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Posts Tagged ‘comedy

“Puns are the highest form of literature”*…

 

From tough guys to tramps…

… it’s all about the ink… and a sense of humor…

Many more at “A Plethora Of Punny Tattoos.”

* Alfred Hitchcock

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As we noodle on the needle, we might send smiley birthday greetings to Joe E. Brown; he was born on this date in 1891.  One of the most popular American stage and screen actors and comedians of the 1930s and 40s, he is perhaps best remembered for his role as Osgood Fielding III in Billy Wilder’s exquisite Some Like It Hot, in which Brown uttered the film’s immortal closing line, “well, nobody’s perfect.”

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Written by LW

July 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep”*…

 

The Donald used them to populate his Presidential announcement; so did Eric Weiner when he opened his bid for Mayor of New York.  Tim Draper’s failed “Six Californias” ballot initiative campaign hired them for rallies; anti-gay forces recruited them to protest alongside this year’s Pride Parade in New York…  Rent-a-crowds are all the rage.

Go behind the scenes of this peculiar– but increasingly prevalent– form of “human astroturfing” at “1-800-Hire-A-Crowd.”

[Image above from here]

* Saul Bellow

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As we wonder about the wisdom of crowds, we might spare a thought (and a smile) for Peter Sellers; he died on this date in 1980 at age 54.  An actor and comedian of extraordinary accomplishment, Sellers, the son of two variety entertainers, first appeared on stage at two weeks old.  He performed consistently thereafter, breaking through with the BBC radio series The Goon Show (believed by many to be the funniest, and certainly the most influential, comedy show ever).  Sellars went on to establish himself on television (e.g., A Show Called Fred) and especially in film (e.g., the Pink Panther films) as one of the most versatile– and funniest– comedians in the world.  And in films like Lolita and Being There, he demonstrated his skill as an actor.

In 1964, Sellers had suffered 13 heart attacks over the period of just a few days; he resisted traditional treatment for his cardiac problems, opting instead for New Age therapies.  He and his Goon Show co-stars Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe had planned to have a reunion dinner during this week in 1980; instead, Seller’s two collaborators attended his funeral.

The Goons: Peter Sellers, with Spike Milligan (lower left) and Harry Secombe (lower right)

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Written by LW

July 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If you want to use television to teach somebody, you must first teach them how to use television”*…

 

Graph TV is a visualization tool which graphs tv show ratings by episode. Each season is assigned a different color and linear regressions are calculated for each season as well as for the entire series. Each point on the graph displays the episode title, rating, and other data. The data points are clickable and will open its IMDb entry. The graphs are also exportable for offline use…

Make informed viewing choices (with larger versions of the interactive charts) at Kevin Wu‘s Graph TV.

* Umberto Eco

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Before we begin to binge, 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.

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Written by LW

March 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Know what I mean?”*…

 

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”

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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).

Tommy Kirk and Yellar

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Tommy Rettig and Lassie

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Written by LW

December 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I have known uncertainty: a state unknown to the Greeks”*…

 

Octadrachm, reverse: jugate portrait Ptolemy I and Berenice I, Alexandria, 260–240 BCE

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

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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.”

Illustration from a bust found near Tusculum (likely altogether imaginary, as Aristophanes was reportedly bald)

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Written by LW

November 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Police Squad! was cancelled because the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it”*…

 

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!

email readers click here for video

Special Holiday Weekend bonus:  Stream 14 films that Roger Ebert loved and hated.

* Tony Thomopoulos, President of ABC Entertainment

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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.

Walt Whitman, age 37, frontispiece to Leaves of Grass. Steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison.

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Written by LW

July 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

“We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”*…

 

Director Steven Soderbergh lovingly cut Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho together with Gus Van Zant’s shot-by-shot remake into a single film…

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

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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.

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Written by LW

March 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

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