Saturday, January 22, 2011

Another comedy test: Do you find this funny?

Haven't done one of these in a while, but I always find your responses fascinating. This is a scene from the 1972 Woody Allen movie, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. This killed me when I saw it in the theater. Woody is expecting a blind date and is just a tad nervous. What follows is some inspired slapstick. At least I thought so. What do you think?

By the way, the blind date, "Sharon", is played by Jennifer Salt. She's been in many movies and TV series and even once appeared on a show with me. It was an episode of THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES in the late '80s. My partner, David and I wrote the episode and performed small parts in it. I found her very easy to work with as an actor. Aw, who am I kidding? I had three lines (but one I had to deliver while walking).

Jennifer later went on to become a wonderful writer. Among her credits: 19 episodes of NIP/TUCK and the recent Julia Roberts movie, EAT, PRAY, LOVE.

I know it's always tough when scenes are taken out of context but hopefully you'll get the idea.  Does this stand the test of time or not?   Thanks for playing. 

62 comments:

Anonymous said...

The sound quality is terrible. I couldn't here the dialogue. Maybe there's a better version out there?

The Milner Coupe said...

Some of it is still laugh out loud funny for me. Some of it seems dated perhaps because it has been copied so many times by lesser films and TV shows.

bevo said...

The whole scene is funny and works all the way through. If you do not find 1970s Woody Allen funny, then, please, have a family member call the morgue because your dead.

Michael Rafferty said...

Slapstick is timeless. This is great because it isn't rushed. It builds slowly and that's the key I think. FRASIER had a wonderful silent slapstick scene with David Hyde-Pearce. I don't remember which episode, but it concerned him ironing in Frasier's apartment.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! But then, I love Woody Allen's work. And great, as always, having Keaton and Roberts in that scene.

Richard Cosgrove said...

Not even a snigger.

But then I find Woody Allen to be unwatchable, not matter what era. To me he's smug, whiny, arrogant, intensely annoying, and not the slightest bit funny.

Barbara said...

Do I find it funny? Better question, do I find it brilliant? Yes! It's brilliant on so many levels. Woody Allen is a treasure. (Can you tell I'm a fan?)

Thanks for the post.

Kevin Kirkpatrick said...

A teacher showed this clip in a screenwriting class I took in college. It was the first Woody Allen anything I had seen and it made me an instant fan for life.

gottacook said...

Without playing the clip, I remembered the LP flying out of its jacket, and out of frame, with a crash. OK, I love this movie. I don't know how much of the timing of this scene is due to Herb Ross and his editor, and whether it even would have worked if Woody had directed the film. My folks saw the original New York stage version in 1969, and I would love to know whether this scene was carried over intact - need to look for the published play sometime (assuming it was published).

Steve said...

I believe this movie was from 1972 (but who's counting), Ken...

Mac said...

I still find this truly hilarious. Maybe some of the references have dated, but the tension in a first meeting with someone you're trying to impress, is timeless. Not that it hasn't been done well in subsequent films, it's just that (for me) I don't think it's ever been topped in subsequent films. I just love the way it escalates, in parallel with that brutally self-conscious conversation. The way he's trying to keep the cool/intellectual chat going, while destroying the room at the same time, is priceless. There's so much in there - from that grunt he gives when he's first introduced, to the ending where the album flies out of its sleeve and he tips the chair over.
For me this goes into the same bag as stuff like the best of Laurel and Hardy - I can't imagine a time when I won't find it funny.
Great post, looking forward to hearing your take on it.

Ben said...

I love Woody Allen's early stuff and I'm a sucker for good slapstick. But for some reason, this just didn't grab me the way I thought it would. Maybe it's just because, as Ken wrote, there was no larger context, but I don't think so.

The one that did get me was at the very end, when Woody put his hands on the chair and it flipped up from under him. I don't know why that one struck me as laughable and the rest of it didn't, but it did.

As far as the writing, there was only one line that made me laugh--Diane Keaton saying "You were out of bourbon, so I made it a straight water." The rest--meh.

Phillip B said...

I've seen this more than a hundred times - including multiple showing running a college film society (no - those don't exist any longer).

Watched this time without sound and still find the "I love the rain.." line to be the clincher.

Diane Keaton is a wonderful foil and still jumps off the screen and through the decades.

My question is whether Woody Allen's well established character is essential to the effectiveness of the scene. Or could other actors play this as well?

From where I sit, David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves could do it. But not many others - although Rickey Gervais and Steve Carrell come to mind...

Do know the play was on the high school and community theater circuit for a long time. Can't imagine facing this as as a novice actor.

DBA said...

I didn't find it funny, but I had never seen it before, and as some others mentioned, that sort of thing has been done so many times since, I might have found it funny if I'd seen it when it were new. Now it's just predictable.

Neil Scott said...

