Monday, June 22, 2015

Can comedy stand the test of time?

A Friday Question from last week sparked a lively debate on comedy and how it changes with each generation.   Comedy is a product of the times, reflecting our attitudes and sensibilities. Millennials have a different worldview than we Baby Boomers (or, if I want to lie about my age, we Gen-X’ers) have.

On a Sirius/XM comedy channel recently I heard an old Steve Martin routine. All he had to say was “Ex-cuuuuse meeeee” and the audience was pulverized in laughter. I thought, what if some 19 year-old is listening to this for the first time? My guess is they’d say, “what the fuck do all these idiots find so funny?” And if I said, “But it really was!” they could justifiably say, “Why?” I would then try to explain that he was goofing on the form, and his exaggerated persona was part satire/part silliness. He wasn’t doing “jokes” like standard comedians of that era, he had created an original character. The 19 year-old would nod politely and think I was a hundred years old.

Hey, my parents' generation thought Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis were a comic revelation (“the bees knees?”). Their schtick would receive howls of laughter. I just scratch my head. To me they’re painful.

Like with fashion, sometimes comedy styles come back into vogue. My generation rediscovered the Marx Brothers movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s. We loved their anarchy and insanity. Every generation following mine found them tiresome.

And then there is the comedy you loved at the time but now can’t understand why. LAUGH IN is an example for me. This was the number one show in America in the late ‘60s. Like everyone else in the country I roared. Now I watch clips of episodes and they’re more excruciating than early Jerry Lewis. Horrible old Vaudeville clams that make my teeth rattle. How was I EVER so unsophisticated that I found this show funny? But I was and I did.

But if comedy evolves how do you explain comedy that continues to be funny generation after generation? How do you explain I LOVE LUCY? Or MASH? CHEERS? THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW? Monty Python? Richard Pryor? George Carlin? Loony Tunes?

You really can’t. I suppose there’s a universal aspect to them. The issues the characters are going through hold true today. But do we identify with Daffy Duck? How many of us have stomped on grapes? The Minister of Silly Walks holds up as well as Hawkeye.

And yet, they all still work. Now of course there are going to be people that don’t respond to some of these perennials. I expect a bunch of comments from readers saying “I don’t find I LOVE LUCY funny” and “Loony Tunes are stupid.” But IN GENERAL, these franchises continue to stand the test of time.

Sometimes things are just… funny. You can’t explain it. And even if you don’t think you’re going to find something funny you wind up laughing anyway. You can’t help it. I’m going to try to leave you with an example.

This is from Jonathan & Darlene Edwards. (Really Jo Stafford & Paul Weston). See if you can make it through this song without laughing. I couldn’t.

53 comments:

Jim S said...

I suspect comedy that last tends to comedy that is smart. All the Brits in Monty Python went to either Cambridge or Oxford. Terry Jones has written several books about the Middle Ages.

Comedy from people like Preston Sturges is just smart. There's a reason Mel Brooks did a fairly faithful remake of "To Be or Not to Be" forty years after it was first made.

Larry Gelbart's M*A*S*H (man that's hard to type) if full of wit, word play and it's story structure really works as well.

Dick Van Dyke's show was built around real situations. And again, story structure and wit.

Even the silliest things – "Airplane" – work if they're smart. "Animal House" wasn't just a vulgar comedy. "Rocky and Bullwinkle" had an anarchic pace, but the jokes were smart. Those former Harvard Lampoon guys were smart and did all kinds of comedy, from slapstick to farce to to relationship tragedy, all in one movie.

I like the Marx Brothers, but all too often their movies play like three characters (I am leaving out the fourth brother) who have wandered into someone else's movie.

But "Who's on First" is comedy gold 75 years later.

Or I could be wrong.

Carol said...

Don't forget Shakespeare. Done correctly his comedies are still flat out hilarious.

I think the key is finding humor in humanity, because that never changes. Styles change, and ideals change, and times change, but people are always the same at the core.

Stoney said...

Steve Martin made "Excuuuse Me!" into a catch line like Jimmy Walker's "Dynomite" and Fonzie's "Heeey". That was probably the cut from his "A Wild And Crazy Guy" album when his routine would be incomplete without it. (I did laugh when CNN's "The Seventies" included the clip of Robin Williams using the line as he tosses a Steve Martin store display.)

Nick Alexander said...

Comedy, at its most simple level, is setup/release. When older jokes became funny, they were responding to the setups of their day.

