Friday, May 21, 2010

Another comedy test

You weighed in on the HONEYMOONERS and FRASIER and Woody Allen's stand up. Now I've got a classic scene from TAXI. I fell on the floor when I first saw this. Does it still stand up? Drugged-out burnout Jim is applying for a driver's license. This was written by Glen & Les Charles and directed by James Burrows.

85 comments:

Mary Lou Wallace said...

Yes, it holds up....I laugh every time I see this. Thanks for posting this!

Chris said...

I'd love to respond, but unfortunately I can't seem to feel my lungs from all the laughing. Give me a minute, please.

TimmyD said...

I'm 26 but grew up on Nick at Nite and Taxi was always my favorite. This scene always gets me.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Best scene from the series IMHO. Yep, still a thigh-slapper.

Jonathan said...

"Mental Illness or narcotic addiction?"
"That's a tough choice."

Funny as hell...the whole thing.

Tim Stotz said...

I don't know. in a lot of ways it seems dated. We seem to have a different type of stupid people now-a-days. (for better or worse). There were some funny lines though. Ironically, some of the ooooooold setups work, almost akin to the "take my wife, please" stuff. For example, the "mental illness or drug use" line was funny.

Simon H. said...

Easily the funniest moment in the history of "Taxi", and probably one of the ten greatest moments in the history of the sitcom in general, rivaling classics like Lucy and the conveyor belt, and Mary laughing at Chuckles the Clown's funeral. The whole episode is just four great scenes of brilliance itself. I love the opening scene where Reverend Jim and the cabbies meet and discuss his life at a local bar, then attempt to get him a job at the garage which leads to Louie getting drugged and singing a hilarious duet with Jim of "On Moonlight Bay", the aforementioned scene with the driving test, and the great tag with Jim taking Alex out on his first cab ride and promptly crashing the cab, then asking him for money for the ride. A masters class in how to make a sitcom episode from start to finish.

Michael in Vancouver said...

That one absolutely holds up.

Max Clarke said...

Still works, Ken.

This is a case of great acting improving the good script. I never saw Taxi much, so this was all new, but I had a good idea how they'd play the questions. When Jim calls out for help, "What's a yellow light mean?," I knew what was coming. Didn't matter, it was done so well, I had to laugh.

What seals its place as a great scene is that it was funnier each time Jim slowed down. Had he done it a 5th time, it would have been funny.

How many jokes work when the punch line is repeated that many times?

Chelsea Geiger said...

I was in Isaac's pilot writing class and we watched this episode the last day. We found it hysterical.

Famous! said...

Okay, alternate, boffo ending:

Instead of the final answer of "Slow!" to Jim's umpteenth dragged-out question about what to do at a yellow light, Elaine, Bobby, Alex and Tony finally get frustrated and yell, "STOP!"

Reverend Jim lightens up, shrugs, and goes, "Okay" and writes that down.

:-D

Tim W. said...

Jim was always hilarious, and I remember this scene and thinking it was very funny. I think it's still funny, but it's been done since, so it's not exactly fresh.

Brad Brickley said...

This...is...still...funny...all...these...years...later!

Sally creeping down the alley said...

You don't want to laugh, but you just can't help it. So you do.

The comedy of the situation still holds up.

Eric Weinstein said...

Sheer brilliance even after all these years. I introduced my 14 year old son to that scene, and even HE thought it was funny.

Jeremiah said...

A co-worker of mine is a big fan of "Taxi" and we were talking about that scene a few days ago. I hadn't seen it in years but it still makes me laugh, thanks for posting it!

ajm said...

Still the funniest exchange in sitcom history. Everything ever uttered on The Simpsons and Fawlty Towers are tied for second.

Bob N said...

I think it's as funny as it was in the early 80s, and that's sad.

In my opinion Taxi suffered from two major flaws. One, as in this clip, the writers thought that if saying a joke once was funny then saying it five times was hilarious. This is the same problem that Family Guy and Saturday Night Live have today. They never know when to end the "joke".

Two (and not shown in this clip) the writers seem to always write themselves into a corner with only two or three minutes left in the show. Then they had to do something absurd to attempt to tie the show up. It always made me think that the writers had no respect for the audience.

Anonymous said...

Between The Honeymooners golf clip --- The Frasier clip with Niles and his iron burning clothes etc-- and this one -- this definately wins by far. It's hilarious.

Damon Rutherford said...

Not funny. I only chuckled with his response to "Mental illness or narcotic addiction?"

