Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Lost Playground"

I am not saying it was better.  I am just saying… well, you decide.

Google “Double-Talk” comedian Al Kelly’s appearance on the Ernie Kovaks Show.

Imagine – because I can’t find it on Google – a vaudeville “paper hanger” routine, where the beleaguered paper hanger gets increasingly ensnared in the gluey wallpaper he is desperately trying to put up.  

Google Abbott and Costello’s immortal (and, to me, incomparable) “Who’s On First” routine.

To pull three examples out of the air, which, if they were wallpaper, would be sticking infuriatingly to my fingers.

And speaking of fingers, Google ventriloquist Senor Wences, turning his hand into the talking head of an adorable puppet.

That was comedy.

Before comedy turned serious.

Clarifictional Explanations:

You begin with “Those were simpler times.”  You proceed to “People needed to laugh.”  (Google – I am really making you work today – the “prison ‘Movie Night’ scene” from Sullivan’s Travels.)  And you finish – considering the audiences of the past as not simpler but actually savvier – they overlooked its transparent frivolity, needing that comedy as a salving oasis from an everyday life that contradicted to the promise of justice, liberty and equality enshrined in the United States Constitution.

And then came Lenny Bruce.  Whose entire comedy career was what?

That the reality of people’s everyday lives contradicted the promise of justice, liberty and equality enshrined in the United States Constitution.

Which was precisely what they were trying to not think about.

“I came for the knockabout comedy.”

“We’ve got something better – a hilarious routine on the unlawful abridgement of free speech.”

‘umble Pomerantian Proposal:  People “got” the cultural hypocrisy.  They did not need comedy to remind them.  They needed comedy to cheer them up.

The monopoly of “comedy as commentary” is only concerning if you are sad that “Comedy for the sake of comedy” has (virtually) entirely disappeared.  (Google Seth Meyers’s opening monologue on The Golden Globes.  And virtually every comedian since Lenny Bruce.)

There is no longer a place for (Google) comedian Victor Borge’s “Inflationary Language” routine – where words, like escalating price tags, were incrementally inflated, yielding the immortal, if not conceptually accurate,

“Any two for eleven-is?”

(To be truly consistent, Borge should have said, “Any two five eleven-is?”  But that’s me, again at least somewhere “On The Spectrum”, a reference itself inappropriate to comedy.  Or not, if “Anything goes.”)

Let me repeat, this time not in italics.

I am not saying it was better when comedy was “strictly for laughs.”  I am saying, or at least asking, 

“Must comedy always be a probing search for “Ultimate Truth”?   Or is there a place to just roll down your suspenders – an allusion even before my time – and laugh.

How ‘bout a modern version of “comedy for comedy’s sake”?  Minus the rancid racial, gender or immigrant, et cetera, diminishing cheap shots.

Consider, if you will, a contemporary “Laff-Fest”, without residual anger or “pay-back”, a nurturing distraction from, say, a brutal presidential tenure that is barely twenty-five percent over.

I enjoy comedy that confronts things that matter.  At my best, maybe I have contributed that genre.  (A man in an ice cream emporium, persuading another patron to try something other than vanilla.)  But I also enjoy frivolous tomfoolery.  (Google:  {Though you probably won’t find it} “The Hanging – Part One” episode from Best of the West, whose silliest dialogue exchange begins, “If he hangs, you die.” – “If who hangs, who dies?” 

I like both kinds of comedy.

But right now, it appears only one kind is available.

What say ye, thoughtful readers?

Have we comedically “grown up”?  Or simply narrowed the alternatives in the opposite direction? 

For those who insist the mindless shenanigans of the past reflected a flagrant ignoring of painful reality, I have but one thing to ask in response:

“Vas you dehe, Sharlie?”


FFS said...

There is an AM station in Hamilton called Funny 820 that I listen to in the car when I am alone. It plays 1-2 minute excerpts of stand-up comedians. Sadly, although I want to laugh, it only happens about one in 10 comedians. I really really want to laugh out loud so I keep listening for the odd gem but mostly I either cringe or am simply mystified why anyone thought it was worthy of being recorded. I think as we get older it takes more to amuse us - we think it has to actually be funny.

Anonymous said...

Abbot And Costello do the paperhanger routine

Anonymous said...

The “If he hangs, you die" scene, at least, is on YouTube:

By Ken Levine said...

Great post, Earl. Truly great.

Karen Hall said...

I used to show my undergrads the Nairobi Trio, and they would just look at me like I was nuts.