COMEDY, COMEDIANS AND COMEDIC RANGE – BY TOM CURLEY

This is a blog that’s been bouncing around in my head for I while.  Events that happened recently brought it to the forefront. I love comedy. Always have. When I was a child and got a transistor radio, I didn’t care much for all the songs about love and romance. I loved the novelty songs. The silly songs. I grew up worshiping Alan Sherman.

I still can recite the lyrics to most of his songs by heart. He was a genius at parodying old standard songs. His song “Glory, Glory Harry Lewis” is a parody of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah. The hero is Harry Lewis, a clothing worker who worked for Irving Roth.

The best line in the song?

“Harry Lewis perished in the service of his lord. He was trampling through the warehouse, where the Drapes of Roth are stored.”

Genius. Today, his mantle as been taken up by Weird Al Yankovic.

I have always prided myself on my comedic range. By that, I mean I think pretty much all types of humor are funny. I love intellectual humor.  For instance, Oscar Wilde:

On God: “I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.”

Or Dorothy Parker: Use the word “horticulture” in a sentence.  “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

I love the comedy of the Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Carl Reiner and my comedy God, Mel Brooks.

I love science jokes. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

I love fifth grade humor: “What is a shark’s favorite game show? Swallow the leader.”

I love lawyer jokes: “Why don’t sharks eat lawyers? Professional courtesy.”

I love elephant jokes: “What game do four elephants in a mini-van play? Squash.”

I love “dumb” jokes. These are jokes that at one time were ethnic jokes. They were German jokes, Irish jokes, Italian jokes, Polish jokes, North Dakota jokes, South Dakota jokes and blonde jokes.  “Why did the blonde stare at the orange juice box? Because it said ‘Concentrate.’”  

Which brings me to another type of humor I love. Tasteless humor. I have no problem with tasteless humor, as long as it’s funny.

Extra points if you get this joke.

“What’s the difference between an art student and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four.” That was the tamest one I could find. Unless you’re an art student, most people would find it funny. Let’s get real. Most art students would laugh the hardest.

I love roasts. Roasts are where you are supposed to be brutally funny and tasteless. You insult your guest as hard as you can. When all the quests are done insulting the subject of the roast, the subject of the roast gets to do a ‘rebuttal’ and insult all the guests right back. It’s fun. Roasts started at the Friars Club in New York City.

Now they are done on Comedy Central. Another example of a roast is The White House Correspondent’s Dinner. It’s supposed to be a roast of the President and the press. Then the President gets to roast everybody back. Steven Colbert made history when he roasted George W. Bush. It was an amazing example of speaking truth to power.

Here’s my favorite line from the roast. “Critics of the President Bush  say his administration is sinking. They’re just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I say no. His administration isn’t sinking. It’s soaring! They’re re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!”

Our current so-called President will not even show up to this dinner because he can’t stand being made fun of. Two years in a row now. There’s a popular theory that the only reason Colt-45 ran for President is because of how President Obama took him down in the 2012 Correspondents dinner. “People say Trump is running as a Republican. I thought he was running as a joke.”

Actually, Seth Meyers said that, but you get the point. 

A “burn,” or a “roast” is done out of affection. You “bust balls” on your friends because you like them. You do “Your Mama jokes.”

“Your Mama’s so stupid she puts lipstick on her forehead to make up her mind.”

A science your mamma joke!

My family was famous for “busting balls”. If we goofed on you, it was because we liked you. If we didn’t like you, we were very polite around you and said nothing. We would never dream of saying anything that was actually hurtful. Because, well, that would be hurtful.

Oddly, most people can dish it out, but can’t take it, the current so-called-president being a prime example.

I am one of those people who can take a joke. Because of this I get goofed on a lot. I don’t mind. If the joke on me is good, I appreciate it. Sadly, most of the time I don’t get to fire back. I’d hurt people’s feelings. My step son is a great example. He is a great joke teller. He knows them all. All the good ones, the bad ones and the ones that makes his Mom leave the room. He also loves busting my chops. All of his burns are funny and on point. I always laugh.  But if I wanted to get him back, all I’d have to do is say “yeah, but I fuck your Mom.” I can’t do that because he’d go into a catatonic state.

Everybody has a line where something isn’t funny anymore. I remember going to see Mel Brooks’ “The History of The World Part One” when it first came out.