Haven't seen that movie in years . . . That scene will have me heading to the video store. They still those, don't they?
It definitely stands the test of time, and more importantly, the test of humor!

noelkatz said...

Sound quality meant none of the dialogue worked for me, but whenever Woody had his hand on a garment, I laughed out loud. Also, the flying vinyl - classic.

http://noelkatz.wordpress.com

scottmc said...

The scene still holds up and I agree with gottacook that director Herbert Ross and the editing are key to the scene's success. (I believe Ross was a choreographer on Broadway before becoming a film director.) As good as that scene is I recall more vividly the scene where Woody attemps to pick up a woman at an art museum. And the running gag of Tony Roberts on the telephone and providing the listener with the next number he can be reached at.

Anonymous said...

Still funny!

-bee said...

While I laughed at some of the lines, I found the physical comedy to be annoyingly sloppy and lacking in precision (I'm a fan of the big silent comedians, what can I say).

While I didn't find the slapstick funny, it DID make me feel uncomfortable for Woody's character, so it still kind of worked for me in context of the scene.

Anonymous said...

I love this clip. But then, I love most of Woody Allen's movies. My favorite is Love and Death, which happens to be his personal favorite.

If WA is annoying, then give me annoying any day!

Sheryl262 said...

Hubby is the Woody Allen fan, but I must say I couldn't help myself and had a lol moment at the end, when the record flew out of the sleeve. Nice touch with the flip of the headpad on the chair. Most of the time, though, I feel squirmy watching him.

Mister Charlie said...

Yup, still good. Funny is funny, and since there is no real dated contemporary humor here, it is all human stuff...the very core of great comedy.

Leigh said...

I didn't really find it funny, but then I don't generally find Woody Allen himself funny. I feel like I might like the scene with a different actor, though. I like physical comedy when it's done well. I felt like it was supposed to be funny, but wasn't quite. I did like the bit where he was holding up his track medal, and I liked the bit with the record at the end. But I didn't laugh with him doing it. I just don't find him to be inherently funny, for a comedian.

Anonymous said...

I never liked this movie when I saw it in the theater and I don't like slapstick, but I laughed in spite of myself when I watched it.

St Fu said...

I never liked this movie when I saw it in the theater and I don't like slapstick, but I laughed in spite of myself when I just watched it.

rubiconvict said...

Amazing. My parents basically raised me (I'm 38) on Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and The Marx Brothers. No, we're not Jewish!!! Ok, yes we are. But we're very ashamed of it.

This scene made me piss myself as a child, a teenager and now as an adult. I'm sure I'll piss myself just the same watching this when I'm 90. There's an incontinence joke there, but I'm too classy for that.

It's interesting that I remember the record flying out of its jacket as the funniest part, but now it's kind of beating a dead horse when I watch it. It's the "grunt" Woody makes when he's introduced to his date that made me laugh hardest this time around.

Matt Patton said...

I think this seen is beautifully written (Woody Allen was never NOT a good comedy writer) and, with the exception of Woody Allen, very nicely acted. Allen was a great stand-up comedian, but he was NOT an actor. Stanley Kauffmann, the wonderful film critic for THE NEW REPUBLIC once remarked that Allen wrote "all of the best parts that Dustin Hoffman never got to play." And Hoffman would have been great in this--so would Robert Morse. There's also a great English comic actor named David Jason that could have essayed this role with ease. Still, this is flat out one of the funniest movies I've ever seen--if if I have severe reservations about the leading man.

benson said...

I saw this movie several times as a teenager, and loved it, but more for the dialogue than this. Seeing it again, it's like looking at an album cover from the early 70's. The scene didn't get old. I did.

Steve Axelrod said...

This is just brilliant.His jacket is another character, constantly screwing him up. The grunt when he meets the girl is classic. And then there's the beautiful, effortless subtext: the same awkward fumbling craziness that the blind date despises is making Diane Keaton fall in love with him. Genius. This is what the aliens in Stardust Memories were talking about!("We prefer your earlier funnier movies")

Tim W. said...

Never been a fan of slapstick and never been a fan of Woody Allen. I think it should be no surprise I didn't find the scene funny. I actually had to stop watching before the end because I found it too excruciating to continue watching. He's clumsy and nervous. I get that. I don't enjoy watching that.

Not to say I didn't think the scene had redeeming qualities. I just didn't find it very funny.

Steve Axelrod said...

Oh -- and thanks for putting it up. I need a laugh (or twenty).

selection7 said...

Good scene from a movie before I was born. There were long stretches without a laugh but that was probably by design. Woody did the slapstick really well. He went too far at about the halfway point though. Nerves that we can identify with should have been the goal, not retarded. The setup of Woody trying to appear classy only to have the gal be a clueless porn start was great. My biggest laugh was the "well, technically not dead, but we're not dating anymore" or whatever that line was.

cshel said...

