Friday, February 12, 2010

Comedy test: Part 2

Okay, now I happen to think this is one of the most hilarious set pieces in sitcom history. For the record, I did not write it. This is David Hyde Pierce at his brilliant best. Two questions: Do you agree (you don't have to, y'know), and if you do, how do you think it will be received in forty years? Will viewers unfamiliar with FRASIER and the Niles character appreciate the bit or find it boring, mildly amusing, obvious, cliche ridden, and derivative of things they've seen thousands of times in the 2030's and 2040's? (I think you see what I'm doing here.)

Give me your answer and then check back in forty years to see if you're right. Thanks.


Kate said...

The Honeymooners bit wasn't really my cup of tea, but this scene is one of the best bits of physical comedy in television history. It helps to be familiar with Niles' personality, but this goes for five and a half minutes without so much as a word. It's brilliant!

Oh, demographic-wise, Gen Y female, grew up with Frasier, loved it to bits.

Jaime J. Weinman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I guess Niles doesn't run with scissors like brother.

The scene was okay, but I tend to get bored easy and find it hard to pay attention when there isn't dialog. Maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I agree, it did seem a bit contrived, lacking honesty to the situation. The best kind of humor stims from the irony of a realistic or dramatic situation.

Mockingbird said...

As soon as I read classic comedy bit with Niles, I thought of this scene. It's every bit as funny as I remembered it. And, sadly, as someone who once reacted to a fire in her oven by calling her landlord rather than thinking to use the extinguisher, its humor lies in being just barely over the line from reality.

Howard said...

I think they call it a clown act. Geoff Hoyle, Bill Irwin and thousands of others have done it - or something like it - before and will do it again.

It's definitely classic in that sense.

DHP does a great job with it, too.

Michael said...

On the topic of the Olympics (which we weren't), every time I hear someone refer to the country of Albania - as in tonight's Olympics opening ceremony - I can't but help hear Nick Colasanto singing (to "How Dry I Am") "Albania, Albania, you border on the Adriatic..." How old is that episode, and who wrote that?

MTM said...

100% perfection. One of the funniest scenes in tv history.

Robert Hutchinson said...

I must have seen this a few times in the past, as I saw everything coming before it happened and thus was only smiling during the bit. I'm sure I laughed more when I first saw it.

(The exception was that thing-whatever-it-is attached to the ironing board, which I didn't remember, and which made me chuckle both times it appeared.)

Also, this may be something that almost no one notices, but we cut immediately from the iron smoking to the iron having started a fire. I suppose that could easily be due to having to cut a few seconds out for time, but it pokes a hole in the illusion for me.

Rinaldo said...

This is done with such precision and finesse, I think it will stand up over time. It may even become funnier as physical comedy becomes rarer (as it seems to be at the moment -- of course, the pendulum may swing back sometime in the future). Even though physical shtick isn't as dear to me as verbal comedy, I'm always ready to admire something really beautifully done.

I do understand the comments to the effect that this seemed contrived in a way, but that doesn't really lessen my enjoyment. That said, the parts of Frasier that to me achieve comedy perfection are the 3 sublime farce episodes written by Joe Keenan: "The Matchmaker," "The Two Mrs. Cranes," and of course "The Ski Lodge." Those match anything Feydeau or Michael Frayn ever wrote.

Velocity DeWitt said...

I found Niles funny, but the repeated cuts to Eddie kind of killed it for me. Trained dog reaction shots don't do much for me.

(Word verification: catban. I'm not calling for a ban on cats *or* dogs; I'm just saying that "cut to the adorable dog with head cocked worriedly" can be overdone)

Rebecca said...

I think David Hyde Pierce is one of the funniest men in the history of the universe. He can make me laugh by barely a twitch on his face. In fact, just thinking of his face puts a big smile on mine. Yet...

This scene didn't do a whole lot for me. I chuckled exactly twice. Once at the look at his face after he threw the pants on the sofa, and once when he came out of the kitchen carrying the pots. Oh, wait, there was a tiny one when he stopped to reverse the scissors.

I love the actor, and thoroughly enjoyed the character many times. But this was by far not one of his scenes I would consider funniest.

I would venture to say, however, that those who find it funny now will still find it funny 40 years from now. Because the humor comes not so much from surprise as from execution. You could almost say that the moves in this clip were every bit as predictable as the one in the Honeymooners. It was obvious almost from the beginning that the pants would catch fire, and it just figured that he'd use the pots to put it out. Even the scissors weren't so surprising.

But, imo, there's a lot better material in that series for that actor. I imagine you probably wrote a good bit of it.

Alan Coil said...

I have that same pair of scissors.

My favorite David Hyde Pierce physical comedy from the show was when he tried to hop onto the island in the kitchen, missed, and banged his head on a cabinet.

I saw this when it first aired, but didn't laugh at it. The episode was promoted as being without dialog, so I was influenced by that to watch it too carefully. Had I not known, I likely would have liked it more at the time. I'm odd like that.

I won't be here in 40 years.

Alan Coil said...

Hey, Ken, you might want to try another clip. That one seems to cut off the bottom of the shot.

A Virgin Tomorrow said...

It's hard to say if unfamiliar viewers would really appreciated it. Niles is one of my favorite characters of all time. This is classic Niles to me. It's hard for me to step outside myself because that's how I see it.

brickben said...

Funny, I was just discussing the Honeymooners post with my wife today and she compared that to the Stooges.Then she brought up "A Valentine for Niles" as really funny.

Tim W. said...

I was a big fan of the early years of Frasier (before Niles and Daphne got together), and NIles might have been the best thing on the show, but, again, I'm simply not a big fan of that type of humour. When he passed out (again) and dumped the cleaner on the sofa, I stopped it. I'm guessing that when I originally watched I turned the channel at that same time.

I just don't like being able to guess what's going to happen, and knowing it's going to be bad.

And for the record, I wasn't a fan of the Honeymooners clip, either.

tracy said...

The "clown act," as someone in an earlier comment put it, has been around for centuries. The emphasis on physicality over spoken gags leads me to think this scene will still be funny in forty years.

(There's also no dead air, no wasted time. Every movement has a purpose. That's what I primarily didn't like about the Honeymooner's clip. Tremendous energy between the performers, but way too much time between jokes. David Hyde Pierce's timing is impeccable.)

