Thursday, February 11, 2010

My reaction to YOUR reactions

Thanks so much to all of you for your feedback on THE HONEYMOONERS scene. Your comments collectively were better than any post I could write on changing tastes of comedy and just how subjective humor is. I also found your explanations fascinating and in many cases very insightful.

Some people were a little dismissive but I guess that’s to be expected. I would hope you at least recognize that at one time this scene was (and for many people still “is”) a classic.

Thanks again. It’s always nice when the teacher learns from the students.

And of course, more comments are welcome.

Update: There's another major point I want to make with this test. Check back Friday evening for that. Thanks.


Dana King said...

I meant to comment earlier, but work intervened. I haven't read the other comments, so I'm not affected by them.

I started to laugh when you identified the clip, having seen it many times before. It's a classic. (Full disclosure: I'm 54 years old. Not quite old enough to have seen the original, not young enough to think it's old fart stuff.)

Rinaldo said...

One thing I noticed in the comments, though, was that reaction isn't altogether generational. Some younger viewers like it, some old farts (like me) who were around for the original airing were never that crazy about it.

Anonymous said...

You want to find out if something is REALLY subjective when it comes to humour? Try a Marx Bros clip.

You'll probably never stop receiving comments and not get any other work done.

Anonymous said...

I love you, i love you, i love you. Seriously Ken, if you weren't already married I would ask you to marry me!

MrEd said...

I've seen this clip several times before. What struck me on this viewing was, on paper it really wasn't that funny. But Carney and Gleason made it hilarious.

It's so easy to dismiss actors as prima donnas, but you have to admit - they made that scene great.

Damon Rutherford said...

You could counter the Honeymooners clip with a modern-day clip of something "hilarious" to see how all of us react to that one.

DeWitt said...

I started to laugh when you identified the clip, having seen it many times before.

You took almost the exact words right out of my mouth. Gleason dolled up in the absurd golfing outfit, Norton's "Hello, ball!!" , bad golf, Gleason yelling..pure heaven.

Earl B said...

Who are the guys in the picture accompanying the post?

45 is the new 30 said...

Female and 49 YO here ... and I'm "meh" about the clip. That is likely a function of the fact that I wasn't really able to view the clip in a vacuum; I've seen the Honeymooners episodes many times, so my opinion of those eps as a whole likely colors my opinion of the clip itself. As others mentioned, the "hello, ball" line and Carney's delivery made me chuckle, but all in all this clip, and this series, does little for me.

Even as a child, I was very uncomfortable with Ralph's swaggering, bullying, braying, "to the moon, Alice" persona. I was never able to root for him, and I remember wishing that Alice would jump ship and leave the jerk.

In addition, actors who shout their lines as the sole means of "emoting" has never appealed to me. (I was eventually won over by the writing, the characters, and the storylines, but I originally had a tough time with Roseanne [both the show and the character] because *every* line was shouted.) I also don't tend to get behind a character who is an unrelenting doofus or victim, so I lost patience with Art Carney's Norton very early on.

I've also never been a huge fan of slapstick - which I propose (based on my admittedly limited and unscientific sample) is a genre with a fanbase that is largely drawn along male/female lines. (I SOOO do not see the appeal of the Three Stooges, for example. But my husband, our son, many of my male friends, and my ex-husband all think that the Stooges are hysterical.)

I'm in the Dick Van Dyke fan "camp" that many others here seem to be in as well, in which any physical comedy or "schtick" is supported by top-notch dialogue, acting, and storylines. (The scene in which Laura admits to Rob's boss - played by Carl Reiner - that she has told a national tv audience that he wears a toupee is - in my opinion - light-years funnier than the golfing clip or, indeed, any Honeymooners scene I can recall.)

Overall, I guess I'd characterize my "comedic preferences" (and heck of a way to suck all of the "funny" out of it!) as a bent toward "smart" comedy, word-play, banter ... comedy that is based on interplay between characters, with dialogue that is a reflection of how people actually interact (albeit funnier and "tighter" ... how we WISH we spoke, I guess) ... versus broad physical "shtick" that I can predict a mile away. "Silly" can be okay ... it just needs to have a great storyline and some solid acting and writing "meat" behind it. Oh, and not be all "screamy". ;-)

Pat Reeder said...

