of the 1931 book “Egyptian Beauty Secrets” – a staple of my night table and probably yours.

Although this story was in my notebook, it was begging for an outlet. Not to be immodest, but I can now take some personal satisfaction that I have penned not just an obituary for Ronnie Shakes… I’ve apparently penned the only obituary.

And who was the second comedic name I was referring to? There isn’t one – I was joking.

Kabir Bhatia

“The Cut” is featured in Ideastream Public Media’s weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream’s newsletter subscription page

This entry was posted in Film/Television, Obituaries. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Comedian’s Untold Story in Canton, Ohio

  1. M says:

    Sue – you never cease to amaze me. Your life is so varied, so interesting, so full of surprises. You should write a book. I love all the tales of growing up, family, early adult life, marriage, children, reporting, comedy career, etc, etc Thank you for sharing some of the highlights of “This is your Life!”…

  2. Sue, thanks for sharing this. An intriguing peek into the story of your life. Almost like having that cup of coffee with you. Almost.

  3. Pepper Edmiston says:

    Sue! Thank you for allowing your readers into your life. I loved seeing beautiful you and your brilliant first husband on your wedding day. And, his stand-ups (saw two) were phenomenal. What a tragic loss his early demise was; a loss to the world of comedy. And, when is your book coming??

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