Jaime J. Weinman said...

When I saw this scene at the time (granted that I was disenchanted with the season as a whole), I thought it was well done but not inspired; it felt like they were self-consciously trying to create a great physical comedy set-piece for the ages.

There's nothing but great things to be said for David Hyde Pierce's execution of the scene, but there always was, for me, something a little contrived about it which isn't true of the great Frasier farce bits that still make me laugh uncontrollably (Niles' fencing routine in "An Affair To Forget" most obviously).

I don't see it getting dated, though, since great comedic execution rarely gets dated. It's like in the Honeymooners clip, everyone agreed that Carney's delivery of "Hello, ball!" was great.

Damon Rutherford said...

Niles fire scene >>>> Honeymooners' golf scene

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I won't be here in 40 years.

Come now, don't be like that! You....ohhhhhh, yeah.

Can I have half your stuff? ;)

WV: oussical - Either a French musical or a musical made solely of pained sounds, depending on how you sound out the word.

D. McEwan said...

I knew what clip this would be from your intro, before the image even hit my screen.

Classic physical comedy. Will always be funny, until the end of time.

That said, I almost forget to laugh, because, as a performer who has done a lot of physical comedy myself, I am in awe of DHP's execution of it. Folks, especially you blase, ho-hummers: doing that at all is damned difficult. Doing it with that precision and timing, with all those elements, and that accelerating pacing, it's fucking impossible! I know too many actors who can't walk through an open door while holding a prop.

DHP is awesome. Buster Keaton would have given him a standing ovation, and no one was better than Buster. (Chaplin, he of the blindfolded roller-skating in MODERN TIMES, was as great, but not greater) Watching it, I get lost in my admiration for its execution. DHP is a Comedy God.

"Anonymous said...
The scene was okay, but I tend to get bored easy and find it hard to pay attention when there isn't dialog. Maybe that's just me."

It's just you, or else the wealth of great silent comedy from the 1920s was just nothing. Anon's comment is one of the saddest things I've ever read. I am not annoyed or riled at him, but filled with pity for his poor, attention-deficit-driven inability to enjoy the greatest works of comedy, unable to keep his atention going on a Keaton silent feature, or a Chaplin, or even dear Harpo Marx. What a sad existence.

Not to mention the great silent dramas he or she has cut them self off from forever. As I age, I find I am ever more drawn to the great silent films, and my collection of serious silent dramas - bless you DVD and especially Kino - grows to rival my collection of silent comedy.

A. Buck Short said...

As we like to say down her in the ague belt, one man’s contrivance is another man’s choreography.

What didn't you like about the ballet?
It seemed a little contrived.

To let you know what generation I’m in, I’ll give it a 9. Didn’t like the lyrics, but found it easy to dance to. Peter Sellers meets Mr. Pastry – but without the liquor. Mostly smiles trumping laughs. Telegraphed yes, but classic stuff adapted and executed well. Whatsamattawidat?

Music was great, and, I’m sorry but the kicker with Eddie really did it for me. And as we say in the marketing office, it’ll be great for foreign distribution.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anon who compared the Honeymooners scene to watching paint dry. I enjoyed this scene, and I'm not a big fan of Fraiser, nor of dogs. Yes, it was predictable, but it was very well-executed.

That said, I didn't find this uproariously hilarious or anything. I'd still rather watch a good Dick Van Dyke physical comedy scene.

Ben Scripps said...

My name is Ben, and I have a confession to make.

I never watched 'Frasier'.

I saw a few of the first season episodes; 'Frasier' started while I was in college, so I didn't do a lot of TV watching at the time anyway. But Frasier Crane was never really my favorite character on 'Cheers', so the new series held little interest for me. I've seen enough episodes to have the general gist of the series; Frasier's on the radio now, brother Niles, dad, woman with British accent. But aside from that, that's really about all I know about the series.

So...I guess my reaction was that it was funnier than the 'Honeymooners' clip from yesterday, but not much.

The moment David Hyde Pierce grabs the iron, there's no doubt that something's getting burned. When the flames started shooting out, there's no doubt that a wacky fire extinguisher scene is forthcoming.

And I'm assuming that Niles passes out at the sight of blood? Not knowing that going in was a bit confusing at first; not for long, but enough to be distracting.

All in all, it was...meh.

And, since I would apparently be (in the words of D. McEwan) a "blase ho-hummer", let me say this:
the execution *was* fantastic. It was very well done, and David Hyde Pierce did a great job with the scene. But a funny scene can still be funny with poor execution, while a perfectly executed unfunny scene will never be funny. My "meh-ness" has nothing to do with the execution, but with the situation. Maybe it was that the dog appeared to be smarter than the human, but it just didn't work for me.

Sherri Nichols said...

Never watched Frasier, so I had never seen this bit. I loved DHP in this, though, especially when he stopped to switch the scissors. I don't think comedy has to be novel or unexpected to be funny: a classic joke expertly performed is hilarious, and what DHP does here is physical comedy at its best.

Anonymous said...

kinda boring, not as predictable as the other one, and again, the laughtrack was all over the place. what's funny about a dog looking at a guy? the laughtrack is probably laughing at 5 years of jokes about those characters and the dog, but there's nothing on the scene. Same thing with Niles passing out when he sees his own finger, why is that funny? he's not even bleeding (and if he was, nobody buys that a normal person would pass out from that amount of blood unless there's years of character behind it). It's full of that kind of stuff, it'll never stand on its own.

The bit with the scissors was funny.

Johnny Hoboken said...

Is it just me, or was anybody else reminded of Mr. Bean while watching this scene? In both cases, we have a lone character trying to do something and having mishaps, and without speaking except for an occasional grunt or possibly a rare word or two.

alopecia said...

This scene is much more to my tastes than the one from The Honeymooners, and I think I may know why (no, this isn't an exercise in narcissism, thanks for asking).

The Honeymooners scene played like it belonged in a vaudeville routine: the performers face front at all times (fourth wall? what fourth wall?) and practically shout their lines. It's stylized to the point of abstraction. Even the physical comedy (Ralph's painfully awkward golf swing) is minimized. Any double act could have done this scene and gotten decent laughs.