I love the Honeymooners. The "Hellllo, ball" always puts me on the floor. And Ralph's bluster never put me off for the same reason that Gleason gave: the audience knew that Alice knew, and Ralph knew, and Alice knew that Ralph knew, that he was just a big bag of gas and would never really harm her in a million years.

Interesting that so many women who don't like this clip also don't like the Three Stooges or slapstick in general. When I was a boy, I liked the Stooges and watched them on TV every day. Later, I went through a period where I thought they were kind of dumb kid stuff. Then in my 30s, I started seeing them again and began to appreciate how great they were at what they did. If you don't believe that, try watching any modern sketch comic try to recreate them. That's more painful than a poke in the eye. I can only imagine how awful a Farelly Brothers Stooges movie with Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro will be. They spent decades in vaudeville perfecting their timing, and nobody can duplicate it with a couple months' rehearsal.

BTW, I am talking here only about the Stooges shorts with Curly Howard, who was one of the most naturally hilarious people who ever lived. He can make me laugh harder with one exasperated syllable or a line like "I'm a victim of soicumstance" than some comics can with an hour-long HBO special (cough-Dane Cook-cough). I was even lucky enough to marry a hot chick who actually loves Curly Howard. Eat your hearts out, guys.

Michael in Vancouver said...

I'm late commenting on the clip, but as a 42-year-old who grew up with the Flinstones in place of The Honeymooners (didn't know about the latter until my teens), I found that to be a spot-on piece of writing. Actually, all of the material could easily be transposed to present day without changing a word -- golf hasn't changed, and it's still a funny sport.

Having said that, I think the TV medium and its material has grown so much that audience tastes are more sophisticated in some instances, or, when it comes to low-brow humour, audiences want it loud, fast and obnoxiously pitched. The golf routine would come across as kind of "simple" by today's standards -- some would find it too clever by half, others would be annoyed that it didn't have 47 edits and a close-up of a screaming face.

For its time, when TV was new and everyone was playing with the medium, it was perfectly fine to do a skit with one still camera and two characters hamming it up about a golf lesson. No one had seen that before, and it would be easy to wring laughs from it. As for the material and the performances, it was perfectly written and executed. I did laugh when Norton opened the book and read the dedication.

Anita said...

Amen from me to everything in the comment from "45 is the new 30." Plus - I'll add that I don't enjoy any show that relies on the (one-note) behavior of a mean character. Becker included. I stopped watching Two & A Half Men a long time ago because the characters are so relentlessly mean to each other. Didn't enjoy much of Seinfeld's run for the same reason.

Anita said...
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Anita said...
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Alan said...

If you really want to see some polarization, talk to people about the Three Stooges. Many people that I respect think they are comedy geniuses, where I think it is the definition of moronic.

itsadel said...

I took your test an extra step and showed my 13-yr-old the clip. No presuppositions about the characters at all...and she couldn't help herself, laughed out loud at "hello, ball" tho' the rest left her cold.

I, her 52-yr-old mom with a mother who LOVED Jackie Gleason and so was subjected to all of this at a young age, laughed too..despite, as many have noted here, the joke being telegraphed a mile away.

It's the actor's delivery that makes that line funny...OTOH it's familiarity with Ralph's tragicomic character that makes HIM putting on the goofy outfit, trying so damn hard as always, that makes that poignant, elicitng a smile. And so that left her cold.

She IS as I type this sitting with her dad laughing at Modern Times, so maybe she's not a good test case for the early adolescence market...

blogward said...

It would be interesting to see the script, to see how much was added by Gleason and Carney's delivery. I guess some people just don't buy into the personas of the characters - Red Skelton and Abbott and Costello have always been a complete turn-off for me. I never really like 'King of Queens' either...

Unknown said...

I'm 31, and I've seen a few episodes of the Honeymooners, as well as lots of it from back when it was called the Flintstones, but never this clip.

In the fifties, did people wear silly golf clothes? Because in my lifetime I've only every seen in on sitcoms and cartoons. I would say maybe it was fresher in the fifties, but if it wasn't a cliche, I literally wouldn't know it was a joke.

When Norton says he has a pincushion I immediately thought "Jeez, are they going to have Ralph take it from him and stick himself?" There is no other reason to have him come in with a pincushion. Clumsy way to set up a dumb joke.