What we have now is that these jokes' punchlines have become the setup, not the release. They're like why "Soylent Green" or the ending of the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, these are no longer shocking: they have become embedded into the culture.

And I am serious. Just don't call me Shirley.

Jeannie said...

I saw Steve Martin live in the late '70s, and you're right -- he killed, complete with his arrow-through-the-head and his banjo playing (both of which I would find excruciating at this point in my life). I think it's remarkable that certain comedians remain timeless -- Buster Keaton is my favorite, I find Chaplin too maudlin. There must be some strange but wonderful alchemy at work that keeps some comics relevant while others are as fresh as last month's mackerel.

Chris G said...

We've been rewatching MASH on Netflix, and it's funny - there is a lot that is really, really funny and has us laughing out loud. And there are lots of scenes where one or the other of us turns out to remember every word of dialogue, and not just the funny parts - I haven't seen the early episode with Ron Howard as a teenager who lied about his age to enlist in 25 years, but I remembered every line of that scene. But there is also a lot of humor that doesn't quite translate to today. My wife, at this point, wants to punch Hawkeye and Trapper for being sexist jerks. It's not affecting our enjoyment, but it makes me wonder what today's shows will look like in a few decades.

Stoney said...

Getting off-topic here but since Ken posted the Johnathan & Darlene Edwards tune;

I know Ken was not a writer of the "Frasier" episode "The Perfect Guy" but I have to wonder if the writers took a cue from Johnathan & Darlene in coming up with the idea of Dr. Clint Weber being a terrible singer and Frasier using that weakness to his own end.

Cap'n Bob said...

I enjoyed the song but didn't so much as smile once.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I was one of those people who saw Steve Martin perform in the 70's ... the height of his stand-up success. It was like a rock concert! Blew the roof off the place.
Some years after that I got the chance to work with Steve on ROXANNE. We talked about that concert (it was in Anaheim) and I told him that I felt his "excuuuuuuse me!" was his answer to Jack Benny's "well". He actually said he hadn't thought of that, but thanked me for bringing it up.
I know that so many don't know or remember the brilliance of Jack Benny, but I suggest they find some of his shows and watch them. A lesson in comedy timing, not to mention laugh-out-loud funny!

BobinVT said...

I never understood the massive popularity of Monty Python. I am of the age group that mostly adores them, but I never got why the mere mention of Spam, lupines, lumberjacks, Knights that say ni, etc. caused riotous laughter. And those sketches where they would dress up like women and talk in high screechy voices: torture. I do think the ministry of silly walks is brilliant. The notion of applying to get a government grant to create a silly walk and a bureaucrat critiquing the silliness of the walk resonates now more than ever. There was another sketch where Hitler and top nazis had escaped and taken residence in an English boarding house. They would dine in full uniform, and the Furher had changed his name to Mr. Hilter. Despite all this, the daft old landlady had no clue who they were. Delightfully absurd. I rarely see this sketch, but I found it far funnier than lupines, spam, etc. There were other gems, but overall it's like gold mining. You have to sift through tons of debris to get a few flakes of gold.

McAlvie said...

I never did find Steve Martin all that funny, and I'm part of that generation. I think the lesson here, Ken, is that humor, like so many other things, matures. When you are young, crudity, foul language, and so-sharp-they-cut-themselves controversial comedy is the rage because, I think, it is so "in your face." When we are young, we are so intense about everything, I guess our humor is, too. But does that brand of comedy last? Clearly not, or you would still find Steve Martin's routine funny.

Carlin, for all that his material often was crude and offensive, was also just plain brilliant. The foul language wasn't the joke, it only severed to highlight it. In fact, he built his routines in much the same manner of the more PG comedians, so by the time the punchline came, you were primed and already howling with laughter. That kind of subtle building of the joke, the getting inside the audience's head so that you are basically programming them to laugh, is what makes the greats great, and why they last forever. Lucy? It wasn't the stomping in grapes that made the joke, it was the way the story built to that point, and what she did with it. And, think about this, as slapstick and silly as Lucy was, she was always, somehow, still a lady. She simply knew how to be funny and still be a class act. Now that's talent.

Johnny Walker said...

I'm think Dan O'Shannon might disagree with your assertion that such things can't be explained :)

Another link to his book: What Are You Laughing At?

