Friday, May 23, 2014

"My Kind Of Show"


A sitcom I can readily relate to.  I was flipping around the channels, and there it was.

I entirely “got” the comedy.  I knew exactly what they were doing.  Low concept.  Naturalistic dialogue.  It was precisely what it was.  Minimal exaggeration.  Identifiable characters.  No overt meanness.  No sniggering allusions.

It was my kind of show, doing and saying what people do and say, not just in situation comedies but in everyday life.  And getting big laughs along the way.

I thought I would never see that again, believable situations, the jokes coming easily and unforced.  The storyline was simple, involving a guy who wants to hire someone for a highly coveted job, and he finds the man slinging hash in a Chinese restaurant. 

The guy offers him the job and the hash slinger turns it down, saying he is satisfied working right where he is, explaining,

“I’ve gotten three promotions this week.”

To which the guy trying to hire him replies,

“And this is what you’ve risen to?”

I love that joke.  I call that “Reality Check” comedy.  Which is my favorite kind of comedy.  There is no stretching of reality.  You say exactly what the situation requires and the laugh comes from its simply being true. 

“Three promotions”, and he’s knee deep in moo goo gai pan? 

That would not appear to be a job you turn down a highly coveted job to retain.  Which, I probably don’t have to tell you, is the funny part.  Because that’s exactly what he’s doing.  (This is why I try to never be put in a position of explaining comedy.  It’s like examining a snowflake.  You end up with water on your microscope.)

And the joke I just quoted was no “stand alone” exception.  There were numerous jokes like that.  Sure, some of the comedy fell flat.  But overall, I found myself laughing really hard.  Dr. M was asleep and I had to hold myself still for fear of chortling her awake.

No matter how long you’ve done this, there’s a part of you that questions yourself.  Especially if you haven’t worked in a while. 

You know you’ve got something, but you feel out of sync what with you see is going on.  You can't help thinking that maybe you might have "lost it."

And now, finally – vindication.  A show I could totally identify with. 

I knew I could do what they were doing.  I could imagine an inevitable “adjustment process”, but I could see myself blending in easily with the show’s writing staff. 

I knew what they were doing.  And I was confident that I could do it myself.  

Hey, Earlo, why don’t you jump out of retirement, and try for a job?

Not possible, my friend.  I could never write for that show.

Too old?

No, too young.

The sitcom I identified with?  It was a rerun of The Jack Benny Show, filmed in 1964.

Written By:

Al Gordon
Hal Goodman
Sam Perrin
George Balzer
Earl Pomerantz

I’m telling you, I would really have fit in.


Canda said...

Jack Benny was also a great boss, and his writers loved him. Unfortunately, they had a different premise each week, whether it was Jack going on a train trip, or stopping by a sandwich shop, and often they used celebrities and topical reference in the shows. So, you would not have been writing an ongoing premise, but would be writing continuing charters - Rochester, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, and Mary Livingston, and making use of their supporting regulars - Frank Nelson and Mel Blanc, who were always different characters.

For as popular as Jack was, he has not remained popular after his death.

Adam said...

I think Jack's probably remained popular among the boomers, since they were exposed to him for many years. Antenna TV is still running his show for an hour every night and I doubt they'd do that if there wasn't some demand. I could be wrong; they could be running the show just to fill the hour. I still enjoy watching Jack occasionally. Not every night but once in a while. I wasn't his biggest fan.

Frank said...

For great radio comedy you can't beat Jack Benny sparring with Fred Allen over their silly feud.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Sorry Canda and Adam -- you're speaking mostly from speculation and subjectivity, and that is your privilege.

However, even comedy professionals of today acknowledge Jack Benny as the master of timing, character comedy, astute use of cast and writers and sustaining longevity.

You have to look at his career as a whole to grasp this, from vaudeville to radio to television. Admittedly, his greatest success was on radio, and his TV show was not on regularly so it cannot be compared to a single premise series like "I Love Lucy."

But Kelsey Grammer, David Letterman, Johnny Carson and dozens of latter-day legends — as well as young comedians — are quick to point out Jack Benny’s influence.

Your points are all valid and have some logic to them as far as TV is concerned, but to say "he has not remained popular after his death" is far from true.

On the contrary, few comics of only a few years back are forgotten, as are people who were stars, in this throwaway society, yet we seem to always go back to the ones who elevated comedy to an art form, and one of them is undeniably Mr. Benny.