It was hysterical. There is a scene where he turns the Spanish Inquisition into an Esther Williams musical number. It was tasteless and funny as hell.

The Inquisition! What a show!

The whole audience was laughing their asses off. Then the next skit came on. Mel Brooks was a waiter at the Last Supper. Also hysterical. Jesus would say “Before this night is over, one of you will betray me.”

And Brooks immediately says “Judas!” Everybody stops and stares at him in stunned silence. Then he says “Would you like a salad?

It was then I noticed I was the only one in the audience laughing. I thought “Wow, torturing Jews was hilarious, but making fun of the Last Supper, not so much.”

Everybody has a line that once crossed, isn’t funny. So, I wondered, where is my line? Do I have one?

It turns out I do. My line is racism. Right wing “humor.” That offends me. Why? Because it’s mean, racist and it’s NOT FUNNY. It’s merely racist and mean. At this point you can say “Hey, YOU, don’t think it’s funny. That doesn’t mean it’s not funny.”

OK, fair enough. But let’s look at this ‘Joke’ tweeted by Rosanne Barr.

VJ refers to Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to the Obama Administration who is not white and was born in Iran. Both of her parents are Americans. Roseanne “apologized” for her “joke.”

Was that a joke? Hell no. Just racist and mean.

Think about this. How many right-wing comics are there? Name one. I dare you, because I can’t.

A joke can be tasteless, sophomoric, silly, stupid, and dumb, yet still funny. On the other hand, saying something mean and racist, then defending yourself by saying “It was just a joke” is not funny.

That was Rosanne Barr’s defense. That’s the excuse our Racist-in-Chief and his staff use every time he makes a racist statement or tweet.

Finally, why aren’t there any right-wing comedians?  Bottom line? The right-wing doesn’t have a sense of humor.


And racism is not funny.

I hate ending on a down note. So, I’ll leave you with some 16th Century humor.

“Henry the Eighth was so fat when he sat around the castle, he sat AROUND the castle.”

Too soon?

HOW TO STAY MARRIED WHILE WRITING A SCRIPT WITH YOUR SPOUSE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I write scripts for Voicescapes Audio Theater with my husband, Tom. Writing scripts is hard; writing comedy scripts is harder … and writing scripts with your spouse is — let’s say “challenging,” at least if you hope to stay married.

Tom and me now

We have developed some Writing Rules of the Road to help couples stay sane and civil throughout the stressful process of script writing. Here are a few.

1. When one person says they don’t want to write because they’re not in the mood or because they have a headache, don’t insist on doing it anyway. Someone will get passive aggressive and the other will get pissy. Wait for a time when you both can enjoy it.

2. Never storm out of the room cursing and swearing that you’ll never write another word as long as you live! Use your words – both on the page and off.

3. Chose your words carefully, both on the page and off. Try to avoid phrases like “You’re an idiot!”, “How could anyone in their right mind think that line is funny?” or “No one from this planet would ever call that realistic dialogue.” In fact, avoid negative statements altogether. Start your comments with disclaimers like, “Don’t you think that maybe…” or “I personally feel that such and such might possibly work better here.” Then do not respond to the ensuing insults in kind.

4. Do not throw things; even soft things like fluffy dog toys. They can still knock over lamps or break the vase you paid way too much for at that stupid Tag Sale.

5. Have a “safe word”. When things get too intense and you absolutely       cannot agree about something and you are about to come to blows, use the safe word and drop the disputed issue immediately. Never bring it up again. What happens in script writing, stays in script writing.

6. Do not mix your personal relationship and your writing relationship. Compromises and concessions made in scripts cannot be thrown up as ammunition in a personal fight. And never bring personal issues to a script fight. The fact that your husband always sides with his mother when she gets snarky with you, will in no way improve your comedy script about speed dating.

I hope that we have been able to improve someone else’s writing relationship with these rules. We’ve actually never used any of them!

A PORN STAR, A PLAYMATE, A PLAINTIFF AND A GUY NAMED PECKER WALK INTO A BAR – BY TOM CURLEY

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stormy Daniels has a 1-hour interview scheduled on CBS this evening — 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper — at 7 PM. It’s the real deal show! Trump wanted his own show, and now, he’s getting it! Maybe not exactly how he planned it. 