The Frasier scene is more naturalistic—still highly stylized, but it's far removed from vaudeville. This scene might work on stage, given the right performer, but it's pretty clearly the product of television. The scene itself is clever (but not much more than that, frankly); what makes it work is David Hyde Pierce. "Generic Comic Actor" doing the scene couldn't have raised a smile.

So, will people think the Frasier scene is funny in forty years? Some will, some won't, and the arguments will rage.

Comedy is hard. Analyzing comedy is pointless (and really long-winded—sorry, all).

See you in forty years.

Gordon Bressack said...

Mildly amusing if one has never seen Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati or Laurel & Hardy for that matter. I'm a fan of Frasier but not because of the physical comedy. To me this scene doesn't compare to Lucy or Gleason or even Dick Van Dyke's best moments.

Lee said...

33 yr old here, and I liked it. Especially the repetitive beats of Niles fainting at the sight of his own blood. There is something intrinsically funny about watching people do the same thing over and over.

Didn't like The Honeymooners clip though. Not that I'm averse to anything older than me, I just found it too broad for my tastes.

Still, the clip did prompt me to look at WC Fields attempting to play pool again, one of the funniest scenes I think of all time -

Verification word: matin. As indeed it is.

Unknown said...

I watched this (which I had not seen before) with a sort of loathing tension. The beginning of the scene establishes that there is going to be an amusing fire/trousers joke or two. Thereafter I waited with ramping irritation as they spool out. Oh look, he can't manage a fire extinguisher. That's likely. Lets have 20 seconds of that, then.

For me, the same sort of thing applies to the Gleason piece, and similar comedy, such as Mr Bean, or even Cleese's antics in Fawlty Towers. I think of this as 'frustration comedy' rather than slapstick - the audience's expectations are repeatedly frustrated.

Since the actual studio audience is wetting itself all the way through, it is clearly a problem with me and not the material. But I know I am not alone. You can't please all of the people...

But I admit that the business was well managed - especially the dog.

l.a.guy said...

I'm still 50--

Maybe what constitutes physical comedy is very subjective. I like David Hyde Pierce a lot but this clip didn't do a lot for me. For me to laugh the comedy still has to be rooted in some physical reality. He can't control fire extinguisher? Really? Here's a classic that still makes me laugh and while it is implausible it isn't contrived in the sense it doesn't hinge on anything unrealistic (i.e. fire extinguisher)

Maybe it's just personal taste. I think Chaplin and Lloyd were brilliant and that was way before my time. But what do I know?

Michael in Vancouver said...

You'd have to be familiar with the show to know that Niles faints at the sight of blood. It's a well-executed scene as far as physical comedy goes. However, I'm more of a fan of sharp dialogue, which is the forte of Frasier (the show, not just the character).

Slapstick by nature tends to be exaggerated and hammy, built on a formula of one small thing going wrong and leading to a catastrophe. It's formula, and in this case it works well. Not the greatest scene in TV history though. Does it really match Lucy and the chocolates? Or most of Curb Your Enthusiasm?

The humour of slapstick lies in the performance, and on that level, it succeeds. DHP can make anything funny.

Whether or not it's still funny 40 years from now depends on whether people still iron and have flamable liquids in the house. Thing is, though, a luxury condo like that one would have had sprinklers, even in the 1990s!

blogward said...

Beautifully written, but a little unspontaneous in the actual event. My favourite Niles physical comedy scene was with the bag of flour as a dummy baby; this one just seems a little over-rehearsed (maybe because of the safety concerns - what was the risk assessment sheet like?), and David's constant 'Mr. Bean'-style grunts are too much. You've got the music and the canned laughter and it doesn't need Niles's reaction sounds. Still very funny, but I think it's self-conscious cleverness is something that Frasier began to suffer from in later series. Frasier's 'useless cleverness' was the original basis of the whole series, and that character was lost. FWIW my very favourite Frasier scene was the triple-translation swordfight.

A_Homer said...

Well.. I love Frasier, and appreciate the different stagework "business" done here, but if "Art Carney" had been asked to do it, just saying ...In fact, I think there is a Honeymooners episode with such a thing. There certainly was a Three Stooges episode with burning iron, and countless others. You know, "Niles" is an incredible character but this was mostly pandering to silly -- the iron on the pants goes too far to that three stooges territory... not the Frasier genius level. Of all the bits you could have shown from Frasier, I think this was the worst example - it is a solo work with a small to non-existent payoff for the talents of "Niles", whereby Frasier is amazing when there is the ensemble or duo in exchange of dialog, a FASTER slapstick repartee, borderline to farce and in general with over the top energy.
Yes there was the "iron" on the pants functioning as a kind of timer that made all of "Niles" surrounding actions somehow more absurd and so on -- but it was clear we audience would know that, so it was just watching what he does and when he notices the iron, what he does then. SO? On script maybe it was ok, but in reality, there should have been something other than an iron to raise it to Frasier level. In my opinion.

Could it be also because "Frasier" himself was directing?

tesolly said...

Tom, 25, Ken I think you're right about having familiarity with the Niles charachter to make it funnier. I love Frasier to bits and watch it constantly. Knowing he faints at the sight of blood, that he's fussy about his appearence at so forth but nonetheless I found it funnier than the Honeymooners episode.
Although both had standout parts that made me screech with laughter. In the Honeymooners that was the 'tally-ho' part and in this it was when Niles stopped running with the scissors.
I felt Hyde-Pierce was very much playing a sophistocated 'Mr Bean' (90's Brit commedy starring Rowan Atkinson) role and that is standing the test of time. Although I'm not sure this particular scene will be hilariously funny in 20 plus years time to people who dont know the show.

tesolly said...

Tom, 25, Ken I think you're right about having familiarity with the Niles charachter to make it funnier. I love Frasier to bits and watch it constantly. Knowing he faints at the sight of blood, that he's fussy about his appearence at so forth but nonetheless I found it funnier than the Honeymooners episode.
Although both had standout parts that made me screech with laughter. In the Honeymooners that was the 'tally-ho' part and in this it was when Niles stopped running with the scissors.
I felt Hyde-Pierce was very much playing a sophistocated 'Mr Bean' (90's Brit commedy starring Rowan Atkinson) role and that is standing the test of time. Although I'm not sure this particular scene will be hilariously funny in 20 plus years time to people who dont know the show.

mac said...

