Posts Tagged ‘comedy’
John Cleese playing an arrogant newsreader being beastly about a French trade union leader on screen. Unrelated Victorian erotica in the background and a booming voice-over self-importantly announcing the name of the show. It’s pure Monty Python — except it isn’t. This surreal scenario, in which the “French” Marty Feldman comes out of the screen to interact with a now surreally masked Cleese, is from the final episode of At Last the 1948 Show. Brits loved this satirical half-hour of sketches that preceded Monty Python’s Flying Circus by a year, and were largely written by the legendary duo — Cleese and his college mate Graham Chapman — who would go on to be one of the principal writing partnerships behind the Pythons.
What’s special about this last-ever episode is that, like the very first, it’s been lost for nearly 40 years…
Read the whole of this happy tale– and see both of the newly-recovered episodes– at “The Early Days of Monty Python.”
* Eric Idle, in the third Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode, “How to Recognise Different Types of Trees From Quite a Long Way Away”
As we agree that “it’s funny, isn’t it? How your best friend can just blow up like that?”, we might send birthday greetings to two Tommys– Tommy Kirk and Tommy Rettig– whose young lives were spent with dogs; both were born on this date in 1941.
Having appeared as one of the Hardy Boys in a serial that ran on the (original) Mickey Mouse Club, Tommy Kirk got his big break when he was cast in the juvenile lead in Old Yellar. He went on to star in a number of successful Disney pictures (e,g,, The Shaggy Dog and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones), and then in a number of “beach party” flicks. By the mid-70s, Kirk had developed, then beaten a drug problem, and dropped out of acting. While he occasionally appears on screen (Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold. 2006), he has primarily been engaged in building and running a carpet-cleaning business in the San Fernando Valley.
Though he had previously appeared in 18 films (including your correspondent’s beloved The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, written by Dr. Seuss), Tommy Rettig is surely best remembered as “Jeff Miller”– Lassie‘s boy. Rettig too had a brush with drugs, but pulled out of it to become a very successful software engineer/database programmer (he was an early employee of Ashton-Tate).
The Ptolemies who ruled Egypt for nearly three centuries, from about 320 to 31 BCE, had a difficult dual part to play: that of Hellenistic monarchs, in the mold of Alexander the Great, and, simultaneously, Egyptian pharaohs. The founding father of their line, Ptolemy I Soter (“Savior”), a Macedonian general in Alexander’s army of conquest, secured rule over Egypt amid the confusion following his king’s death, crowned himself monarch in 306 BCE. But he bequeathed to his heirs—the fourteen other Ptolemies who would succeed him, not to mention several Cleopatras—a difficult demographic and geopolitical position. The Ptolemies’ palace complex, staffed by a European elite, stood in Alexandria, one of the world’s original Green Zones, a Greek-style city founded on a strongly fortified isthmus facing the Mediterranean. To the south, nearly cut off by the vast marshes of Lake Mareotis, lived most of their Egyptian subjects. Some scholars have reckoned the country’s ratio of Egyptians to Greco-Macedonians at ten to one…
Find out how the Greeks did it at “When the Greeks Ruled Egypt.” (Spoiler alert: it involved respect for and tolerance of Egyptian religious and social beliefs. Genghis Khan operated in a similar fashion; more modern empires, not so much…)
* Jorge Luis Borges
As we go native, we might spare a thought for Aristophanes; he died on this date in 386 BCE (or so many scholars deduce; the exact date has not been documented). A poet and dramatist, Aristophanes– whose works are the sole surviving examples of what is known as “Old Comedy”– is widely known as as “the Father of Comedy.” His eleven surviving plays essentially laid the foundation for satire as we know it, and have a significance that goes beyond this artistic value: Aristophanes acute observations of classical Athens are perhaps as important as historical documents as the writings of Thucydides. They had impact in their own time, as well. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes’ play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates (although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher). His second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was sufficiently scathing to be denounced by the demagogue Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis. Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions, and two democratic restorations– evidence that he was not himself actively involved in politics; rather, an objective “commentator.” In this, he agreed with Socrates (as “reported” by Plato in The Apology): “he who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief space, must have a private station and not a public one.”
Police Squad! hit the air in the fall of 1982, thirty-minute comedy on ABC created by Zucker Abrahams and Zucker, who’d had enormous success two years earlier with Airplane!. A broad parody of television crime shows (perhaps especially, of Lee Marvin and M Squad), Police Squad! ran for only four episodes before it was jerked by the network– for reasons explained in the quote that titles this post. The two further episodes that had been produced were aired off the following summer.
In retrospect, it seems clear that Police Squad!‘s only crime was timing. As Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, said in 2010:
If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.
Indeed, six years later Zucker Abrahams and Zucker took Police Squad! star Leslie Nielsen– along with the concept and the approach– back to the big screen with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, which was both both a critical and a box office success. It was followed by The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear and Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.
Readers can see for themselves– all six episodes of Police Squad! are now available on You Tube. Happy 4th of July Weekend!
Special Holiday Weekend bonus: Stream 14 films that Roger Ebert loved and hated.
* Tony Thomopoulos, President of ABC Entertainment
As we do our best to restrain ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1855 that Walt Whitman anonymously self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass (it carried his picture but not his name). Whitman employed a new verse form, one with which he had been experimenting, revolutionary at the time– one free of a regular rhythm or rhyme scheme, that has come to be known as “free verse.” The content of Leaves of Grass was every bit as revolutionary, celebrating the human body and the common man. Whitman spent the rest of his life revising and enlarging Leaves of Grass; the ninth edition appeared in 1892, the year of his death.