I'm biased though -- I am not a fan of "dumb" comedy where the principle actor of the scene is an idiot. So this scene, Homer Simpson after the first few seasons, The Office's Michael Scott, etc. It's more pathetic than it is humorous.

Ben said...

I was never a big fan of Taxi; I like to think I was too young when it was in first-run episodes, but I don't think that's it. Whatever the case, even as an adult, I've just never liked the show.

This clip makes me double over from laughing so hard. I don't remember where I first saw it years ago, but it immediately made my top ten list, and has remained there ever since.

Steve said...

A measure of its greatness is that I knew exactly where this scene was going the second it began, and how it would play out, yet my laughter was diminished not one bit.

And yes, it holds up lo, these three decades hence.

Tom K Mason said...

Still funny. Made me laugh out loud, and I've seen this before (and before and before that).

blogward said...

Well forgive if I'm harsh. Seems just as laboured to me as it did back then. Why does it need five actors for dialog that would probably work better on the radio? And why is the pace so slow? I'd prefer Abbott and Costello to this, and I hate Abbot and Costello.
But thanks for the worthwhile web activity.

Felix said...

Funny as hell.

Mac said...

This hasn't dated at all for me.
The Reverend Jim is such a strong character, and there's 'Reverend Jims' all over the place - "mental illness or narcotic addiction?" That's a tough choice." - what a gem.
Even when you can see them coming, like "What does the yellow light mean?" it's funny as hell, it just seems like the actors are having a blast. I love that they do it three times - you can hear the audience getting more hysterical each time, even though they know what's coming. The audacity of doing such a predictable gag three times seems to make it funnier.
This show is as fresh to me as when I watched it as a kid. It reminds me a bit of Arrested Development in that the main guy Alex Reiger ( like Michael Bluth) isn't really funny. He's sort of the sane one and the madness unfolds around him from the ensemble.

Ref said...

I always have loved the scene at Jim's mother's wedding where he describes the world's greatest wedding traditions. AND I still love Elaine.

DJ said...

"Mental illness or narcotic addiction" -- a modern update of Jack Benny's robber telling him "Your money or your life." Greatest pause in comedic history.

bevo said...

Terrific clip. I enjoyed Taxi as a kid and find it even funnier now that I am a middle aged adult. Odd how years of working make you appreciate a work-place comedy.

FWIW, I am pretty sure I teach a room full of Reverend Jim's at my fifth rate private college.

wv: bingen - a large open container where you can select a gender.

dugsdale said...

I always admired how Jim always absolutely NAILED "damaged" in a very funny way--and have an affection for the show and the actors that makes me perhaps not a very unbiased judge of whether it holds up or not (it does for me, obviously). However, I'll confess that during the "yellow light" sequence, which unfolded about the way you knew it would, I was a little more interested in the extra seated behind Jim, who was reacting in a nice, truthful, low-key but very believable way to the spectacle. Don't know why she drew my attention rather than Jim, but she did.

MadAsHell said...

Laughed only once, at "tough choice."

I've loved sitcoms in every era, and the only major long-running hailed-by-many hits I never watched were The Honeymooners, Taxi, The Office and Raymond.

But I can't stand it whenever the writers invent a character who's so stupid that he's merely around as a well for easy jokes. I think when writers think "What's the stupidest thing our stupid guy could say here?" they're being lazy, not clever.

I'm surprised they didn't have Jim ask for help spelling his last name.

chalmers said...

Still great, even after a hundred times. Thanks for including the entire scene. While you often see the "yellow light" sequence on clip shows, the application portion is just as funny.

I've always adored Marilu Henner's delivery of the "Well, we can rule out white" line.

Quite a dream team of talent involved in that one.

A. Buck Short said...

Really? You had to ask?

My favorite was the double comeback “My brown eyes hurt.”

Famous! I really think you’re onto something with “stop.” We’ve missed our calling; we should be driving cabs. Hell, I’m already a hack writer.

chalmers said...

In another episode, they did do a "Jim's last name" bit. Breaking continuity, they said his original surname and that of his family was something like "Caldwell."

When asked why he'd change his name to Ignatowski, he replied confidently, "Spell it backwards."

After hearing it, he looked disappointed and said, "Hmmm, I guess it's not 'Starchild' ".

I think through the show's run and even this episode, you see Jim's more than just a stooge character that he might seem in this clip.

The episode where he deals with his estranged father's death is on a whole different level.

A. Buck Short said...

And yet still way funnier than the episode with Travis Bickle.

Bob Hoeckner said...