Don't know if my previous post went through or not - this made me laugh a lot - but then I know who Niles is, and why ironing a pair of trousers is something he should never attempt unsupervised.
I'm 45 , didn't find the Honeymooners clip funny, but then I've never seen that series and don't know the characters.
I suspect I just wouldn't like the broadness and stagey delivery of the Honeymooners anyway. I know the Frasier clip is pretty broad but then I think I like it so much because the slapstick violence is happening to such an uptight intellectual - his loss of dignity seems worse because he's so prissy.
Great experiment, by the way.

disney old guy said...

My all-time favorite scene from Frasier. I was talking about this scene with some friends at work the other day.

Pure genius.

Janice said...

I'm 43 and didn't find the Honeymooners clip to funny due to its predictability. However this Frasier clip has always been my favorite opening scene - ever. The only thing I knew for sure was that the pants were going to get burned; everything else was a surprise to me, hence my absolute delight.

I see the piece as holding up over time as fainting at the sight of blood and not running with scissors easily define the character whether we knew him or not.

Gotta give a mention to that quick yet hilarious moment when Niles backs away from the flame while holding the lighter fluid.

Thanks for a GREAT clip!!

Jim said...

I love physical comedy, I love silent comedy and I love DHP, but this scene really doesn't do much for me. It's not that it's bad as such, it just that a lot of the gags seem far far too obvious, and there's not enough of the unexpected. Here's a nice little clip of Billy Wilder talking to a group of students about what the Lubitsch touch was. At its best Frasier was every bit a match for Lubitsch, but this wasn't one of its best moments.

Jason Mittell said...

I'd never seen this episode of Frasier, and while I'm a fan of the show & DHP (and silent slapstick), I was disappointed. I think the problem is the predictability that each of these flammables will ignite, coupled with the unlikelihood that the character would be so careless with the iron. My favorite part was the anticipation that something else besides the iron would start a fire, but then I was let down that the obvious happened.

And I'm the same age as Jack Benny.

Unknown said...

I'm a big David Hyde Pierce fan. I love this scene, but I seem to remember one where he was dancing with Daphne that was even funnier.

MadAsHell said...

50, male, and hadn't previously seen this particular clip. I found it pretty funny, and was particular impressed with the expressions on the dog's face.

Niles is an infinitely more likable character than Ralph

Alan Coil said...

Rory L. Aronsky asked:

"Can I have half your stuff?" ;)

Sure, why ex already has the other half.

Alan Coil said...

Michael in Vancouver said:

"...a luxury condo like that one would have had sprinklers..."

Most likely, but they also most likely would NOT have gone off at that point. It takes quite a bit of heat to set them off, and I don't think those flames were at that point.

Alan Coil said...

The only part of the clip that doesn't work for me is the end. Cleaning fluids smell awful. With the combination of fluid smell and burned sofa, the dog would not eat the food.

Unknown said...

I don't find this scene that funny. It's all to contrived. Who on earth would put an iron flat on their own clothes? Who would fall victim to passing out three times? Who would not close the cleaning agent's container after reading it was flammable? Who wouldn't let go of the fire extinguishers handle when it jerks around like that?

One or two of these things - ok, maybe. But not all of it one after the other. In the end he carries two pots with food to the sofa and puts out the fire - if he's that incapable of anything why the sudden ingenuity? I once was in the same situation, I wouldn't have thought about putting out a hot fire with hot water and sauce.

And then the dog overacting... it's like it always was with Moose, you can clearly see he's only doing what his trainer tells him to. Don't get me wrong - he's good in many other scenes, just like DHP is in many other scenes, but this here... nah. I don't see it.

I like the hotel bedroom scene better. You know. The one with the ketchup, Frasier, Lilith, Niles, and sleeping in eggs benedict in the bathroom. Way better. Also because of the room service guy :-)

Unknown said...

Hands down more honest than the Honeymooner's clip. Although predictable, the timing is brilliant. I turned off the sound to watch it without the 'canned' laughter. (I cannot stand being 'told' what is funny.) What makes this timeless is that it speaks to our 'private moments' in life when we take ourselves so seriously and respond to circumstances so genuinely, grateful there is no audience (save the dog)--and in recognizing our delightfully graceless humanity.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It is really funny (not the "funniest thing ever on TV as one said") Think is stands the test of time, and think it owes MUCH to Buster Keaton.

In fact, his character, when not speaking, reminds me very much of Keaton. He does the stone face thing as well, has a similar build and even gait.

That said, this is a wonderful little bit. To me, Keaton stands the test of time still (not ALL of his stuff, but some of it is maybe even funnier today, because you get the added surprise of the sophistication of some of what he does) but some people cannot get bast the "old" stank of it. They see b&w, old costumes, etc. and won't get past that. So Kens main question is kind of missing the point. Funny PEOPLE will always get funny, and funny IS timeless. How many? Is that the real question? It's more "How many people will be truly funny, and enjoy good comedy in 2040?" than anything else. The best were the best for a reason, that usually isn't set in one time and place. The human condition, foibles, etc. are with us, we haven't evolved out of them. Even the president of the US goes to open a door and it is just a prop...etc.
I think our biggest problems stem from us thinking we've "gotten much better", we mostly haven't.

Lairbo said...

In his workshop on comedy screenwriting, Robert McKee shows this very clip as an example of physical humor. I enjoyed watching it again, but agree that the "reaction" shots of the dog added nothing of value.

As for the Honeymooner's piece, watching it again for the umpteenth time, I wondered if I'd find it funny it I'd never seen it before. I'm honestly not sure.

benson said...

@l.a.guy-the "still 50" comment made me laugh out loud.

I realize I have no hard and fast conclusions on this, as I was going to theorize that I was more a dialogue/word play person than a fan of physical humor, but as soon as I type that, Dick Van Dyke typing and acting drunk (from a hypnotic suggestion) and Howard Morris hanging on the Sid Caesar's leg come to mind as hilarious.

Also, I'm as big a fan of Frasier as there is, think DHP's work is brilliant, but I never warmed to this scene.

wv: realter...reality show about real estate?

