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  • feedwordpress 08:01:06 on 2018/05/19 Permalink
    Tags: , comedy, Fred Moten, , I'll Say She Is, , , ,   

    “I suffer from everyday life”*… 

     

    Philosopher, essayist, and poet Fred Moten

    “I think mayonnaise has a complex kind of relation to the sublime,” [Moten] said. “And I think emulsion does generally. It’s something about that intermediary—I don’t know—place, between being solid and being a liquid, that has a weird relation to the sublime, in the sense that the sublimity of it is in the indefinable nature of it.”

    “It’s liminal also,” I offered.

    “It’s liminal, and it connects to the body in a certain way.”

    “You have to shake it up,” I said. “You have to put the energy into it to get it into that state.”

    “Anyway,” Moten said, “mostly I just don’t fucking like it.”…

    The New Yorker‘s David Wallace on “Fred Moten’s radical critique of the present.”

    * Italo Calvino

    ###

    As we contemplate the quotidian, we might recall that it was on this date in 1924 that the Marx Brother’s took Broadway by storm.  Already vaudeville stars, they’d wrangled a spot on the Great White Way, a last-minute opening for which they threw together a review based nominally on an unsuccessful musical comedy by Will and Tom Johnstone, originally written for British actress Kitty Gordon as Love For Sale.  The Marx Brothers substituted in some of their most trustworthy material and called it I’ll Say She Is.

    In one of show business’ great strokes of luck, the opening night of a major dramatic play, slated for this same date, was canceled, leading all of New York’s leading critics instead to the premiere of the relatively-unknown Marx Brothers’ show.  Their extraordinary banter and slapstick astounded the critics, and put the Brothers on the road to Broadway, then Hollywood fame.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:02 on 2018/05/11 Permalink
    Tags: comedy, , , , , puns,   

    “Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise but he that is without it”*… 

     

    The English language is almost nightmarishly expansive, and yet there is no good way to respond when someone drops a bad pun in casual conversation.

    “Stop” seems ideal, but it’s too late—they already did it. If your esophagus cooperates, you can mimic a human chuckle, or you can just steamroll through, ignoring the elephant now parked in your conversational foyer. Either way, having to deal at all with the demand that wordplay be acknowledged is probably the reason so many people think they hate puns.

    Those people are wrong…

    More on this variety of not-merely-meretricious merriment at : “If You Think You Hate Puns, You’re Wrong.”

    * Jonathan Swift

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    As we ponder Alfred Hitchcock’s assertion that “puns are the highest form of literature,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that Monty Python was formed.  Graham Chapman was trained and educated to be a physician, but that career trajectory was never meant to be.  John Cleese was writing for TV personality David Frost and actor/comedian Marty Feldman at the time, when he recruited Chapman as a writing partner and “sounding board”.  BBC offered the pair a show of their own in 1969, when Cleese reached out to former How To Irritate People writing partner Michael Palin, to join the team.  Palin invited his own writing partner Terry Jones and colleague Eric Idle over from rival ITV, who in turn wanted American-born Terry Gilliam for his animations.

    The Pythons considered several names for their new program, including “Owl Stretching Time”, “The Toad Elevating Moment”, “Vaseline Review” and “A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket.”  “Flying Circus” had come up as well.  The name stuck when BBC revealed that they had already printed flyers, and weren’t about to go back to the printer.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:18 on 2018/02/24 Permalink
    Tags: Billy Glason, comedians, comedy, Fun-Master Gag Files, Henny Youngman, , , one-liner,   

    “The gods too are fond of a joke”*… 

     

    The monthly Fun-Master newsletter, which cost a few dollars per issue, contained sometimes as many as 20 pages of jokes, broken up into subsections such as “Stories,” “Insults—Squelches—Sarcasm,” and “Humorous Views of the News.” The jokes and gags within ran the gamut from cleverly convoluted yarns to snappy one-liners:

    “I know a Texan who rides on a solid gold saddle. Every time he hits a bump, he strikes it rich!”

