Sunday, April 23, 2017

Don Rickles and the Comedians

The recent passing of the great Don Rickles got me reminiscing about Rickles and the comedians I've enjoyed over the years.

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 company's 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. It was Rickles and he roasted everyone: Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Italians, Irish. My employers were Jewish and they laughed hardest at the Jewish jokes. I was hooked.

My earliest memory of comedians, in general, was watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my father who loved laughter and a good joke. His favorite comic was Alan King. I liked him too, even at that young age, but the first comedian who 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. They 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 not old enough to have seen Charlie Chaplin in silent-theater although I did watch re-runs on television, but never quite got him. 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 the homo-sapien from the lower animals. Cows don't stand around and tell jokes.

Or do they?




I like the self-deprecating humor of the Jewish comedians: Rickles, Sherman, King, Brooks, Allen, and Crystal, which has its origin, I think, in the Jewish pathos (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.

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).

One Hippopotomi



John said...

I never got Don Rickles. In fact, I found his style of humor to be cringeworthy and uncomfortable. This is a bit odd because I initially thought Dave Chappele made me feel uncomfortable but then I found him hilarious.

My humor initiation was an LP of George Carlin's skits that my buddy across the street let me borrow.

What do I think is funny? I could read cartoonist B. Kliban all day. Think of him as Gary Larson on acid. And the movie Kung Pow keeps me in stitches. Otherwise, I like watching bloopers videos from comedy movies on YouTube because I find the laughter to me more genuine than a written gag.

Francis Shivone said...

I thought of Carlin after I wrote this and may have to add him. His stand-up on Carson is some of the best. As a 60's kid I get Carlin. I've never listened to his LPs.

I've never watched or listened to Chappelle, I'll look up Kilban.

Some bloopers/outtakes are as funny as it gets.

I appreciate your comments.