Mary Stella said...

I love this scene with the escalating crises and DHP remaining completely in character throughout. The comic beauty is because everything is so completely Niles, much like Vitameatavegamin was so Lucy.


Wow. Such insight. Thanks!

joecab said...

I loved this entire sequence when it first appeared. (it was good enough to not only lead the Valentine's Day episode (Frasier/Roz got part 2 and Daphne/Martin the third), but the entire thing was shown uncut before the first commercial.)

BUT ... it was ruined by NBC giving some of it away in the promos and hawking it as the funniest 8 minutes or whatever of TV ever. Geez.

Unknown said...

Classic....I think it will stand the test of time. It reminds me a little of that great Tim Conway "dentist" skit from the Carol Burnett show

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Sure, why ex already has the other half.

Cool. What hasn't she taken that doesn't suck? Books and DVDs are very much appreciated.

Unknown said...

Good. but I think that, just as the Honeymooners scene was better for those of us old enough to be familar with Ralph, 40 years from now this will play better to those who know Niles. BTW, the best slapstick I've ever seen on TV was an extended take of Archie Bunker forced to cook for himself when Edith was away. Couldn't find a clip, though.

Anonymous said...

42, male.


It just builds and builds and...the bit with the fire extinguisher, priceless.

I've watched the show before a lot, but I tried to step back from that familiarity and see the scene as if I don't know Niles, but David sells it so well, it doesn't take much to pick up on that he's fussy, faints at the sight of his own blood, forgetful, neurotic, and shy, all of which add up to some funny running gags.

And I found the Honeymooners scene funny too.

Anonymous said...

Several thoughts from David Lee (who still has issues with signing in on Google).
Prize goes to the poster who said it reminded him/her of Mr. Bean. I had recently been introduced to his work and loved a lot of it. I told DHP that I would like to do something like that for him on the show. Couldn't really come up with anything for a while (we didn't want to crib the "turkey on the head" bit,though that wasn't a concern of another sit-com on the air at the time. I do remember in the room having trouble breaking a Valentine story and hitting upon the idea of doing three short stories instead. Two of them involved every character except Niles, so the idea of something for him alone came up. Then the Mr. Bean thought, and then the fire idea. I remember distinctly that once we hit upon that, the details of it came together very, very quickly in the room.
Because of safety concerns, the scene was filmed without the usual studio audience. ( It was played to a studio audience later, and those are the laughs you hear). It also had to be done in bits and pieces. The problem is, when there is only one person on stage, what do you cut to? That's where the dog came in--not out of an attempt to be cutsie--but rather to be able to piece it all together.
And of course, as many have said, none of it would have worked without the brilliance of DHP. A wonder he is.
And to the poster who wondered who would make all those mistakes with an iron, fire extinguisher and cleaning materials: how about someone who never or seldom uses them?
A side note now that my memory has been shaken: This was the episode that caused a showdown with the network. We had been complaining that they were giving away plot points and great jokes in their promos for quite awhile, and we knew that every promo would for this episode would be nothing but flames galore. So we did not deliver this piece of it until the day of broadcast. Apoplectic, they were. Lawsuits threatened, even. But they finally came up with a better promo that said something like "The producers of Frasier think this episode is so special, they won't even let us see it."
Now back to my couch.

Jackie said...

I am sorry, but I didn't find this very funny. I thought it was very predictable and Niles just came across as stupid to me. Guess it's not my kind of humor. I actually preferred the Honeymooners bit. Maybe I am not a fan of silent comedy.

Female, 30.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I think to get the most out of this very "Lucyish" segment, you have to know more about Niles and how very anal he was. Otherwise, taken out of context, it can be confusing. Don't get me wrong though, it's great comedy. It just might not work for everyone all the time.

Sean said...

I think it's brilliant. The humor comes from knowing the character which makes it a lot more funny than just random slapstick. This is funny on many levels depending on your familiarity with niles crane. Anyone can appreciate the slapstick but it's even more funny if you know and like the character.

Ed Dempsey said...

I thought it was pretty funny as a whole, but it was a bit too predictable for me. I have to agree with blogward that the sword fight was funnier. The combination of well played physical humor and really sharp dialog helped drive it out of the park.

As for the Jackie Gleason clip, other than Norton addressing the ball (which I remembered from seeing the segment clip many, many years ago), it didn't do too much for me. I can only surmise that the characters are just not relevant for me anymore.

jbryant said...

Hi, just checking in from the year 2050, where we have this kind of Internet time-travel technology. Well, in terms of degree of difficulty, I suppose the FRASIER clip wins, hands-down (pyrotechnics, multiple cameras, dog). Unfortunately, I had seen a very similar scene from the 2047 season of BLORG'S WORLD, in which the prissy android accidentally ignites the recharge platform in his storage chamber with an ill-timed laser "sneeze." Even that scene is dated, now that all recharge platforms are made of an inflammable titanium alloy.

But I also enjoyed the two black-and-white gentlemen. They got just as many laughs from me, with more meager means. In some ways, though, it's comparing apple simulation tablets to orange simulation tablets.

Michael said...

So it turns out that the Albania song episode from Cheers was written by Tom Reeder, as I found out from this here very blog, in a 3rd season episode from January 1985.

Amazing how 25 years later we still remember that Albania borders on the Adriatic, its lands are mostly mountainous, and its chief export is chrome. It's withstanding the test of time pretty well so far, and I think of it every time someone mentions Albania (like in the Olympics).

Video clip of the song here.

Weisenheimer said...

52, loved the Honeymooners clip, never watched Frasier, thought this was hilarious also. I kept thinking WWHD -- "What would Harpo do?"

Slapstick is great, and it's not stupid. I laughed hardest at the point that he FINALLY got the fire extinguisher under control... and it ran out. Perfect!

JR said...

We love DHP - very funny scene. We also love "Modern Family" - I know you do to. I'd like to hear your opinion of "Community" - that one is growing on me - thanks!

Good Dog said...


Even if you haven't seen the show it tells you everything you need to know about Niles.

Steely Dan said...

I do think this one is funny. Not as funny as a typical "Frasier" episode (I'm not really into slapstick, and I never really "got" Mr. Bean), but I laughed out loud two or three times (biggest laugh was when he was walking with the scissors).