As I understand his argument (and it makes perfect sense -- to me, anyway) sometimes we laugh because there's "enhancers" -- things that aren't perennial, but rather that tip the scales towards turning something amusing into something hilarious. For example, if we really like a particular comedian, you're more predisposed to laughing at their jokes. Likewise, if it's someone you hate, you're more likely not to laugh, even if they're telling a joke you would enjoy from someone else.

Steve Martin's popularity probably grew out of a reaction to what had come before him: Highly politicised stand-up. When he walked out on stage with an arrow through his head, making jokes without any political agenda, spreading nothing but silliness and joy, the audience reacted strongly. For more strongly than if that same act had appeared a decade earlier (or later).

Laugh-In presumably had the "enhancer" that you felt it was for your generation -- subverting the type of thing your parents enjoyed, but it hasn't stood the test of time because... that was pretty much all it had going for it. Monty Python, however, fared much better because it was subversive AND the people writing and performing it were genuinely funny. It wasn't enough just to be subversive, they had very high standards for themselves.

PS - If this kind of discussion is interesting to you, check out Dan's book! (And then write back and tell me how I've misinterpreted the whole thing.)

Anonymous said...

There are certain comedians and premises that are so embedded in four consciousness that even if you don't find them funny, you may enjoy a more modern variation.
Case in point- and I don't even know if you have considered it, Ken - but Frasier and Niles are completely derivative of Laurel and Hardy, as of course are Oscar and Felix, and other comedy duos on screen. Whether you think Luarel and Hardy are still funny today, they are undeniably geniuses.
BTW- most of your readers won't appreciate that Jo Stafford, when she wasn't doing that routine was one of the best singers of her generation. You could count the women with voices as good as her's on one hand and have several fingers left over. She was one of the Pied Pipers singing behind Sinatra when he was with Dorsey and then she went on to a great solo career. Check out You Belong To Me sometime. A true classic, as good as they come.

ScottyB said...

The song posted didn't do much for me. However, Allan Sherman's 'Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)' holds up pretty well even today for chuckles across the board.

Jim said...

What a load of idiots in the front office. Did you ever encounter such buffoonery when working your way up through the minor leagues?

http://deadspin.com/orem-owlz-pr-guy-i-had-nothing-to-do-with-caucasian-h-1713037028

Oat Willie said...

Jim S: Your Zeppo-bashing will get you an ugly reputation for four-flushing and codswallop.

benson said...

My problem with Steve Martin is not the "rock concerts". They were funny. The problem I have is working Steve's shtick into his more mainstream movies.

His wallet in the pool scene took me out of the moment of his "Father of the Bride" movie. It told the audience that Steve Martin is bigger than the story here, and we have to include it in the script. Now back to the movie.

Anonymous said...

I'm not finding the song itself funny at all. But the picture, where the piano player has two right hands, is straddling the line between disturbing and funny.

Pizzagod said...

I wasn't that big on "Excuuuuuse me!" but when he started talking about his net worth and trying to impress somebody (it was some pittance, and he was making out like it was a considerable sum) I died. His buffoonery was fantastic, and the true artistry came out as Navin Johnson in The Jerk (The PHONE BOOKS ARE OUT! I'M SOMEBODY NOW!!!!")

At best it's always been subjective-and what's amazing to me is what stands the test of time and what doesn't (Jack Benny's radio scripts vs. Bob Hope's or Milton Berle's)

But a great post Ken, thanks for putting it up.

VP81955 said...

Comedy from people like Preston Sturges is just smart. There's a reason Mel Brooks did a fairly faithful remake of "To Be or Not to Be" forty years after it was first made.

The lady in my avatar (who acted in one of Sturges' earliest scripts, 1930's "Fast And Loose") reminded me to tell you people that Sturges had absolutely nothing to do with the original "To Be Or Not To Be." Instead, it was written by Edwin Justus Meyer for the great Ernst Lubitsch, who deserves more recognition for his comedic genius; one of his acolytes, the far better-known Billy Wilder, most certainly would agree.

And speaking for myself, I think much of Carole Lombard's work stands the test of time. "My Man Godfrey" (co-starring ex-husband William Powell, another timeless comedy genius) could have been used by the Occupy crowd to skewer the 1 percent. Compare that to many of Marilyn Monroe's comedic turns, which have dated terribly (which is less her fault than the era she worked in -- the 1950s were no match for the '30s when it came to smart comic roles for actresses).

Richard Rothrock said...