This clip is still so hilarious! Woody Allen is a comic genius!

The line "I love the rain..."
The line about up to drinking a quart of bourbon a day...
The record flying out of the cover...
The bogus track medal he starts nonchalantly playing with as he's talking to the date...

I'm blanking on the other actor's name, who was in many of his films, but it made me laugh to remember that wherever he went, he was always calling his service to update the phone number where he could be reached.

This scene makes me want to watch all of his early comedies again right now.

Steve said...

Most of it isn't laugh-out-loud funny to me, but I had a smile on my face throughout, and there were a few moments (similar to the highlights already by others) where I did laugh out loud). Coincidentally, I have shown this same clip to college students for the past several years, and they generally find it "OK" -- not great, but not bad.

I do enjoy when you show these, Ken, and ask for discussion.

RyderDA said...

Everyone loved "Annie Hall". I liked "Play It Again, Sam" much better. Perhaps because it was a microcosm of everything bad that happened to me on first dates all in one scene. I tell folks about the scene with the record flying out of the sleeve (CDs don't do that). Tony Roberts constantly updating his location with his phone number. An inability to put on a jacket. Fretting about Bartok and leaving out magazines. Knocking over chairs. Capturing what it feels like to know you're a likable guy without managing to actually be likable. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, and incredibly funny about the awkwardness, without going so over top that I wanted to stop watching it. And Steve Axelrod is correct that it's beautiful to watch Diane Keaton fall in love with him for it (okay, that part never happened with me).

Max Clarke said...

Holds up nicely. I know that record is going to fly and Woody's going to flip the chair, and I still laugh.

Not my favorite movie, that will always be Love And Death in a tie with Annie Hall,, but it was maybe my first Woody Allen movie. Midnight Woody Allen movie marathon in Minneapolis.

It's a smart film. They don't play it for laughs, so when the ending is coming, you care about the outcome. It was also the most cohesive movie he made up to that point, not just a bunch of gags strung along a silly premise. Credit the fact that the movie was based upon his stage play.

Gary said...

It's too much, it's way over the top, it goes on way too long. And I truly enjoy it. I'm a WA fan, especially the early films. This scene stands up over time because there will always be that first-date awkwardness, shyness, insecurities abounding. We didn't all deal with it as Woody did, fortunately, for the sake of our dates and for the longevity of the Oscar Peterson LP. Hopefully, Woody will always make me laugh.

te said...

Friday question:

This week's season opener of Hot in Cleveland and premiere of Retired at 35 -- which follows it on TVLand -- both featured (slightly) double-entendre jokes involving the word "balls."

In the past, I've seen virtually the same joke (not that one, necessarily) in various sitcoms, often aired closely enough that the writers didn't here it on one show and put it on the other.

Do writers do this as an inside joke, do they all hear it at Starbucks or Jerry's or wherever, it is just a painful coincidence.

Betty White in jail, by the way, was a highlight of the year so far.

What we talk about when we talk about funny said...

Yes it holds up and is funny. But for me, especially this particular clip, is that everyone sounds like they have a lisp. Unintentional, maybe. But still funny.

Anonymous said...

Yup, still laugh out loud funny, and here's my take on why: Woody's modulated performance during the scene. Often times when I see people do slapstick, they overdo the performance, so the desperation in the scene comes from the actor wanting the audience laugh. When Woody did it, Allan (his character) was desperate NOT to be laughed at. Being funny and asking people to laugh are often times not the same thing.

Ken, why do I believe David Hyde Pierce would be just as adept at pulling off a perfect piece of slapstick?

benson said...

I pulled the movie out and watched it tonight. Still funny in places, though what jumped out was the jokes and references to rape that make it very dated and obviously inappropriate.

Craig said...

Still funny. Just like with the classic silent comics, it doesn't matter what decade (or century!) it was filmed if you can relate to the human emotion.

ReNae said...

Michael Rafferty
That scene in Frasier is the funniest slapstick I've ever seen. The first time I saw it I called my friend and we laughed at it so hard we were falling down. I'd love to have a copy of that scene to watch once a day.

DwWashburn said...

The problem I always had with Allen (and it shows in this clip) is the same problem I have with David Letterman. They seem to take a Mad Libs approach to humor. It's almost as if they are drawing phrases from a box, glueing them together, and passing it off as humor.

So the question "Does this Hold up?" in my opinion should be answered "Yes". Wasn't funny then, ain't funny now.

Cap'n Bob said...

I had trouble making out the dialogue, too, but I laughed at most of the physical bits. The last 20 seconds were especially funny.

Cowan said...

This movie predates me (I'm 33) and I've never really watched much Woody Allen (what I've seen, I've enjoyed, but just haven't seen much), and I found this hysterical.