Strangely, just as with the "Honeymooners" episode yesterday, a lot of the jokes were pretty well telegraphed. The difference (and what made this funny and the "Honeymooners" not funny) was the way that David Hyde Pierce UNDERplayed everything. No mugging, no hitting everything over the head by shouting.

I think context is important in this, though. If I didn't know who the Niles character was I'm not sure I would have laughed as hard.

Rachel said...

I've never seen that before, and there were some incredibly funny bits. The dog reaction shots killed the flow, but DHP's expressions were brilliant. And it seemed to me that the scene set you up with Niles' character right from the beginning, with the way he was sitting and fussing with his pants, so I don't think it would require you to be familiar with the show or the characters.

It seems to me that the very ordinariness of the situation is what will keep this funny in 20 or 40 years (unless irons disappear entirely). There wasn't anything groundbreaking or new, just little things piling on top of each other to the point of ridiculousness.

Mike Schryver said...

I think this is one of the greatest bits of physical comedy ever filmed. I laughed out loud through the whole thing. (I'm remembering the first time I saw it.)
Wonderful writing, and it shows off the genius of DHP as well as anything I've seen.
50 yo male.

(Much as I love this, I still laugh harder at Chef of the Future.)

Rachel said...

Also, I agree with Steely Dan - both the clips are physical comedy, which is usually not my thing, but DHP's underplaying worked so much better for me than the Honeymooners' mugging and yelling.

That, however, is personal taste, and likely has nothing to do with how well either clip holds up 40 years later.

GuyfromNH said...

I know I'm late to the conversation, but I remember an NBC promo before this aired, claiming that within the first three minutes of this episode, you would be laughing out loud... I thought this was overwrought and sat down to watch it with a skeptical eye, and was nearly wetting myself as I laughed and laughed... thought it was hysterical.

jbryant said...

I liked both clips, but c'mon -- DHP mugs plenty here, and he doesn't yell because, y'know, there's no dialogue. And Niles is a completely different type of character than an impoverished NY bus driver from the 50s, so of course he doesn't act like one.

Anonymous said...

I'm 32 and never watch Frasier.

Everything that can go wrong goes wrong (whatever u call this)
Did not like it. I think u need to be familiar with the character, only smile when he star walking with the scissors and and a little less than a smile when he fainted with his own blood.


Anonymous said...

It's probably not a good idea to compare the two, mostly because I'm sure some Anonymous commenter will say cartoons "aren't the same thing" or are "intellectually void" because "they're meant for kids", but does anybody remember the Looney Tunes cartoon 'The Honey-Mousers' and do they find it less, more or equally as funny as it's source material?

WV: ivenesse - Hermann's not so successful younger brother.

Anonymous said...

Niles = hysterically funny.
Ralph = mildly amusing.

The first time I saw the Honeymooners do the golf bit I laughed a little, but the first time I saw Niles and the apt fire I laughed til I cried. I never really cared for the Cramden character and I know I always loved Niles and that may have influenced my laughter. I've never been a big fan of physical comedy and prefer the witty repartee and excellent dialog, but this Niles scene is still funny after a number of years and I'm sure I'll still find it funny years from now. Can't promise 40 as I'm not sure I have that much energy left, but I'll try.

gilliebean said...

Yes. This is funny and it will be for a while. Also, I think it's important to point out that it isn't a one man scene. The dog is a character and is the audience's "in" to the story. Right?

-bee said...

First of all, I was and am a big fan of Frasier and David Hyde Pierce.

I found this bit really funny but not a 'masterpiece' in an of itself, maybe because I'm a huge fan of silent comics (Keaton, Chaplin) and feel like I have seen this kind of thing done better.

I also didn't like the noises Hyde Pierce was making - somehow it made it seem more obvious this was supposed to be a 'silent' bit.

For me, THE classic Frasier set piece was the episode when Frasier/Martin/Niles all end up at the same cabin - better than Feydeau

M said...

It's ok. I think the viewer needs to know a bit about Niles' personality to really get the full effect. Could still have fans in 2030 or 2040, but I think it will be mostly older people who watched the show during its original run.

For the record, I didn't find the Honeymooners scene funny at all.

I'm a 27 y/o male.

danrydell said...

It's funnier knowing the character of Niles, and DHP is amazing in this clip, but it's not hilarious for me. Just funny and something I appreciate. Sometimes physical comedy gets old, especially when the "idiocy" of the character keeps the situation from being resolved. I have the same problem with Mr. Bean a lot. I just want to shout at Niles, "STOP LOOKING AT YOUR FINGER!!"

J S Swanson said...

My 2 cents }}
I'm a Devoted Frasier Fan. As such - I find it hard to believe that Niles wouldn't be One with an iron. Still,I know I enjoyed this heartily when it first aired but now that it's a few years later & I have the opportunity to dissect it,I'm still in awe of DHP's execution --
If you're evolved enough to use an iron,you most certainly wouldn't leave it sitting on the item to be ironed. Timidity, n'cest pas?
However,if you somehow caused the iron to accidentally fall onto the item being pressed & didn't notice ~~ I could buy that.
And everything else in the scene would work.

The Singing Exterminator said...

I'm 51 years old and not sure of my place in the demographic universe. I must, in all fairness, disqualify myself from the "test". Even though I have not read any subsequent posts, I do know the "answers" have been revealed. I'm kind of glad about that. Ken's statement, "I think you see what I'm doing here."sailed right over my head, leaving fresh skid marks. OW!

I watched the clip. I am very familiar with FRASIER, though I was never a constant viewer. Yes, David Hyde Pierce is at his "brilliant best". Then again, when is he not? I did not find it laugh out loud funny. As a set piece, I think it's brilliant. It completely summed up the character of Niles Crane in five minutes.

I will not speculate how well this could be received in the 2030's. What I would like to say is, "Thank you, Ken." Sixteen years ago, I was diagnosed HIV Positive. in my sadness, I stated that the only thing I was looking forward to in the 2030's was the Gala Centennial Performance at Radio City Music Hall on Monday, December 27, 2032. That was up until a few minutes ago. If I live that long, the decade is really starting to shape up.

1/1/2030 - If I'm here, I'm HERE.

Louise said...