BUT ... I laughed out loud at "hello, ball." I saw that line coming fully a minute before it was delivered, but I still laughed, so credit where it's due: that was delivered perfectly.

I also chuckled at "what does it say in the book?" and Ralph thrusting his arm straight out in front of him, even though neither were unexpected. He did manage to pull them off with just the right mixture of ... stuff.

So, I have to admit those guys are pretty great comic actors if they can make me laugh at that material. I enjoy I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, and Dick Van Dyck, so its not just the datedness that's killing it for me. I really don't think the scene has much in the way of funny in it as written.

Although, if anyone can recommend a movie with one or both of these guys in it, doing better material, that would be something to see.

Earl B said...

So ... does anybody know who the guys are in that pic? They sure ain't Carney and Gleason.

jbryant said...

I never understand criticisms of THE HONEYMOONERS that are based in distaste for Ralph's bluster and belligerence. It's like saying you don't like ALL IN THE FAMILY because Archie is a bigot. In both cases, the men's foibles are humanized by the supporting characters. As many have noted, no one who has seen more than a couple of HONEYMOONERS episodes could possibly think Ralph would ever follow through on his "Bang - zoom!" threats. The comment by "bee" in the Part 1 thread beautifully explained the appeal of the show's depiction of the characters' threadbare lives, but of course that's precisely the stuff you don't really get in a 4-minute clip.

I'm 52, love the show, laughed at the clip. I don't expect everyone to love it -- that's not how comedy works. The only depressing part about this exercise has been some of the reasoning from those who didn't laugh. A whole lot of over-thinkin' goin' on. Blessedly, when you DO laugh, you don't have to explain why (and if you try, you're wasting your breath).

Greg Ehrbar said...

This is a fascinating post because it only furthers the fact that what one sees as "funny" is largely subjective and this filtered through personal experience and beliefs, not so much due to the age of the comedy or the person watching it. Most, thought not all, comments were about the relative "funnniness" and not about whether it was an "old show" or not.

Personally, I laugh out loud when Norton reads the book dedication "to Emily, whose slice inspired me to write this book" -- and I laughed when Ted Baxter read to Lou Grant when the latter was hospitalized ("The World of Health. Published by Adirondack Publishing Company...") In both cases, the lines, which don't seem funny, actually are because they're finely crafted comic instruments given to masterful performers.

What I do find surprising is how many folks are taken aback by what they see as a "telegraphed" gag that they saw coming "a mile away." That, I think, was the intention. It was not created and executed in error, nor was it "new" at the time. If we know Ed Norton, we know he would do something literal like that, so in the few seconds between saying "address the ball" and "HELLOOOOO ball!" that very expectation is paid off perfectly. We're supposed to see it coming, and it's funny (at least to some of us) with repeatedly viewings. Who doesn't love to wait for their favorite lines or gags in their favorite films and shows?

Both Carney and Gleason were masters of timing. In a way, Gleason's is more the thankless role, because he's the tragic, cluless clown who never quite gets it (hmmm... Archie Bunker? Sam Malone? Even Frasier Crane?) and Carney gets all the best lines and is more endearing. But that was part of Gleason's art -- he let Carney do that for the sake of the show, and he never did a Honeymooners sketch or episode without him. He was louder and coarser than Benny, Ball and the other giants but he shared the knack for surrounding himself with great talent.

I love pretty much all the comedy everyone else has mentioned, some more than others, but each with much admiration. My kids enjoy Lucy, Dick Van Dyke and Bewitched but my son likes the Three Stooges and The Honeymooners more than my daughter, who likes humor that is more verbal and nuanced. But then, my wife likes The Three Stooges too, so it's not necessarily a male or female thing.

Time have changed, though. And what was acceptable then is not acceptable now. Ironically, even the gold standard or the Dick Van Dyke Show has its issues -- we recently watched an episode in which a handsome neighbor moves next door and when the he mentions to the Petries that he was "rough" on his ex-wife, no one even flinches. He just goes back to her and we never hear about him again. Imagine how Norman Lear would treat the same subject only a few years later!

Unknown said...

Feels a bit dated and stagey. I feel like the funny should be there, but they're both 'acting' a bit too dumb, and it's missing any grounding or stakes. Just a 'bit' that i'm waiting to laugh at but never do.