    “Last week I played golf on a real crummy golf course. It had holes in it!”

    “He’s a real hypochondriac. When he goes to a cocktail party, he stirs his drink with a thermometer!”

    Thanks to Glason’s constant back-page advertising, the newsletter became a well-known industry resource. Famous comedians including Flip Wilson, Dick Gregory, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson reportedly subscribed, or otherwise got jokes and training from Glason—even if not all of them wanted to admit it. “Jackie Gleason didn’t want to be on record as buying the Billy Glason gag files, so he had his writer, Harry Crane, buy them”… “It was the writer who bought them, but it was Jackie Gleason who ended up with them.”…

    It wasn’t only comedians who took advantage of Glason’s jokes. The newsletter was also bought by ventriloquists, DJs, and magicians. Anybody who needed some jokes in their act.

    The Fun-Master newsletters were also often representative of the comedy of the day, for better and for worse. Jokes about nagging, controlling wives—or marriage as a prison sentence for men—abound, along with a number of ethnic stereotypes… At the same time, during his career, Glason maintained a staunch insistence on working clean. “It used to really make him angry when people used profanity for the sake of getting a shock laugh”…

    The remarkable story of Billy Glason and his “Fun-Master Gag Files,” which influenced the joke industry– and indeed, comedy at large, for decades: “Rediscovering the Newsletter That Inspired a Generation of Comedians.”

    * Aristotle

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    As we ponder punch lines, we might spare a thought for Henry “Henny” Youngman; he died on this date in 1998.  A comedian (and violinist), he was crowned by Walter Winchell “The King of the One-Liner.”  At a time when many comedians told elaborate anecdotes, Youngman’s routine consisted of telling simple one-liner jokes (of the sort in which Glason traded), occasionally with interludes of violin; a typical Youngman stage performance lasted only 15 to 20 minutes but contained dozens of jokes in rapid-fire succession.  He’s perhaps best remembered for the gag that became his trademark: “Take my wife … please.”

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:26 on 2017/09/26 Permalink
    Tags: Acropolis, comedy, Great Turkish War, , Homer, Iliad, , Margites, Odyssey, Parthenon,   

    “I didn’t lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!”*… 

     

    Anybody who writes, directs, or consumes any form of entertainment owes a debt of gratitude to Homer. Had the ancient poet not written two of the best—and earliest—epic dramas in Western history, the Iliad and the Odyssey, who knows where our culture would be or what works of art we would cherish.

    Would Shakespeare have become the genius bard? Would Cervantes, Faulkner, and Joyce have created the diverse masterpieces that they did, all with Homeric ancestry? Would we have cinematic gems like O Brother, Where Art Thou?

    It’s impossible to know because our boy Homer (or whoever he was—more on that later) pulled through and set the foundation for modern day drama and tragedy. But what would have happened if he had written the first ever comedy?

    That question is a siren song for scholars, though the work of comedy often attributed to the Greek poet was lost millennia ago. But while the text of Margites may have disappeared, we’re not completely in the dark about the form Homer’s comedic style may have taken…

    Before The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s very first work—if Homer actually existed—is named Margites, after its main character who was nothing short of a bumbling idiot: “Before The Iliad, Did Homer Write The World’s First Comedy?

    * Homer

    ###

    As we honor humor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1687, during the Great Turkish War (1683-1699), that Venetian bombardment ignited an Ottoman gunpowder magazine stored in the Parthenon and nearly destroyed the temple to Athena that is the crown jewel of the Acropolis.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:15 on 2016/11/10 Permalink
    Tags: Abel Gance, , comedy, Essanay, , , , montage, , rejection letter,   

    “I think all great innovations are built on rejections”*… 

     

    Screenwriters sending scripts to Essanay Studios, a Chicago company that produced silent films between 1907 and 1917, received this form rejection letter in response to their submissions. Here Essanay identified several common problems with scripts; some (“Too difficult to produce”) were probably more helpful to aspiring writers than others (“Not interesting”).