Age 53 female from the UK (old enough to marvel that modern technology means I’m able to reply to Ken Levine and David Lee – you are both gods! Thank you for all the fun.)

Answering the question is the Niles clip funnier to those familiar with the character.

I’m presuming Ken your premise is that in 40 years time people are only going to get to see the clip you’ve shown from that episode. This disappoints me, for them and from a personal viewpoint, as I’ve been picturing myself in my dotage chortling through re-runs of Frasier, my last pleasure. I suppose by that time I’ll be able to get Frasier implants or some such - but I digress.

If they were fortunate enough to see the episode from the beginning viewers would get plenty of information re Niles’ character. Even in the clip the incomparable David Hyde Pierce with typical conciseness, gives the audience enough information to go on. His bearing, his little movements, his attention to the trousers portray an effete, fussy man, a man who, as David Lee points out, would be unused to ironing or cleaning.

Humour is a very personal thing. For me the pleasure in this kind of slapstick ( I love John Cleese as Basil Fawlty too) is that it takes situations vaguely familiar to those of us who are, or know those who are, clumsy, awkward and impractical by nature, and pushes them to comic extremes. (Anyone else often trip over the iron cable?) There are those of thus who fear that household appliances are constantly plotting against us. Niles often reminds me of my late brother.

It’s also familiar to those of us who’ve shared private moments with our dog.

I particularly love the little bits of business in this scene, the scissors moment (remembering what mother taught him), and reading the cleaning fluid instructions by the light of the candle. Sorry this is long but I must mention to the musical accompaniment which accentuates David Hyde Pierce’s impeccable timing.

Yes, this scene is probably more pleasurable to those who know Niles, but I’m certain it will stand the test of time. Surely there will always be those who enjoy this kind of comedy. I pray that future generations will have the opportunity to watch the brilliance of Buster Keaton, John Cleese and David Hyde Pierce.

An addendum. I showed this episode to my son (21) for the first time a couple of years ago. He loved it but didn’t give it his full attention first time round as he was playing air violin (presumably accurately) throughout. I always say that Frasier is practically a documentary in our house.

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Anonymous said...

Loved it, even if it was a bit predictable. The biggest problem with it being funny 40 years from now: my 6 year old has no idea of what an iron is. We have one but never need to use it any more.

Annie said...

53, female, huge fan of Frasier. You know what? I honestly didn't find this as funny as I know I was supposed to as a viewer and fan. LOVE the show, Frasier is one of my favorites ever, if not THE favorite, Pierce is so damn good, the scene was well written, etc., blah blah.

But I didn't find it funny. You know, like laughing so hard I can't breathe. It was trying too hard to be funny, maybe; I felt like I was expected to be blown away and that pulls me too much out of the experience. I'm watching and observing instead of feeling I'm right there with them. Does that make sense? It's funniest when I forget I'm watching a show at all.

melody said...

This is one of my favorite scenes ever from any TV show. When it originally aired I was laughing so hard that I was crying. David Hyde Pierce was brilliant in it, and I think dialogue would have detracted from what was taking place.

I am a 53 year old female.

Roger Owen Green said...

Still 56.

I watched Frasier through its good times and bad (when Frasier was unemployed - generally a terrible season.)

When I saw this on the show, my wife and I laughed hysterically. It was funny in part because it felt so very unFrasier - much more Lucy - and because of DHP's comedic skills.

Seeing it again, it's clear that without knowing a little about Niles, this probably isn't as funny as it might be. I still laughed. as to the commenter who complained about the camera pans to Eddie, it was Eddie who 1) looks away when Niles takes off his pants and 2) brings Niles back to consciousness; he's not just a cute observer.

Lennington Steele said...

The fire extinguisher really sets off the belly was said by plaenty other people it's the ability of DHP that pulls it off without resorting to a parody of Mr Bean he made this his own... Frasier rawks ;-)

Rose Vanden Eynden said...

I loved it. I did not watch FRASIER much when it was on, so I don't know the characters well. It doesn't matter. You can tell from David Hyde Pierce's first moments that he's a fussy character, and the scene is set well from the beginning. The physical humor is spot-on, and the comic timing is deft and wonderful. I thought the shots of the dog were complimentary to the action and weren't just cheap tries at laughs. A very, very funny 5 minutes of TV that I think will stand up years from now.

rita said...

pure gold!

Dawn said...

I remember this well from when it originally aired, and my reaction now is the same. I only really laughed when he does the bit with the scissors. The rest of it was too contrived for me, like they were trying a bit too hard. I think DHP had much better scenes on Frasier.

Also, I'm a bit like Niles. I just get get uncomfortable when a mess is made. Can't relax and laugh at it.

Tim Susman said...

Okay, that's a great bit. David Hyde Pierce's reaction to his cut finger really sells it. He's got a great knack for the reaction shots.

Alan said...

Loved it.

As you ask in the Sitcom Room, "Does it track? Does it make sense?"

Absolutely. The fact that he passes out from the site of blood gives the character a validation of how he could forget about what happened previously.

Very funny. I'm 39.

Brian Phillips said...

I enjoyed both this and the Honeymooners scene. The Honeymooners I watched at a time that vintage comedy was meted out and subject to the whims of the station and there was no media readily available to the general public to watch something in your home. It made me a bit like a "Book" in "Fahrenheit 451", remembering this or that classic bit, because WPIX may stop showing it.

As for the comedy itself, I enjoy Gleason and Carney's physicality, even if the pots and pans were too high up to be hit logically.

Regarding the "Frasier" scene, I liked the show for the same reasons that I like many Preston Sturges films; there is clever dialogue and good slapstick as well. No one throws a better righteous fit than Pierce, with the possible exception of Kelsey Grammer and BOTH are adept at physical comedy; I remember a running gag that Frasier had with a succession of cheap umbrellas, as well as an end sequence that showed the brothers playing "air violin".

Having David Lee explain the cutaways to Eddie was helpful, but I didn't find them grating. "Valentine's Day", however, has a stereotypical, cutesy-poo dog take in it that I have seen since "Our Gang" shorts.

I wrote an embarrassingly long post about my memories of "The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.", which was not the greatest of kid's shows, but it did start every episode with a succession of sight gags, something that very few shows do nowadays. It's not easy to do well; a good/poor example is "Superman III".

