My earliest memory of Mr. Rickles dates to the summer of 1969. I got a summer job through a buddy of mine whose father and grandfather worked for a carpet outlet store. We were the carpet-hauling muscle for the summer. My friend's father was kind enough to pick me up every day at the street-corner and we'd drive in together. One day he put a tape into the car's cassette player (very high-tech for the time) and said, "you boys will like this." We did. Don Rickles roasted everyone: Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Italians, Irish, and we laughed. My employers were Jewish and they laughed hardest at the Jewish jokes.
My earliest memory of comedians, in general, was watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my father. He loved comedians and his favorite comedian was Alan King. I liked him too, even at that young age, but the first comedian that appealed to me as a boy was Allan Sherman and his album, My Son the Nut, and its chart-topping hit, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. That was 1963. My parents owned the album. I would lay on the floor, face up, with my head to the "stereo" and play it over and over again, and even today can follow along with most of the songs.
Jonathan Winters was another old favorite of mine. Winters is rightly called a comic genius and the inspiration to the more widely-known genius, Robin Williams, who could make me laugh as well. In the 60s, I loved Steve Allen and his talk show skits, and Dick Cavett, although the latter wasn't a comedian, per se, but his quick wit as an interviewer appealed to me as did the king of late night interviews, Johnny Carson.
In the early 70s, Steve Martin turned the comic world upside down for the baby-boomers with his satirical skits, Wild and Crazy Guys, and King Tut. Martin and the talented group of Saturday Night Live satirists brought something new to TV comedy and walk in the footsteps of Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, and Woody Allen. Billy Crystal combines qualities of both Mel Brooks' satire and the storytelling of Alan King (see the movie Mr. Saturday Night).
I'm too young to have seen Charlie Chaplin in silent-theater although I did watch replays on television, but never quite got it. I did get his comedic descendants, The Three Stooges. I'm old enough to have seen comedy change from slapstick to joke-telling to satire. And like all art forms, it has its highs and lows.
I was never a big fan of Lucille Ball or Jerry Lewis even though I recognize the talent, it just doesn't make me laugh. The old Dave Letterman shows I thought were funny. I did like some of Carole Burnett's work. I generally don't care for female stand-ups. My favorite female comic is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, although in the TV sitcom Veep, funny she is, but listening to a female use the F word a half dozen times an episode puts me off. Language, humor and everything else that is a part of daily life say something about who we are and what we value, and Veep descends into the banality of street jargon. That being said, her work in Seinfeld is as good as it gets. Hilariously funny.
I probably should add my favorite, more recent sitcoms, Office and Parks and Recreation, which I think are very funny, and cleverly written and performed, and which added another comic element to the sitcom, the acknowledgment of the third-party observer by the actors.
We find something funny for various reasons but it's almost always a "fracture" in reality as in an understated or exaggerated word, expression, or action, or a common frustration, or the accidental minor misfortunes of others. Humor like romance can't be analyzed and enjoyed simultaneously, it can't be commanded, and it's another one of those hard to define qualities that separate home-sapiens from the lower animals. Cows don't stand around and tell jokes.
Or do they?
|THE FAR SIDE, GARY LARSON|
There's an honesty to the comedy of Rickles, Sherman, King, Brooks, Allen, Crystal and many more from that era that is rooted in the Jewish tradition of self-effacement and pathos; and a recognition of man's smallness; and of his frustration with himself, his world, and with God who is always there, albeit somewhat eclipsed (see the movie Fiddler on the Roof). The one Catholic boy that fits perfectly into the tradition mentioned above and who I have overlooked is the great Jackie Gleason. He stands alone as the greatest in my opinion.
One last song from Sherman which shows his cleverness with words, and which, I think, still stands today as a pretty funny tune (of course, the video's images were added later).