    Essanay, named after the initials of its founders George Spoor and Gilbert Anderson, made Westerns and comedies from its Uptown Chicago headquarters and in California. (Its specialty in the Western explains the use of a stereotyped “Indian chief” head as logo.) Charlie Chaplin was a contract player for the company between 1915–1916 and made The Tramp while he was there. Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Wilmington suggests that Chaplin’s departure for a more lucrative contract in 1916 “hastened Essanay’s demise,” causing “a fatal rupture” between the two founders struggling with a sudden loss in income…

    * Louis-Ferdinand Celine

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    As we inoculate our egos, we might spare a thought for Abel Gance; he died on this date in 1981.  While Essanay was developing the comedic form, Gance– a French film director, writer, producer, actor, and theorist– was working across the Atlantic to lay the foundation for cinema as we’ve come to know it.  One of the first to employ close-ups and dolly shots, he was instrumental in developing both the theory and the practice of montage as it came to be employed in film editing.  He is probably best remembered for three major silent films: J’accuse (1919), La Roue (1923), and the monumental Napoléon (1927).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:46 on 2016/10/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , clown motel, comedy, , , ,   

    “The child’s laughter is pure until he first laughs at a clown”*… 

     

    Catering to bikers, truckers, and other long haul travelers that find themselves off the beaten path, the Clown Motel is the final port of call before the yet another stretch of unbroken Nevada desert. It must be this location’s oasis-like location that has kept the establishment in business for so long, as the ever-watchful eyes of the ubiquitous clown figurines seem to serve more as a warning than a draw. From the moment travelers enter the adjoining offices they are greeted by a life-size clown figure sitting in a chair, cradling smaller figurines like familiars. In fact the entire office is covered in shelves and bookcases full of clown dolls, statues, and accouterment of every stripe. Stuffed animals, porcelain statues, wall hangings, and more make up the mirthful menagerie, staring down at guests from every angle.

    Leaving the office with key in hand, visitors might also notice an arch just feet away heralding the “Tonopah Cemetery.” Just beyond the gate is a century-old miner’s graveyard made up of a gaggle of wood and stone markers. The very Platonic ideal of a haunted cemetery…

    For those unafflicted by coulrophobia, “Clown Motel.”

    * Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

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    As we pop on our red noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that the BBC premiered a new comedy sketch show– then improbably, now legendarily– entitled Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:39 on 2016/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: comedy, Groucho, , , , Past Postcards, ,   

    “Send me a postcard”*… 

     

    “This is the Life.”

    From @PastPostcard, images of old postcards, along with transcribed text from their backs. As Rebecca Onion (from whom, the tip) remarks, “a simple idea, and a great one.”

    For more on the history of the postcard, see the Richard Carline work cited here.

    * lyric from a song of the same name, recorded in 1968 by The Shocking Blue.

    ###

    As we mail it in, we might say the magic word and collect $100, as it’s the birthday of Groucho Marx, born this date in 1890.

    From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.
    – To S.J. Perelman

    PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER
    – telegram to the Friar’s Club

    Groucho

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:23 on 2016/09/28 Permalink
    Tags: comedy, , Harpo Marx, , hot lead, linotype, , , ,   

    “It’s the 8th Wonder of the World”*… 

     

     

    Linotype typecasting machines revolutionized publishing when they were invented in 1886, and remained the industry standard for nearly a century after. The first commercially successful mechanical typesetter, the Linotype significantly sped up the printing process, allowing for larger and more local daily newspapers. In Farewell, etaoin shrdlu (the latter portion of the title taken from the nonsense words created by running your fingers down the letters of the machine’s first two rows), the former New York Times proofreader David Loeb Weiss bids a loving farewell to the Linotype by chronicling its final day of use at the Times on 1 July 1978. An evenhanded treatment of the unremitting march of technological progress, Weiss’s film about an outmoded craft is stylistically vintage yet also immediate in its investigation of modernity…

    Via Aeon: “The last day of hot metal press before computers come in at The New York Times.”