Marion Crane: Do you have any vacancies?
Norman Bates: Oh, we have 12 vacancies. 12 cabins, 12 vacancies.
See Psychos (“This… comes from a place of ‘total affection, openness, and honey bought directly from a beekeeper’”) here. And browse “Salon des Refusés” for Soderbergh’s list of movies and TV shows seen, books read, and music heard in 2013, for his appreciation of Josef von Sternberg, and for gobs of other goodies…
* Norman Bates
As we recall Norman’s adage that “a boy’s best friend is his mother,” we might spare a thought for comic genius Harold Clayton Lloyd, Sr.; he died on this date in 1971. While your correspondent marginally prefers the extraordinary Buster Keaton, Lloyd has some real claim to being the finest physical comedian of the silent film era (even as his career extended to talkies and radio). Like Keaton, Lloyd did his own stunts– many of them, breathtakingly dangerous. Indeed, after 1919, he appears wearing a prosthetic glove, masking the loss of a thumb and index finger in a bomb explosion at Roach Studios.
“The column itself was an extraordinary affair. . . . You would quote something from the morning paper and then you’d make some little comment on it.” (Wodehouse, quoted in David Jasen’s A Portrait of a Master, 1974.)
The column was “By The Way,” a front-page lineup of pert and pithy paragraphs and verse revolving around Edwardian politics and quirky news items from the police courts, London, the British Isles, America, and the world over. It had been a feature (with a distinguished pedigree) of the Globe and Traveller evening newspaper since 1881. British humorist E. V. Lucas wrote that the column “consisted of a dozen or so paragraphs, each with a joke or sting in it, bearing on the morning news.” Richard Usborne wrote it was “a column—a dozen or so short snippets and a set of verses.” The column was pieced together by a couple of fellows every morning in “The By The Way Room” according to a balanced formula of politics, funny news commentary, and verse.
Wodehouse contributed to “By The Way” intermittently from August 16, 1901 up to August 1903, when he joined the paper as full-time assistant, working six days a week; a year later he was put in charge of the column, a position he held until he left the paper, as best can be determined around 1910. His meticulously-kept cash journal Money Received for Literary Work records his payments for columns from 1901 up to the last entry in February 1908. By his own accounting, he worked on over 1,300 “By The Way” columns…
The P. G. Wodehouse Globe Reclamation Project is a not-for-profit volunteer group, formed earlier this year, devoted to unearthing these thousands of humorous paragraphs…
We promised the Wodehouse Estate, which quickly approved the Project, that we would compile and preserve all of the recovered columns for the future benefit of researchers, biographers, and fans. We were hopeful and expectant that that we would find, out of those 1,300 days Wodehouse either verifiably contributed to or worked on the column, a treasure trove of noteworthy, funny, pure Wodehousean material and verse.
As we careful to forgo liquids as we read, we might recall that it was on this date in 1712 that the 555th and final issue of The Spectator was published. The work of Richard Steele, a politician and writer, and Joseph Addison, a poet and playwright, friends from their schooldays at Charterhouse, The Spectator followed their earlier periodical, The Tatler. With a central character “Mr. Spectator” embodying its point of view, The Spectator ran to about 2,500 words daily (except Sunday), offering a mix of news and essays intended “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.” Steele and Addison contributed heavily to their periodical, but also ran essays from the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift.
The Spectator was ostensibly politically neutral; but it was a subtle force for Whig values. Its second most valent continuing character, Sir Roger de Coverley, an English squire of Queen Anne’s reign and the (supposed) descendant of the inventor of the English country dance, was a lovable– but laughable– exponent of Tory maxims. No less august an authority than Jürgen Habermas has called The Spectator instrumental in the “structural transformation of the public sphere” which England saw in the 18th century– a transformation that came about because of, and in the interests of, the emergent middle class.
(The contemporary versions of both The Spectator and The Tatler are unrelated to the originals.)
There’s a near-embarrassment of good television these days; we are, it seems, in a golden age. But it’s worth remembering that there has been extraordinary writing and production available right along. Indeed, the series that’s arguably the consistently best-written show on TV has been running since 1989.
We can be grateful to Adrien Noterdaem for witty reminders to this effect– for his series of drawings depicting the chief characters in today’s best productions in the style of the long-running champ:
See many more at Simpsonized.
As we program our DVRs, we might send calculatedly campy birthday greetings to Paul Reubens; he was born on this date in 1952. An actor, writer, film producer, game show host, and comedian, he is of course best known for his character Pee-Wee Herman.
The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting…
- Pee-Wee Herman
There are just over 11,100 Starbucks locations in the U.S; Dunkin’ Donuts has 7,200… and Boston.com has mapped them all for us, nationally (green dots for Starbucks, red for Dunkin):
… and in major cities (as here, New York):
Find out what it all portends in “Split country: Dunkin’ vs. Starbucks.”
As we choose sides, we might spare a well-caffeinated thought for the wise and witty George Carlin; he died on this date in 2008. The Grammy-winning comedian is probably best remembered for his routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (originated on his third album). When it was first broadcast on New York radio, a complaint led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban the broadcast as “indecent,” an order that was upheld by the Supreme Court and remains in effect today. Not coincidentally, Carlin was selected to host the first Saturday Night Live.