Steve Martin as “The Great Flydini”

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The following is my first of two entries in my See You in the ‘Fall’ Blogathon, taking place at this blog from Sept. 20-23, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read entertaining entries from a variety of blogs about priceless moments of physical comedy from TV and movies!

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A comedian pulls objects out of the zippered “private” section of his pants. Does anything sound tackier? In the, er, gifted hands of Steve Martin, it turns into a breathtakingly brilliant six minutes of silent comedy right up there with Chaplin and Keaton.

Amazingly, I can’t find one article in that vast virtual encyclopedia known as the Internet that tells anything about the history of this “act.” At the time that Martin was performing it (at a magic club in L.A. and, as you can see if you look hard enough on the Web, on TV in England), I remember reading a piece about it, I think in The New Yorker. It sounded weird but tantalizing, and I figured I’d probably never be lucky enough to see a performance of it.

But in the final month of Johnny Carson’s tenure as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Carson — I suspect — coerced Martin into doing the act on his show as a personal favor (the two of them were friends off-stage). And so, happily, we have a recording of it.

What this recording proves above all is that Martin was born far off in the wrong era. When television made it big in the 1950’s, veteran stage performers complained that in vaudeville, you could make a career out of one routine, but once you performed that routine one time on TV, it was dead after that. If Steve Martin could have conceived “The Great Flydini” when vaudeville was thriving, it’s likely he could have made a career solely out of that one act.

Stripping the routine to its essentials, the act still amazes. Even when you figure out how Martin actually gets the objects to emerge from his fly (I won’t spoil the fun here), you’re left to wonder: How does he work all of that stuff in his pants, while still maintaining his comic timing? It’s uncanny.

So sit back and marvel at Steve Martin as “The Great Flydini.” One word of warning: Carson introduces Martin anonymously as just another magic act, and then Martin spends the first 30 seconds or so milking the audience’s shock that it’s Steve Martin in front of them. So you’re led to believe that it’s just going to be Steve Martin doing another of his put-ons at the expense of his captive audience. Don’t believe it for a second. He has thought out every moment of this act, to our everlasting delight.

(If you liked this blog entry, click here to read my second blog entry about the Three Stooges short subject Gents Without Cents.)

Happy birthday, Albert Brooks

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Today is the 65th birthday of Albert Brooks — in my humble opinion, one of the funniest men to ever grace the planet.

Brooks has been dubbed in many ways — “the comedian’s comedian,” “the West Coast Woody Allen” — all of which are another way of saying that usually, Brooks is too smart for the room. It’s the reason why much of his work is brilliantly funny, and also probably the reason he doesn’t get bigger box-office for his movies.

In his early days as a comedian, Brooks was part of the “ironic” comedians of the 1970’s (think Steve Martin or Andy Kaufman) who deconstructed stand-up comedy. (On one of countless appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” he did an entire bit about how frustrated he was that he’d run out of comedy material.)

When he started making movies — first as a contributor to the first season of “Saturday Night Live,” then in actual feature films — Brooks adopted a persona in which he was so intent on being hip and “doing the right thing” that he never realized how self-absorbed and obnoxious he was.

This culminated in what I feel is his finest movie achievement: Lost in America (1985), in which a frustrated ad man (Brooks) decides to take his wife, chuck all of their middle-classness, and get out into nature and “touch Indians” — all while touring the country in a 40-foot Winnebago.

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(I’d go into more detail about this delicious, daintily black comedy, except that I’ve already devoted a website to it. If you want to find out more about this movie, please go to lostinamerica.moviefever.com)

Brooks has also done a fine job in playing other people’s characters, having twice been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for his work in the movies Broadcast News (1987) and Drive (2011).

To brighten your day, I leave you with one of my all-time favorite Brooks bits, in which he does a ventriloquist act with a Speak & Spell toy.