Maybe it still comes down to what you were exposed to while young. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s so I found that stuff hysterical. At the same time, our local stations ran sitcoms from the 1950s and early 1960s so I got a full exposure to what had come before while still a child. So I can still laugh at Sgt. Bilko, and Jack Benny and Burns & Allen and I Love Lucy.

I have students who speak reverently about "Friends" the way I feel about "MASH" but don't really "get" what the fuss is about "Seinfeld". I think Preston Sturges' "The Lady Eve" (1941) is one of the funniest and sexiest movies ever - but I have screened it for people who then never crack a smile for the entire length.

Me? I have always found the Marx Brothers and Jack Benny and Monty Python hilarious. But then I can watch The Three Stooges all day and not crack a smile. Which probably explains why verbal wit is more appealing to me than physical pratfalls -- although I find Buster Keaton side splitting. "Soap" is a TV show that doesn't get mentioned much but I found it then, and still now, one of the funniest shows ever - with some of the most beautifully sad, cry your eyes out, scenes in a show as well.

Then again, I found there to be great comedy moments in "Twin Peaks" and "Northern Exposure". So I guess my answer is, I don't know what to tell you about funny. But I know it when I see it.



Chris said...

I watched an interview of John Cleese by John Hodgman (you can and should watch it here) and Hodgman asked the very reasonable question of "Why do you think Python is still funny?" And I will cherish Cleese's response:

"I have no idea!"

Roger Owen Green said...

Context: I find "what have the Romans ever done for us? (Life of Brian) hilarious, but it helps to know either the actual or movie context.

Johnny Walker said...

PPS - Loved that video. Reminds me of WING.

pumpkinhead said...

An interest example of all this for me is The Carol Burnett Show. I loved that show back in the day. Now I watch it and wonder why, EXCEPT for the Tim Conway/Harvey Korman skits, which still crack me up. I still don't know which is funnier, Tim Conway doing his thing, or Harvey Korman trying not to laugh at him.

Lorin Walter said...

I didn't even have to listen to Jonathan and Darlene clip and was already laughing. Their routine certainly stands the test of time.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Thank you, Ken, for another truly fascinating discussion. What we laugh at is such a personal process and decision. Or is it? Do we actually choose what we laugh at, or is it the result of an unconscious blend of environmental influences and inherited personality traits...or disorders?

What's also interesting is how viscerally we react to a particular funny person. It's almost as polarizing as Democrats and Republicans: Oh, I love Benny, but Marx was an idiot!

This blog turned me on to the show The Middle, and I immediately fell in love with everybody. Though the daughter character, Sue, is mellowing as she grows up, the actress, Eden Sher, is drop-dead funny. I laugh out loud at reruns at 1:30 am, but my wife smiles politely when I force her to watch it. We're in therapy.

I grew up identifying with and laughing at so many funny people: Jerry Lewis, Joan Davis, Robert Cummings (I Love That Bob), Lucy and Desi, Laurel & Hardy, Cary Grant (Bringing Up Baby) Dan Rowan, Sid Ceasar, Woody Allen, Tommy Smothers, and on and on. I loved every one of them for various reasons, and my attraction changed as I grew. But none of them, very possibly NO ONE has ever made me laugh as hard as Niles Crane trying to iron his pants.

Even my wife howls at Niles. Which is why we're in therapy instead of divorced.

Anonymous said...

Friday Question submission for you-

Can you speak about writing a permanently off-screen character (like Maris on Frasier or Vera on Cheers)? Was it always planned that they would never appear? What kind of challenges does this create for a writer?

- Beth

Comedy Dad said...

It's primarily a matter of exposure. My 11-year-old daughter loved "South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut" and "Jackass," but she also loved "Annie Hall" and Monty Python, as well as 1940s Bugs Bunny and 1930s Marx Brothers and 1920s Charlie Chaplin. And I was there to explain the contexts of gas rationing cards in Looney Tunes, or the racial comedy in "Blazing Saddles." She's 15 now, and she just laughed it up last week at the Dick Van Dyke episode "That's My Boy" on Netflix.

If all she ever ever watched, ever, was a solid diet of "The Big Bang Theory," then sure, a rare sudden glimpse of "Steamboat Bill Jr" (in-- ugh!-- filthy black and white!) would probably seem alien and off-putting. That's why you gotta raise your kids right.

However, she's also really into formulaic Japanese anime, and thinks "Casablanca" is boring. You can't win 'em all.