And the bartender says “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

The answer is, yes and no. It’s not a joke. It’s reality. In so far as reality has become a bigger and bigger joke these days, it is a joke. And the bar they walked into wasn’t a ‘bar’ bar. It was a legal bar.

So, what’s the joke? The president is suing a porn star, Stormy Daniels, because she broke a Non-Disclosure Agreement for talking about an affair the President insists never happened.

I’ve never met this woman!

He’s basically saying: “I did not have an affair with that person to whom I paid $130,000 to not talk about the affair we had.”

What’s the other joke? A former Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, is suing The National Enquirer because they bought an interview from her detailing the affair she had with the President.

I’ve never met this woman either!

They silenced her by simply not running the story. The punchline here? The guy who killed the story is named Pecker.

The jokes are the news.

There’s also a plaintiff, Summer Zervos, who is suing the President for defamation of character.

But that’s not funny. Not all news is funny.

I don’t think the news is supposed to be funny. These days, more and more of the news is funny. Absurdly funny. Or possibly ridiculous. Is there a difference? “You can’t make this shit up.”

How many times have we heard that phrase recently?News and comedy are becoming one.

Where do you get your news? The CBS Evening News or Stephen Colbert? The ABC Evening News or Jimmy Kimmel? CNN or The Daily Show?

I usually choose the latter because I get the same raw information, just with jokes. These days you get the jokes more and more just from reading the news.

When I worked on network news shows at CBS, we would have monitors showing the other networks. As you’d expect, all the shows did all the same stories in roughly the same order. Makes sense. These days, I notice the same stories on all the late night comedy shows too. The comedians all tell pretty much the same jokes in pretty much the same order. The thing is, they all thought the jokes up separately. But since the story is the same, they come up with the same jokes.

It’s just the news.

Comedy and news are becoming one.

I know I’m going to laugh when I watch The Daily Show. I expect to laugh. I’m getting the same laughs from CNN and MSNBC. Who are not trying to be funny! They are merely reading the news!

“Hey, did you see Wolf Blitzer last night? He killed!” I didn’t make up the title of this blog. I saw it on TV. Which late night show? None of them. It was a pundit on CNN, Ana Navarro, who said it.

I’m here through Thursday. Try the veal!
Comedy-and-news-are-becoming-one.

That’s not what’s really worrying me. What happens when they separate? When comedy and news split and become two separate things? What happens when the news isn’t funny anymore?

Our current clown show reality has a shelf life. It can’t go on forever. It will just seem like forever. 

What happens after a sane, boring President is elected — and there are no more daily scandals, screw-ups, and shit-storms? No more crazy tweets? No more porn stars, playmates, plaintiffs, and guys named Pecker? The news will continue, but what about all the poor comedians, comedy writers, bloggers, and columnists? They will have to go back to writing jokes again.

They will be forced to think up funny stuff on their own! Our comedic muscles are atrophying! I can feel it. What can we do about it? Are there special comedic exercises? Should we fill in Mad Libs? Improv?

Sure, we could, but why bother? We can’t top reality. We can’t make this shit up.

When that time comes, we’ll all just have to buckle up and get back to work — making up jokes. When that time comes, I think I’ve got a good one.

Picture of Mr. Pecker not included.

A porn-star, a plaintiff,  a playmate and a guy named Pecker walk into bar …

Too soon?

WHY CAN’T THE TRUTH BE FUNNY? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a common theme that runs through most sitcom episodes. And it hasn’t changed since sitcoms were first available on the radio. Lying. Humor is far too often based on people lying to one another – usually family members or close friends. The rest of the sitcom plot revolves around the liar trying to keep his lie a secret and the “lie-ees” getting close to discovering the lie.

At the end, the liar is exposed or the liar comes clean and realizes that he or she shouldn’t have lied in the first place. This is the synopsis of most “I Love Lucy” shows, as well as those of “Modern Family” today.

So why can’t anyone remember the lesson that lying doesn’t pay, from one episode to the next? Why can’t the sitcom producers and writers find something else in life and human relationships to laugh about?

I’m concerned about the prevalence of lying on sitcoms because children watch sitcoms. There’s no sex or violence so they’re assumed to be kid-friendly. But I think that it’s toxic to expose children to lying as the preferred way to deal with the people around you. It puzzled me growing up why grown-ups told me how bad it was to lie but then they all did it, every single week on TV.

