I made a reference to Oscar Levant. He was a personality/actor/musician with a razor sharp wit, a drinking problem, smoking problem, and a thousand and one neuroses. He spent time in mental institutions. He said some of the funniest lines in his day. He composed music for twenty movies. No less than George Gershwin thought no one played and interpreted his music better than Oscar Levant. In his later years, Levant would be a frequent guest on talk shows, chain smoking and shaking so bad it appeared he was having a seizure. He even hosted his own local talk show in Los Angeles, when he wasn’t hospitalized. He once fell asleep on the air interviewing a guest.
When his first wife married the movie theater tycoon Arthur Loew, he found the hotel they were staying at and on their wedding night at 2:00 in the morning called the room and asked Arthur, “What’s playing at the Loew’s State tonight and what time does the feature go on?”
He once said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity and I have erased that line.” A noted hypochondriac, this is what it says on his grave stone:
See, I told you I was sick
Pretty interesting guy, no?
Some readers took me to task for referring to someone they felt was too obscure (i.e. they didn’t know who he was). I noted in the comment section, and repeat here – either just skip the reference or, if you’re curious enough, look it up. Gone are the days you had to schlep to the library. Two/three clicks and you can find out all you ever wanted to know about Oscar Levant. Or any public figure.
I also mentioned that I learned a lot about show business that came before me by seeing unfamiliar people (like Oscar Levant) on talk shows and seeking out their backstory. I owe a great debt to Jack Paar (you may have to look him up too) for exposing me to many of these colorful individuals.
So what I’d like to do today is list a bunch of names. If you are a serious student of comedy you should be familiar with these people, or at least a lot of them. Maybe some of them you are. But exploring their work might open you up to exciting new vistas. So that’s your homework assignment if it feels like something worth it to you and something you want to do.
Here they are. There are way more but this is a good start.
Bob & Ray
Kaufman & Hart
Laurel & Hardy
Abbot & Costello
Mosher & Connelly
Gosden & Correll
Klavan & Finch
Patchett & Tarses
Persky & Denoff
The Smothers Brothers
The Marx Brothers
The Charles Brothers
The Zucker Brothers
The Farrelly Brothers
James L. Brooks
Robert W. Morgan
Look up even five. I bet you'll thank me.
You're also welcome to add names I inadvertently omitted.
NOTE: Woody Allen was omitted only because you all know who he is. He was a HUGE influence on me and I suggest if you haven't read his comic essays or seen his early "funny" movies you're in for a real treat.