Make me laugh!

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This week, one of my favorite bloggers, TV scripter and novelist Ken Levine, asked: “Can comedy stand the test of time?” As an example, Levine cited Steve Martin’s once-famous catchphrase, “Ex-cuse ME!”, and posited that a current teenager wouldn’t have any idea why someone from the 1970’s would laugh at such a thing. Levine also mentioned how the Marx Brothers enjoyed a 1960’s and ’70s revival that seems to have dimmed down considerably since then.

Well, can comedy stand the test of time? My answer is:

If it’s comedy that you’re still talking about, then yes.

I grew up in that hallowed era of the 1970’s. All around me, on TV and in revival movie theaters, were testaments to the eternal comedic appeal of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Fields, the Marx Brothers, and Laurel & Hardy. Then I got to witness the budding of comic masters such as Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and Monty Python.

These days, my college-age son and daughter do the usual scoffing at their old man’s pop-culture tastes, yet they’ve managed to pick and choose things they like from that era. My daughter has enjoyed Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and the musical version of The Producers with me. I’m not the Cheech & Chong fan that I was as a teenager, but my son definitely enjoys their streetwise humor. And while neither of my kids is a die-hard Monty Python fan like me, my son is head over heels over Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and my daughter has let down her guard enough to let the “Fish Slapping Dance” and “Argument Clinic” sketches make her laugh like crazy.

Conversely, the kids enjoy comedy that doesn’t terribly interest me, such as Amy Schumer (daughter) and Louis C.K. (son). I’ve watched some of their work and don’t particularly “get” them, but I can appreciate why the next generation does.

The thing is, there’s nothing more subjective than comedy. If someone enjoys the same comedy that you do, you have had some measure of bonding with that person. And if someone doesn’t pick up on a comedian who makes you tear up with laughter, expect the very definition of “stony bitch face” from that other person.

Anyway, I’m in my mid-fifties, and I’ve long given up on trying to apologize for or rationalize my tastes in pop culture. Like any comedy fan, I like what I like, and if you don’t agree…

Well, ex-CUUUUUUUSE ME!!!!!!!!

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John Hurt brings us some laughs in Mel Brooks comedies

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The following is my contribution to the Love Hurt” Blogathon, Sister Celluloid’s sterling tribute to actor Sir John Hurt who, sadly, has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This blogathon will run all through the summer of 2015. Bookmark the link on the above banner, and keep checking back to read numerous blog entries that continually prove why (as that ’80s song says) Hurt’s so good!

If some (few) would argue that John Hurt has not suffered a lot for his art, he has certainly suffered a lot in his art. Perhaps that is why Hurt took a couple of small but memorable roles in Mel Brooks comedies — to cleanse the palate, as it were.

When most people think of Mel Brooks, they think of broad, broad humor, but in Brooks’ History of the World Part I (1981), Hurt managed to contribute some big laughs by playing as small as possible. The joke was in Hurt’s offering a station of collective calm in the storm of Brooks’ burlesque shtick. And you can’t get any more calm and collected than Jesus Christ.

Just the set-up is enough to make you smile. Brooks is a waiter taking orders at the Last Supper. He yells out Judas’ name at an inopportune moment and inevitably curses, “Jesus!”, prompting Christ to do an Abbott-and-Costello-like routine with a waiter.

Hurt’s other moment of comedic glory is in Spaceballs (1987), Brooks’ painfully labored take-off on Star Wars. For my money, Hurt’s cameo provides the one genuine belly laugh of an otherwise pitiful low in Brooks’ movie career. In one fell swoop, Brooks manages to parody both Hurt’s role in Aliens (1979) and Brooks’ love for the screwball humor of Warner Bros. cartoons — more genuine satire/tribute than the movie manages in its remaining 95 minutes. And, as in History, Hurt proves to be delightfully in on the joke.

“Mel called and said, ‘Look, John, I’m doing this little movie and there’s a bit in there that has to do with Alien, so come on over.’ He made it sound like a bit of a picnic. He also did that to me on History of the World Part I. He always does that. ‘Come on, I’ll give you a couple grand, we’ll put you up in a nice hotel, you’ll have a good time, and then you can go back again.’ And when you get there, you suddenly realize, it’s a $3 million scene — God knows how much the animatronic singing and dancing alien cost — and they couldn’t possibly have done it if it hadn’t been for you. What I’m saying is, I think he got me rather cheap. [Laughs.]” – John Hurt, in a 2011 interview with A.V. Club