Telling the truth on sitcoms must be like Kryptonite to TV writers. This gives kids a warped idea about relationships. It tells them lying is the common, accepted way to communicate. It says “Beware of the truth – it will get you in trouble every time!” Worse — the truth isn’t funny.

It reminds children that that the world is a scary and unpredictable place. You can’t trust grown-ups. Chances are they’re not telling you the truth about anything – from the inconsequential small stuff to the important big things. Children need to believe the grown-ups around them can protect and buffer the world for them.

Sometimes it’s not true, but children need to believe it. Like they need to believe in some version of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy at some stage of life. I don’t think it’s healthy for children to absorb mistrust from the comedies they watch. I think this is what happens when sitcom people automatically lie rather than deal with the truth. It is also annoying to watch as it is the same plot repeated through every year of television.

Lying is ubiquitous on TV comedies and therefore I believe, insidious. Today’s kids are already so much more sophisticated, and at younger ages than they were in my generation. So let’s not teach them too early that lying should always be your first choice. Let’s not convince them that truth is to be avoided at all costs. Let them get through childhood before they become dishonest and jaded.

“BEING THERE” REVISITED: A MODERN DAY REVIEW – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Last night, Marilyn and I watched “Being There.” We hadn’t seen this comedy from 1979 in a long time, probably years. What a difference time has made!

I recall seeing “Being There” when it opened. I enjoyed the farcical Hal Ashby film about a mentally challenged man who somehow influences high and mighty power brokers including our Commander-In-Chief and his aides. It seemed like a Capra-esque flight of fantasy in 1979.  Couldn’t happen in real life. Our political leaders couldn’t be so naïve or vulnerable. We were caught up with Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan. Many laughed at the notion of an actor becoming President. It wouldn’t happen, we smart folks reasoned with our historical savvy. No way a B-movie actor, revered for his roles as a beloved college football player and pal to a chimp named Bonzo — no way that guy could become the most powerful political figure in the world.  So we smugly thought.

Being There, 1979 poster

Peter Sellers is “Chance.” AKA Chauncey Gardner, a middle-aged gardener. The simple-minded assistant to a wealthy man who dies at the beginning of “Being There.” We don’t know much about Chance except he apparently has the mental capacity of a child. He is a brilliant gardener and likes to watch television. Chance is a sweet-tempered fellow whose world revolves around tending the garden — and watching television. He can’t read or write. He just gardens. And likes to watch …. television.

Chauncey Garden walking through Washington DC

Through a series of farcical plot twists, Chance becomes the house guest of an elderly, dying business tycoon and political king-maker (Melvyn Douglas) and his capricious wife (Shirley MacLaine).  The new benefactors mistake Chance’s observations about gardening as metaphors for Wall Street and fixing what ails our government. The President (Jack Warden), a close friend of the tycoon, thinks Chance — now accepted as the mysterious Chauncey Gardner — is his benign Henry Kissinger. Chauncey’s garden recipes become talking points for the President’s economic directive.

Peter Sellers & Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979)

There’s one hilarious scene in the middle of the film where the Black maid who raised Chauncey from infancy — and knows he has “rice pudding between his ears” — rails at her friends and points out that “all you need to become president is to be white.” That was a joke in 1979. Not so funny these days.

In 1979, the movie plot seemed outrageous and outlandish. In those days,  many of us didn’t believe Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously. None of us conceived of him as what we called “a president.” We would have deemed it impossible. I still do.

As “Being There” reaches its conclusion, Melvyn Douglas’ tycoon dies. At the cemetery, as he is laid to rest, the tycoon’s pals and the President’s aides quietly share anxiety about the country’s future. They don’t think the President is strong enough to lead the country out of its economic swamp. There’s a final quiet agreement that only one man can save the country, the man with the savvy garden metaphors, Chauncey Gardner.

Closing scene

The man who would be President is seen wandering through the woods and into a lake, staking his umbrella in the water, perhaps divining a miracle. The end credits roll with outtakes of Peter Sellers laughing his way through many retakes of plays on words.

Marilyn and I laughed as the credits rolled by. Then, we looked at each other. Quietly. Very quietly. Through some bizarre upside-down ill-starred event, during the heart of a perfect political storm, Chauncey Gardner became America’s president after all. Not benign — and definitely not a gardener, yet surely as stupid and illiterate.