    * Thomas Edison, speaking of the linotype machine

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    As we agree with John O’Hara that “hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm,” we might spare a thought for a communicator of a very different sort, Arthur Duer “Harpo” Marx; he died on this date in 1964.  A comedian, actor, mime, and musician, he was the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers.  Harpo was a master of both the clown and pantomime traditions; he wore a curly reddish blonde wig, never spoke during performances, and of course, played the harp in each of the Marx Brothers’ films.  A man of wide and varied friendships, he was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:43 on 2016/06/20 Permalink
    Tags: Bert Williams, comedy, Florenz Ziegfeld, , , , , , ,   

    “If there really is such a thing as turning in one’s grave, Shakespeare must get a lot of exercise”*… 

     

    Your correspondent is off on a whistle tour of the Midwest.  While altogether auspicious, it packs what may be too many stops into too few days…  Thus, regular service will likely be interrupted until late this month…  See you all again as Independence Day approaches.  Meantime, something to keep you amusedly occupied…

    A newly redesigned website from Emory University, Shakespeare & the Players, displays a collection of nearly a thousand photo postcards of actors depicting Shakespearean characters on stage, in the late -19th and early-20th centuries. The site is browsable by actor, character, and play.

    In the 19th century, scholar Lawrence W. Levine writes, many Americans, even if illiterate, knew and loved Shakespeare’s plays; they were the source material for endless parodies, skits, and songs on the American stage… in the first half of the 19th century, theater “played the role that movies played in the first half of the twentieth … a kaleidoscopic, democratic institution presenting a widely varying bill of fare to all classes and socioeconomic groups.”…

    from The Taming of the Shrew

    Richard Carline, writing in 1971, says:

    Those who only know the postcards of today can scarcely be expected to appreciate what they meant to people sixty or more years ago. Many of us seldom think of buying a picture postcard, except as a matter of convenience; but during the quarter of a century that preceded the Great War in 1914, it would have been hard to find anyone who did not buy postcards from genuine pleasure…

    More at “Browse Nearly 1,000 Photo Postcards of Late-19th-Century Stage Productions of Shakespeare,” and at the curator’s preface.

    * George Orwell

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    As we bark the Bard, we might recall that it was on this ate in 1910 that Florenz Ziegfeld, in a blow against racial prejudice, opened the Ziegfeld Follies of 1910, with actor Bert Williams as co-star, marking the first time white and black entertainers appeared on stage together in a major Broadway production.  Williams was one of the pre-eminent entertainers of the Vaudeville era and one of the most popular comedians for all audiences of his time. He was by far the best-selling black recording artist before 1920. In 1918, the New York Dramatic Mirror called him “one of the great comedians of the world.”  Fellow vaudevillian W.C. Fields, who appeared in productions with Williams, described him as “the funniest man I ever saw – and the saddest man I ever knew.”

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:09 on 2016/02/05 Permalink
    Tags: Charlie Chaplin, comedy, funniest jokes, greatest jokes, , , , , Modern Times,   

    “Well, nobody’s perfect”*… 

     

    email readers click here for video

    From the Marx Brothers to The Simpsons, from Richard Pryor to Amy Schumer: “The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy“… critique it, argue with it– that’s what lists like this are for– but most of all, enjoy it.

    * Osgood (Joe E. Brown) to Daphne/Jerry (Jack Lemon), Some Like It Hot (one of the 100)

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    As we fiddle with our funny bones, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that a film that might well have made the list– Modern Times— was released.  Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, who stars in his iconic Little Tramp persona, the film comically dramatizes a factory worker’s struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world.  Chaplin’s first overtly politically-themed film, it was also the first in which his voice is heard.  It is widely regarded as a classic by film historians… and inspired French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merlau-Ponty to name their journal, Les Temps modernes, after it.

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