Not trying to go against the grain, but this didn't make me laugh once. Now, I did watch it on youtube at my computer with my kids fighting in the background, but still... I smiled at narcotic/mental illness gag, but otherwise it didn't move my needle much.

droszel said...

It's interesting that, although most of us who commented on this found it hilarious - as in laugh-out-loud hilarious, a few of us didn't saw very little humor at all. Put me in the laugh-out-loud column. I remember Taxi fondly, especially Andy Kaufman.

Tom Quigley said...

Although I was never a big fan of TAXI, this scene still stands out as hilarious and one of the best ever done on the show. The writers adhered to two of the principles which I think all writers of great or memorable sitcoms have done over the years:

(1) Write to character. Nothing happens in the scene that you wouldn't expect any of them to do, and yet because of who they are and the situation they find themselves in, it's all still funny.

(2) The repetitive gag. Danny Simon called this "going for the gold", meaning when you find something that's funny and it's appropriate to do so, you keep repeating the gag until it's no longer funny or until it's time to move the action forward.

Corinne said...

I showed this to my 11 and 14 year old sons and they laughed. I'd say it still holds up. Of course, my husband and I remembered when it first aired. It's a classic.

Blaze said...

Pegged the laugh-o-meter for me!

Anonymous said...

Surely one can relate...and it does hold up on that ground!!

Mel said...

I can still remember seeing this for the first time and my dad laughing until tears were streaming down his face. Makes me laugh every time and maybe even more -- and makes me miss my dad.

Question: was it written that way (to keep repeating) or was Christopher Lloyd told to just keep going or did he just improvise?

Mary Stella said...

Since I laughed as hard today as I have every other one of the dozen or so times I've seen it, I'd say it holds up pretty darn well.

Eyes.

Don't write two.

wv=snomedel - Note jotted by foreign Olympic worker

Joe Hass said...

Interestingly, I had only seen the "yellow light" joke out of this scene before, and I found the stuff before it just as good as it.

Absolutely holds up.

-bee said...

Beautifully written. I laughed - although I felt the pacing dragged just a teeny bit.

Jim said...

I've never been able to turn my analytical mind off and get the full dose of humor out of this scene...because a yellow light does NOT mean "slow down." (It means "the light is about to turn red" -- that's it.)

KEN PHISH said...

A classic, and yes it does hold up.
Another great memory from "Taxi"-Alex dancing in the gay bar.

Mike said...

I liked Taxi, and I liked most of this scene, but the "yellow light" exchange has never made me laugh, even when it was first run. Must be me.

Kirk Jusko said...

Jim Ignatowski (I hoped I spelled that right) was the funniest character on Taxi and this may have been his funniest scene.

Another funny scene from a different episode. Jim and Alex go visit Jim's millionaire father. Jim remiscenses about growing up. He tells Alex he was pretty much raised by the black housekeeper, who, for some reason, kept referring to Jim as Scarlet O'hara.

"Jim," says Alex. "That's Gone With The Wind!"

Jim replies, "Oh, I know, Alex, those days are now gone with the wind."

Weisenheimer said...

It all holds up except for the haircuts. I laughed especially hard when he stabbed his tongue with the pencil. And slow down... repetition IS funny!

wv: pascemosi--a bit slower than a saunter...

Steve said...

I also remember watching it and laughing the night it aired on ABC...

My only thought today was that the whole scene moves painfully slow by today's standards.

Vern Rochon said...

It's not only funny as hell, it is truly a CLASSIC, meaning impervious to time and most sociocultural interpretation -- people who speak English 500 years from now would wet their pants if they saw this.

Reminds me of another great line from Jim in a scene with Alex at the end of an episode about a lost kid. Jim invites Alex for lunch and Alex asks what he's having.

Jim says, "Spaghettios, popcorn and herring." One of the funniest lines I ever heard.

Alex declined.

alopecia said...

Diversos diversa juvant; non omnibus annis Omnia conveniunt. -Maximianus (Different things delight different people; not everything suits all ages.)

That said, I wasn't even slightly tempted to laugh. Maybe it's just me and I'm missing something vitally important in this scene, but isn't comedy supposed to subvert the audience's expectations? I found every joke was obvious and telegraphed (isn't that called "hanging a lantern on it"?).

For me, not funny.

diane said...

This is every bit as funny now as it was the first time the episode aired. I've laughed every time I thought of this since and seeing it again I'm having to stop every couple of words I type to pull myself back together. Easily one of my favorite comedy moments.

laprguy said...

Still the funniest television scene I've ever scene ...

wolferiver said...