A gardener would have been a better choice. At least he could have grown a few roses.

HOW FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK

As long as I can remember, I’ve hated watching people make fools of themselves. I was 6 when I found myself running out of the room during an episodes of “Lucy” in which she humiliates herself. It was too painful to watch. Rather than finding it funny, I feel humiliated myself. I can’t help but think how awful I’d feel if it were me.

Humiliation is a horrible feeling. It’s almost impossible to get past it, no matter how many years pass.

Humiliation

Humor that depends on making fun of people does not make me laugh. I love witty dialogue, literary allusion, puns. I love parody and cleverness. Except for some particularly loathsome villains who deserve whatever they get, I never want to see anyone humiliated. I hate cruelty, mental or physical and cannot watch it.

Not surprisingly, I was one of the kids who got teased and bullied. I was way too sensitive. 60 years later, I’m still too sensitive. Some things never change.

This hatred of seeing people humiliated is probably one of the reasons I so intensely dislike our so-called president. I have watched him deride and humiliate reporters, parents of deceased children, disabled people, women, senators, other politicians. It makes my stomach turn. I cannot begin to tell you how, even if he did nothing else I disliked, this behavior alone would make me loathe him.

I need decency and caring from people who are supposed to be running my country. I expect them to show dignity. I expect them to be able to speak our language properly. I expect them to have read a few books and understand the world of which they are supposedly in charge. I expect them to be people for whom I can show respect and maybe — imagine that — look up to.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING – RICH PASCHALL

R.I.P. DON RICKLES!

With the presidential campaign going strong there are plenty of news items for late night comedians to poke fun at, but no one today could possibly be as biting as the King of the Insult Comics.  Not only has he been doing this for many decades, he is still at it.  From Johnny Carson to Jimmy Fallon as well as all the other late night hosts, this comedian has brought a brand of humor like no other.

NO JOKING AROUND, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Imagine a comedian who insults everyone by race, gender, ethnic background and every other quality you can poke fun at. The audience loves it. No one walks out.  No one calls for him to be banned or fired.  Social media do not go ablaze with attacks. No Facebook postings, hash tags, capital letter tweets, re-tweets, shares, or re-blogs.

Everyone loves it. That probably would not happen today.  A comedian can’t walk into a room, insult everyone, including the President of the United States, yet leave everyone calling for more.  We seem to have lost our ability to poke fun at ourselves and our eccentricities.  We certainly can’t laugh at stereotypes that grow up around our religion, our ethnic group, or our town.

Today, everything has to be politically correct.  Any comedian who forgets that may be in for a short career. There was a time when a serious actor but outrageous comedian was able to take off after just about everyone.  No one in the room was safe from his barbs, whether you had a front row seat or were anywhere in his line of sight, because that would also be his line of fire.

With a television career that began in the 1950’s, Don Rickles appeared in both comedies and dramas.  He appeared in the classic 1958 Clark Gable movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep.”  Other dramatic roles would come in the future but he gained his greatest fame as an “insult comedian.”

That’s right.  He came out and insulted everyone and went home.  I saw him at the old Mill Run Theater outside of Chicago.  The in-the-round theater was perfect for the non-stop rapid fire comedian. By the time Frank Sinatra told Ronald Reagan’s people that Don Rickles, a Democrat, would play the Inauguration or they could get someone else to line up the talent, Rickles was already known as “Mr. Warmth,” because he was anything but that.

The resulting show was classic.  By the way, he had the “mic drop” down pat long before today’s comedian (and others) used it.

You may say, and perhaps rightly, that a comedian can’t get away with stuff like that today.  Rickles has had a long, illustrious career as an actor and “The Merchant of Venom.”  He ruled the late night talk shows and concert halls.  We have lost the sense of humor that can allow comedians to act this way.

Rickles is the only one left of the acerbic comedians of old who can get us to laugh at ourselves by insulting us and our foibles.  Just a few months ago, Rickles stopped in by Jimmy Fallon just as he has done often with Tonight show hosts since Johnny Carson.

Don Rickles still performs his stand up act and is booked out to late in the year.


Don Rickles recently passed away. See him at Sunday Night Blog!