Chris said...

benson comments on Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride."

To add to that (and stick with me, I have a point here), Vincente Minnelli directed the original with Spencer Tracy in 1950. The studio forced him to do a screen test with Jack Benny, whom Minnelli knew was wrong for the role, but it was a task he felt obligated to carry out (he and Benny were friends), so he did. Few directors were as fastidious as Minnelli (oh, the stories there...), and he worked and worked with Benny to get the right amount of pathos into the character of a man whose heart is breaking because he is giving his daughter away in marriage. Try as he might, Benny could just not nail it, and, to his credit, he thanked Minnelli and walked away from the project. Minnelli felt that, good as Benny was in his other work, he couldn't get past that established comic persona which prevented him from "becoming" someone else.

That is Martin's problem in virtually all of his movie roles. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Steve Martin fan, not only of him as a comic, but as a writer (plays, books). For me, though, he has never delivered a performance that allows for the suspension of disbelief. I even include "The Jerk" and "All of Me" on that list, funny as they are. There is something about him that just can't commit 100% emotionally to the creation of a character. I think that's pretty much true with most stand-up guys and gals who are used to wearing that comic personality as a shield. Very few, of any, can do it.

But read Martin's autobiography, it's wonderful.

Artie in Sin City said...

Disagree...Martin's performance in "Leap of Faith" is a stunner...

Anonymous said...

The Saturday Night Live skits that they are saying are so hilarious are largely not.
We're two wild and crazy guys.

Cap'n Bob said...

Did everyone else notice that Jo's hand on the album cover had six fingers?

To avoid any possible confusion, the Bob Cummings show was called Love That Bob.

Johnny Walker said...

Chris, I think Martin did a great job in PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, PARENTHOOD, and ROXANNE. Probably lots more. I don't know, maybe I'm biased because I like him so much.

I agree that his autobiography about stand-up was utterly superb, though. One of the few actors I'd like to meet in real life (but he's actually a writer, too -- so maybe that's why; he seems like a very interesting person).

gottacook said...

Jim S.: There's a quotation about the Marxes (from a newspaper review of A Night in Casablanca) in Joe Adamson's great 1973 book Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo that sums up not only their career but also the thesis of the book: "The Marx Brothers have never been in a picture as wonderful as they are."

Scotty B: As someone who's owned and enjoyed the My Son, the Nut album since age 7, I have to say "One Hippopotami" is even funnier than "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh."

D. McEwan said...

Monty Python did no topical humor. They were absurdist. They therefore do not date.

When my 29-year-old neighbor told me he'd never seen Monty Python and did not even know what I was talking about, my jaw hit the floor.

I don't see how anyone doesn't love the Marx Brothers. How is that possible?

BigTed said...

I also was lucky enough to see Steve Martin perform when I was a kid -- it was the first "rock concert" I ever attended. It may have been the single funniest thing I've seen in my entire life. And yet, as others have pointed out, if you pick apart his act, it's completely stupid -- He wears a fake arrow through his head. He moves his hands like a shark. He plays a few notes on his banjo, and dances a few steps. He's basically playing an idiot comedian. But he had us, the audience, in the palm of his hands the entire time. In his memoir, he talks about all the work and practice it took for him to develop his act, and to get it exactly the way he wanted it to be (despite the fact that it seemed completely thrown together). I think it's proof that a great comedian can handle an audience in a way that no TV show can match if you're watching at home alone. I enjoyed Martin on "SNL" -- which has the benefit of its live studio audience -- but he never made me laugh as much as seeing him in person.

I think movies can work the same way -- films that are "dumb but funny," like "Wayne's World" or "Dumb and Dumber," play a lot better in a theater with an enthusiastic audience than they do on TV.

By contrast, a well-written, relatively sophisticated sitcom -- a "Mary Tyler Moore Show" or "Cheers" -- is more likely to make me laugh at home than something purposely dumb like "Family Guy."

tavm said...

I've seen all the Marx Brothers movies and I think they're funny in all of them-even the weak late M-G-M ones. Oh, wait, there's one more of theirs I've yet to watch-The Story of Mankind in which they all appear SEPARATELY...

Igor said...

@ D. McEwan, Monty Python did do topical humor. For example, The Piranha Brothers were based on two actual thugs. And there were other bits that played off current events in the UK, circa 1970. Now clearly their stuff transcended that time, but some of it was topical.