I remembered this scene from watching Taxi when it originally aired, and I just KNEW when you wrote the introduction in your post that this was the scene you were going to link to. I still found it funny after all these years, even though I agree that by today's snappy, MTV-style, sped up story-telling standards, it is slightly slow.

Watching it now, what's evident to me is that not only is this scene well-written, but that cast was amazingly talented. I like the audacity of going for the third repetition, and PULLING IT OFF! Even knowing what's coming next doesn't make it less funny.

When I was younger, I didn't notice all the stuff that went into creating a great scene. I also used to think that if I were to notice this stuff, that somehow my enjoyment would be less, since one part of my mind would be tied up analyzing what I was watching. Actually, the opposite is true. There's double enjoyment. One from just the story unreeling itself, the other is from seeing a seamless match between writing and acting.

This was just lovely to see. Thanks.

tomntmj said...

Tears rolling down my cheeks laughing. Most of Taxi was unbelieveably hilarious. Damn, they all look too young. If it would have been HDTV, they would have looked a lot older.

FlipYrWhig said...

I liked "Oh, man, I thought that WAS the test" a lot better than the "yellow light" payoff. I remember really liking Taxi, but that to me was a thin smile, not a big laugh.

Anonymous said...

still hilarious! That one never gets old.

A_Homer said...

Dated. Pacing and laugh-track are the main problems. The first minute is mostly idiotic laughtrack filling up dead space and one simple joke about his last name. One Minute. When you hear that much laugh-track ... well, just think about the tight pacing of Frasier, you hardly listen to laughing only. Without the push of the laugh track, this would be something else. I suppose his character's state of mind demands it takes time to respond, but when it gets to that line with, "Weight" ...... and he goes on to talk about how relative it is because if he were in space... etc... who doesn't see that "space" response of Tony Danza's character coming.

I also don't understand why there has to be practically the whole Taxi ensemble standing around him just to deliver one or two lines each 20 seconds.

Oddly, the discrepancy to the whole thing is that the actors are for the most part, really perfect for sitcoms and deliver. Not over-the-top, mugging or the like, which by today's standards may not work. But the pacing and laugh-track is dated in my opinion.

Vermonter17032 said...

This scene is funny, but I don't think it is a classic sitcom moment... at least not for me. But I was never a big fan of Taxi

gih said...

I think I already watched it. I just don't remember.

leor said...

count me as one who still loves this scene, and taxi in general. i was only a youngin when taxi ended its run, but i watched it a ton in syndication, and have always enjoyed it. that scene, and the episode when Jim is selling vacuum cleaners, are two of my all-time favourite sitcom scenes.

Dan said...

meh...not so much.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

This reminds me of early vaudville patter. I bet those old routines have other gems like this...

Watched this again early this morning...and I still laughed.

Paloma said...

I laughed so hard I nearly chocked
Thanks for posting this!

Reno said...

The one gag was too long. I recently bought season three of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which I loved in the 60s. Now, everything was TOOOO LOOOOOG. In one show Harry Belafonte did THREE SONGS IN A ROW! About nine minutes. Talk about a show stopper! Certainly stopped me. I didn't finish the DVD.

Jeff said...

Still great after all these years. My wife and I used to do the "What...does...a...yellow" gag all the time -

SharoneRosen said...

it holds up! The writing is great and a terrific example of the perfection of the comic delivery... ahhhhh

Anthony Strand said...

Brilliant. I'm 25, and that's one of my all-time favorite sitcom moments.

scottmc said...

It still holds up and it's the application part more than the 'What Does the Yellow Light mean' that continues to work for me. Others have mentioned the 'mental illness/narcotic addication' question but I also like that he thought the application WAS the test.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Like everything else, it works better in context, where some of the objections are addressed. E.g. as part of the episode, we know why there are four other people there with him (because all four of them have taken it upon themselves to get him a job) and why the scene is so long (because it also does some exposition, like letting us know his last name). But even out of context, it's pretty damn brilliant.

And as others have said, some of the bits earlier in the scene outshine the famous "yellow light" bit (though that's terrific), like the pay-off of Jim's paranoia about the Mouseketeers, or his licking the pencil or doing a double-take at that noise at the very beginning of the scene.

This script, BTW, is one that violates many modern rules of "well-made" screenwriting. It does have a story, and resolution, so it's well-made in that sense, but it has almost no plot. The entire first act is just one long scene at Mario's, consisting almost entirely of the cabbies getting re-introduced to Jim (who had only appeared once before; this was the Charles Brothers making him a regular), and the act 1 break is the cabbies deciding the only thing a loser like him would be qualified to do is the same job they do.

