Friday, July 5, 2013

"A Lesson In Comedy, Passed From Father To Daughter"

One night, Anna called and asked if I would come over and keep her company.  I enthusiastically said yes.  Partly because I treasure her company, and partly because she lives a walking-distance one block away, so I would not have to drive, sparing lives on the thoroughfares, most preciously me own.

(The reason Anna requires company is that her hubby Colby has once again been dispatched to China, where he oversees the headphone production for Beats by Dr. Dre.)

I had recently recommended that Anna check out a favored film of mine, Albert Brooks’ Lost In America, praising especially the scene between Albert and Garry Marshall in which, after Brooks’s wife (played by Julie Hagerty) gambles away their entire “nest egg” allowing them to drop out of society and touch Indians, Brooks engages in the daunting assignment of getting “Pit Boss” Marshall to return all their money.

It turns out that that sequence is no longer available on YouTube.  I actually embedded it in one of my posts a while back.  It was there at the time; now it’s a black screen with “Forget about it” written on it.

As an alternative, still pitching Albert Brooks to my daughter, I suggested we watch a YouTube of Brooks’s appearance on the David Letterman Show from back when Albert was promoting the Judd Apatow film This Is 40, in which he is prominently featured. 

I had seen this originally, and had thought it miraculous.

There are two kinds of comedians – comedians who tell jokes, and comedians whose act involves an overarching concept.  Albert Brooks is the second kind.

To me, all comedians are heroes.  Comedians lay themselves bare to humiliation and ruin, doing material they are praying the audience will find funny.  There are no guarantees.  You just go out there, and each time, you pray, or at least, as Richard Pryor did before every performance, you hope that you’re funny.

The comedians who tell jokes have an advantage.  Call it the “Buckshot Strategy.”  They fire off dozens of jokes, one after the other, reassured that a number of them will hit home.  Though a certain joke may just “lie there”, there’s the salvaging comfort that the following joke will “kill.”

Concept comedians enjoy no such reassurance.  If the premise of your comedy bit fails to connect, you go down with the ship, slogging “flop sweatingly” to the finish, till you disappear, dead and rejected, ignominiously beneath the surface.     

That’s the risk Albert Brooks takes, and has always taken, in his comedic presentations. 

Anna and I watched his performance on Letterman together.  As we did, I could not help repeating,

“That man is so brave.”

Fortunately, though not all inter-generational experiments are equally successful, she got what he was doing, and she thought it was funny.

And now, it’s your turn.  See what you think.  And while you’re watching, imagine, setting up a comedic premise for an extended comedy bit, and the audience responding with blank stares.

I hope you enjoy it like we did.  Though it’s possible you may not.

Not every thing’s for every body.

And therein lies the jeopardy.


Andrew Orenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Orenstein said...

Just brilliant. I love Albert Brooks.

Mac said...

It's great to see Albert Brooks recognized by today's younger comics. To me he's in a superior bracket to them (probably because of my age), but to see him riffing with younger people and looking totally at home is great.

Dave Olden said...

And we Canadians click that red arrow and see....

"The Uploader has not made this video available in your country."