The physical comedy is fantastic (LOVE him frantically trying to put the jacket on and then just flinging it across the room, loved the LP and the chair, but actually laughed hardest at him completely failing to take the date's jacket from her) and the characters + verbal comedy are great too (love the 'straight water' line and 'She's dead').

Works for me, want to hunt down the movie and see it now.

Anonymous said...

Unwatchable, and I liked your Honeymooners clip. Seems like everything in the 70s was just bad, a different pacing, different tenor in the speech.

Steve Jarrett said...

Having seen this movie numerous times as kid in the theater I can tell you the scene always played funny and the laughter always built. What's missing in the discussion here is the power and fun of the collective viewing of a comedy. While the typical Ken reader might evaluate comedy while sitting alone in a darkened room or cell, that's not the only way to view it. Play It Again, Sam was a stage play first - a successful one - and then a superb movie. It was made to be enjoyed with others. The universal idea of inept doofus trying to impress someone is a good premise and the execution here was great. The "grunt" and building goof-ups worked in a theater. Other movies that had infectious, explosive laughter in the theater: Animal House, The Big Lebowski, Team America-World Police... Borat had a few moments, too. Unfortunately, the ability to experience this for these films is, save for the occasional revival showing, gone. Sure, comedy works nicely when you're alone, too, but it's not the same thing as enjoying it with a few hundred people also laughing their heads off. We can only try to hit new comedies in the theaters, and not be lazy about waiting for their DVD release. I say this to remind myself.

xjill said...

Not funny to me. This is a case where Woody Allen is the likely culprit. He just sets me on edge from the start, so I can't be objective, I'm just nervous the whole time.

I'm glad to have the info. about it being a stage play first because I can see that perfectly and can imagine it would've been hilarious to see as part of a theatrical production.

te said...

Addition to Friday Question posted above: third "balls" double entendre last week that I noticed: "Royal Pains."

It's a conspiracy, I tell you!

Janice said...

No. Not for me. Whoever told guys that long 70s hair, with bald spot and without looking washed recently, was a turn-on?

But never mind about that.

Mostly with the years there's been too much bleedover from Woody Allen's personal life. In the 70s I saw his movies and I thought, aw, that's cute, he's not really as self-centered and selfish as he appears, it's just a character he's playing. Now I know he is pretty much what he was playing all along, and I've lived long enough to see the damage done. I can't laugh at it anymore.

So, no, I suppose it's technically well performed and all that, but I just don't care. I'm not a fan of slapstick humor anyway, and this just made me tired. I had no interest, I didn't think it was funny, and I clicked it off halfway through.

There are better examples of Woody Allen's work. Sleeper still has some funny stuff in it.

Anonymous said...

Not funny at all, but then I find Woody Allen to be excruciatingly non-funny in every single thing he attempts. His voice physically grates on me, and his whiney whinging just makes me want to run out of the room.

In fact I hated "Seinfeld" at first because George was being played so very Allen-like (the actor has referred to this in interviews). I only liked the show after he became his own character, and not an Allen clone.

Hell for me would be being forced to watch WA movies.

Ellen said...

Yup. Still hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I thought Janice had it about right. There's a transparency about him now that has made him difficult to appreciate. Some of his jokes can make you laugh because they are jokes. This was a one note scene and I'm sure everyone could predict the inevitable. Yes there might be a nuance of surprise, but in the end.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought this scene was funny. Woody Allen has said many times that his performance in movies was stolen from Bob Hope. It shows

DawnMarie said...

I don't remember ever seeing this movie, and I found it very funny. Had to stifle laughter here in my work cubicle when he swept the stuff off the table with the coat. As others have said the sound was too muddy to tell if the dialogue worked, but the physical comedy did for me anyway.

jbryant said...

"Seems like everything in the 70s was just bad..." Wow, if you really believe that, it's just sad. Lot of great films and TV in that decade.

Jennifer Salt had writing in her genes -- her dad, Waldo, won Oscars for the scripts of MIDNIGHT COWBOY and COMING HOME and a nomination for SERPICO.

Anonymous said...

I'll probably get hammered for this, but I'm one of those "Woody hasn't been funny in years" people. So to go back and re-watch even a small piece of what made me such a fan is a treat. Is it still funny? Hell yes!

JOE NOWLAN said...

Still very hilarious (just managed to find a DVD of SAM). Might be funnier, and hold up better, for a guy rather than a woman?

Anonymous said...

The dialog is great, very real. They sound like genuinely smart people, instead of people who are reading the lines of professional comedy writers. Especially Woody's female friend at the beginning. I don't find physical comedy funny usually, so that was annoying.

You can tell the actors are cracking up at the very end, that usually helps (breaking the 4th wall, etc)

Anonymous said...

(Ken Eisner, actually): Still plays perfectly. He had so much more variety of tone in his delivery back then — grunting aside. But I've never forgiven him for the way he handled LPS!

PALGOLAK said...

funny. Because it is true.