Then Act 2 just consists of three big, hilarious set pieces: Jim's scene with Louie, the driving test scene, and Jim's first drive as a cabbie. So there is a story spine and a goal that Jim achieves (getting a job), but there's little plot; it's all character stuff, a showcase for this weird character and how he interacts with all the other characters. I wouldn't want every show to be like that, but the de-emphasis on plot gives the writers and actors more time to build the kind of comic set-pieces that need time to be set up.

Tom said...

A vote for yes it holds up, due entirely (for me) to Christopher Lloyd's performance and timing/pauses, rather than the writing...let alone the acting by the other cast members who were basically four straight men where one (Judd Hirsch, clearly) would have sufficed. This scene owes a lot to Bob and Ray, e.g., the Slow Talkers of America. Still, I laughed, as I did when it first aired.

Annie of Blue Gables said...

I vote YES! We both laughed so hard watching this that we thought about looking it up on Amazon and buying the series.

Mike said...

i know nobody asked, but I prefer the final scene of the episode where Jim predicts Alex's death after a series of unlikely events.

Anonymous said...

Personally, LOVED Taxi, but though I liked this, I think it is far from the BEST of taxi.

To me other gems stand out. Louie getting a blank check from Jim's rich father, but agonizing over JUST the right amount (all the others thought he would just write in millions, but he was too smart and knew it wouldn't fly...had to find the exact highest amount that he thought would fly). Or alex begging Jim for his money in a bathroom for more gambling. Or the whole "cocaine cookies" show.
The "celebrety party" that just turned out to be normal folk...there are MANY that are funnier to me. Jim visiting his "fat" father.

TSW said...

Doesn't feel dated. Still hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. One thing that interested me (as someone who has watched almost nothing of this series) is how much Ignatowski there is in Seinfeld's Kramer.

Anonymous said...

It most certainly holds up. I saw it when it originally aired and still use the "yellow light" line as a go to laugh with my family. I just showed it to a young 'un in my office who had never seen Taxi before and sat back to watch her lose it.

I am waiting to show it to my boys. Not because they wouldn't get it but because just last week I blew my 9 year old's mind that Uncle Fester = Professor Plum = Doc Brown. Not sure he is ready to add Reverend Jim to the equation.

The only repetitive joke that comes close is Sideshow Bob and the hoes. That one is able to go from funny to too long back to funny. Best thing about that bit is (according to the commentary) that Kelsey Grammer only recorded it once and they repeated it simply bcause the episode ran short.

Thanks for the midday laugh!

Chalmers said...

I do agree that Louie's gyrating, grunting effort to find the perfect blank-check amount is on this level.

As for Rev. Jim moments, the best episode might be "Elegant Iggy," episode, which won Lloyd an Emmy. It's the one where a wealthy dowager (Fran Ryan, of course) invites Elane and Jim to her fancy musicale.

Deva said...

The only joke I broke a smile on was the mental illness/narcotic addiction one, the rest seemed like familiar old vaudeville bits. I was relieved at least they didn't do the old clam; "sex? yes please!" I was distracted by the cast rolling their eyes, long pauses and obvious positioning for the next camera's cut to. They look almost bored. Come on people where's the snap! The ending was expected, I like Famous! said's boffo ending better.

Rock Golf said...

Isn't this the scene referred to in the James Burrows talkback where the script called for the "What does a yellow light mean? " line to be only repeated once and his instinct was to keep repeating.

Yes, hilarious. Everything from the slow burn on the other cabbies to Jim's pause to confirm the color "yellow" on the 4th go-round to the little nod and glimmer that this time Jim might might just have understood. Perfect when I first saw it 30 years ago. Still perfect.

The Mongoose said...

Definitely preferred this to the Honeymooners clip. I was smiling throughout, and audibly laughed a couple times - particularly the fourth "yellow light" repetition. It does move a bit slowly *shrugs* Oh well. It happens. This makes me want to watch the episode.

I will also say that I got distracted by the incredible hotness that was Young Tony Danza.

Matt Patton said...

I know just what Jim meant -- that Cubby had it in for everyone. And don't even get me started on Darlene . . .

And yes, this will hold up until the day that the sun burns out several billion years from now.

Bob said...

I have to agree--"Elegant Iggy" was the Rev. Jim at his best.

"I must have had...lessons!"

Jason said...

I liked the line-- " I think they mean your EARTH weight."..hehe