The Archive of American Television, bless ’em, has done thousands of hours of videotaped interviews with TV personalities, past and present, actors and those behind the scene. Most of these interviews are posted at YouTube. One lovely interview involves Jamie Farr, best known as cross-dressing Corporal Klinger from TV’s “M*A*S*H.”
Farr was asked how he came to be cast as a supporting actor on Red Skelton’s 1950’s variety show. Farr replied that he loved slapstick comedy, and he felt that Red had seen that quality in him. Farr went on to say that comedians such as Skelton had a “tickle.”
Farr said that there are some people who can do good monologues and tell funny stories. And then there are those — such as Skelton, Jack Benny, and George Burns — who had an extra-special comedic quality, a “tickle,” that made you feel as though they could make anything funny.
I’d never heard that metaphor before, and I thought about who has made me “tickle” over the years. There are the obvious ones — Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Groucho Marx, early-era Jackie Gleason, Bob Newhart, and Mel Brooks (who seems to have spent most of his life bent over from a tickle). After that, perhaps Albert Brooks and Monty Python’s John Cleese. I haven’t followed much comedy in recent years, but I’d say Simon Pegg fits the bill. And there are probably more “Saturday Night Live” alumni, past and present, than I have the space for here.
My only query is, I wonder if “tickling” has an expiration date. Acts such as though of Gleason and Skelton certainly got predictable and stale after a couple of decades. And then there’s the problem that Cleese once mentioned in a Monty Python TV documentary. I’m paraphrasing, but he said — and I agree — that the older you get, the less you laugh, because you’ve heard all of the jokes before. That certainly makes it harder for someone to tickle you.
With that said, who are some of your favorite ticklers of all time?