Additionally, their bits even transcended TV - I first heard them on vinyl, and most of it was simply the audio tracks from their TV episodes. Whether that was planned when they did the TV shows, I don't know, but audio-only was great "radio theater".

Mayumi Elisa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Albert Giesbrecht said...

I am 50 years old,but when I was 11, I would race home from school to watch reruns of Gilligan's Island, I thought it was the funniest thing on TV. I have recently watched Gilligan on METV, while being in hospital, and I can't stand it! Granted being ill changes the complexion of the material, but by Gawd it was horrible! Better to leave the past in the past.

ODJennings said...

A classic example of "I guess you just had to be there to understand" is Al Jolson. If you watch his many movies or listen to his recordings you can't imagine what all the fuss was about (and that's not even mentioning the fact that he did most of it in black face).

That said, every article I've ever read about him talks about how he had the ability to captivate an audience for hours and how they demanded encore after encore. Bing Crosby said he was the greatest entertainer he had ever seen and had the ability to have an audience completely in the palm of his hand after the first eight bars.

Today he's painful to watch.

Barry Traylor said...

I do know one thing, my nine year old granddaughter does not find Loony Tunes funny at all while I find what she likes on Nick and other tv channels boring. And as far as Daffy Duck goes I have identified with Daffy for a long time. Poor guy never gets a break.

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Elizabeth Fletcher said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Toledo said...

I think this comments section might be haunted.

Mike Barer said...

Time to say Good Night, Dick.

Wayne said...

Do you think one day kids will look back at their classic TV comedy and say "You know they just don't make shows like GIRLS any more.
Remember the episode where that anchorman's daughter got her butt licked between the cheeks? Shows today are just crap. Pure crap!"

Pat Reeder said...

I wonder how many people realize how difficult the Darlene Edwards records must've been to make? Jo Stafford wasn't just a great singer vocally, but also technically. She had such amazing pitch control, she could sing just half a step off-key with absolute precision.

I have little patience with young people who don't think anything that came along before they were 14 is worth learning about. I grew up in the sticks, blessedly removed from contemporary peer pressure, so I didn't laugh at things based on what was passingly hip. As a kid, I loved W.C. Fields, the Three Stooges (with Curly only), Abbott & Costello and the Marx Brothers. I didn't know nor care that most of them had died before I even came along. I loved silent comedies and George Carlin simultaneously. Our local PBS station, Channel 13 in Dallas, was the first in the US to show "Monty Python." I already knew about them from getting their book imported from the UK and called all my school friends to say be sure and watch Ch. 13 at 10 p.m. Sunday. None of them did. I might have been the only person in America who was actually sitting in front of the TV 15 minutes early, waiting breathlessly for the first-ever episode of "Monty Python" to air in America.

Maybe if people don't find early Steve Martin as funny as we did then, it's for the same reason that most people don't get Harry Langdon. Both were funny because they were doing a radical reversal on the then-dominant form of humor. Langdon seems slow now, but that was the joke: he was subverting the idea of comedy as breakneck-speed slapstick, something that Laurel and Hardy took even further. Likewise, Steve Martin was a deliberately stupid, amateurish parody of Vegas lounge comedy cliches, with his suit-and-tie, balloon animals and rubber chickens. After the late '60s, when comedy got preachy, "relevant," ultra-political and too serious for its own good, his message-free goofiness was a breath of fresh air, and actually, more radical than the "radicals," who had become the new cliched establishment. These days, it's hard to understand the context that made either hilarious unless you first immerse yourself in Mack Sennett movies or old episodes of "The Smothers Brothers." That said, I think they're both still hilarious, and if people don't laugh at "Excuuuuse meeee!" anymore, it's probably just because nothing ages faster than a catch phrase.

SharoneRosen said...

the Marx Brothers tiresome???? Oh lord, next you'll tell me Laurel & Hardy don't even evoke a smile. I'm feeling disoriented...

Anonymous said...

I saw a clip somewhere of early Lewis and Martin just riffing, mostly improvising and it was hilarious. If they did that at comedy clubs and Vegas outside of the standards of TV, I quite understand their popularity.

Gerry said...

There's no better definition of comedy than Donald O'Connor's "Make 'em Laugh" number in "Singin' In The Rain".

Sean Patrick said...

Someone said they thought Jonathan Edwards had six fingers but I think the gag is that he has two left arms on that record sleeve picture.