In a DVD commentary, Dick Van Dyke said that Jerry Van Dyke's act, as physical as it was played well in Japan. They couldn't understand the words, but the sight gags worked. I think it can be argued, that not unlike Mr. Hulot or the Little Tramp, this is humor that transcends age and language barriers.

For humor that ages REAL fast, watch the first season of "Murphy Brown". The show isn't bad, however, the topical references would probably need subtitles to those not of a certain age or cultural awareness.

dicentra63 said...

Funniest scene of that type that I've seen is the one in Evening Shade when they borrow an RV, and the dorky guy is in the back trying to make cereal for the baby.

The rest of the episode is pretty funny. It's the only one I've seen, and I still get it.

sarah said...

not at all funny. (i smiled lightly a couple of times w/ the other clip). on the other hand, i found the "i love lucy" clip posted by l.a.guy! my age: early 30s.

Kevin Broom said...

I watched "Frasier" only every and now then. Enjoyable show, but it never "made the rotation."

That said, I saw this show opening some years ago (maybe even when it first aired) and thought it was one of the funniest set pieces I'd ever seen. I've been telling friends about it for years now.

I don't think it's necessary to be a fan of the show to enjoy it -- Niles character comes through clearly. He's prissy and fussy, obviously preparing for a romantic evening, and EVERYTHING goes wrong.

I think it'll hold up 40 years from now.

Bart said...

Absolutely hilarious scene! Actually saw this in syndication last night and howled!

The Wisper said...

Super funny. But then I am a fan of Mr Bean.

Brit Dave said...

For us, Niles second funniest moment after the parrot on the head, under the teacloth. For that, my wife actually had to run to the toilet, legs crossed.

Mister Charlie said...

I suppose that being less a writer and more a consumer I do not feel any angst over the relative predictability of unfolding events, nor was it all telegraphed so openly asd some think. The iron burning the pants was a given, but kudos to letting it fester in the background long enough for some to forget about noticing him lay it down.
To say it wasn't Keaton is a bit silly to me, this was a technical exercise written for a purpose, and very well done by all concerned, the blocking alone would have been a team effort.
I did not laugh out loud more than once or twice because we have grown up on this humor for generations (and beyond) and it is foamiliar and comfortable and yes, funny (except for those who do not care for slapstick humor). But an actor's timing and artistry is everything, and I am sure Lloyd and Keaton and others would have found David's performance quite well done.
I liked it, amusing to watch unfold, I didn't need deep character integrity in an obviously silly situation setup, so sitting back and enjoying it was easy. 40 years? We're talking silent comic geniuses like Buster doube that after the fact. while pioneers there are still affecianados brilliant enough to replicate iot to this day, as DHP does.

Johnny K said...

This is one of my favorite Frasier scenes, one I'll remember forever, and one I saved on videotape and transferred to a DVD. If I don't laugh several times while watching it, I must not be in a good mood. I showed it last year to a couple from Turkey (he's a Turk, she's Belgian) and they enjoyed it immensely, even without having ever seen the show before. (They said they want to see more the next time they visit.) When we first saw DHP's face when he's carrying those scissors, we knew we had already seen a great show - and the cleverness of the scene and art of his performance just kept moving from there. I agree, one of the best scenes ever on the show, one of my favorites of all time TV. (That entire episode was really well done, though the high point, with DHP, came first.)

selection7 said...

Sure it'll still be funny. I didn't laugh out loud that much but I did enjoy it. The dog was the straight man and gave an excuse for cuts, so I get it...a couple of the less important dog shots could have been cut though.

I think part of what made the fire extinguisher scene so funny to me was its predictability, actually. I knew roughly what was coming, but was still surprised how ridiculously over the top DHP took it (which is the twist). Sure he's an effete man, but shooting up at the celing, nailing the dog (haha, yes!!)...and then it running out as he finally controls it. The finger gag was nice the first time, but I think by the last time he does it, I'm not buying that it takes only a millisecond glance.

PC said...

I'm 23 and have never seen a Frasier episode all the way through (I know, I've been living under a rock.). So, I don't know the characters at all. That said, I chuckled twice: when he stopped to walk with the scissors, and the look on his face after he threw the pants on the couch. I either like my comedy to be verbal or (fairly) realistic reactions of people stuck in weird circumstances. So, wackily careening around with a fire extinguisher? Who does that? But the look on someone's face that says "Oh, s***" after a goof? Very funny.

Michael said...

I agree, this episode was one of the funniest to ever appear on television.

Another of my favorites is a M.A.S.H. episode where Hawkeye goes crazy from sleep deprivation and ends up towing a latrine to the North Koreans (with a General in it).


BobbyL said...

Sheer brilliance. I marveled at the quality and consistency of FRASIER, rendering it one of my Top Ten all-time favorite sitcoms. DHP was awesome in this episode. I also call to mind his Emmy-worthy episode with the sack of flour as training for caring for a newborn. I see no promise of such quality returning to prime time any time soon, unfortunately.

Merry said...

I watched Frasier because of DHP. I think he's one of the all-time comedy geniuses. Most Frasier episodes had me laughing out loud at least once but this episode is one of three that had me breathless and in tears from laughing. The other two are The Innkeepers ("big blue flash - cherries everywhere") and "Ham Radio" where I lost it when Niles killed off all the characters. I can't believe some of the comments about it being 'contrived' etc. You could go on for hours about how TV episodes aren't realistic - that's kind of the point.
I know I'm a few years late commenting but Frasier reruns are on and I've been hoping to see Three Valentines again soon. This time I'll PVR it and keep it forever.
I think Frasier is one of the best TV shows of all time. The Daphne-Niles arc had wonderful moments of poignancy and the whole body of work was amazing. So nice, too, to have intelligent dialogue in a TV show. IMHO, MASH, Northern Exposure, and Frasier are standout series that can be enjoyed over and over.

PaulE said...

So good to read David Lees comments on that scene.
Happy 2020 - just watched this episode again on my COVID-19 lock-down box set binging - DHP executes it so well and the influence from the awkwardness of Mr Bean is evident.
Love Frasier - Narcissism delivered flawlessly from KG as always - but this scene deservedly stood out.