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Posts tagged as history

Hope-Less: How Different Would Standup Be Without Bob Hope?

The truth is, Bob Hope actually dug Lenny Bruce, he really did — even considered him “brilliant,” according to Richard Zoglin in his new biography Hope: Entertainer of the Century. Zoglin tells the story of Hope dropping in on a Florida nightclub to check out Bruce’s act. “Bruce introduced Hope in the audience and after the show,” writes Zoglin, “ran into the parking lot to flag him down, asking Hope if he would give Bruce a guest spot on one of his TV shows. Hope laughed him off: ‘Lenny, you’re for educational TV.’”

Whether there was more sharpness or self-deprecation in Hope’s remark, it’s a tender moment between two [...]

Puck Magazine and the Birth of Modern Political Cartooning

In the late 19th Century, long before Mad Magazine and the Daily Show, there was Puck. The magazine helped to change the very nature of political cartooning, was at the forefront of printing technology and agitating for progressive causes during the Gilded Age — and is even credited with helping to put Grover Cleveland in the White House in the election of 1884! In their new book What Fools These Mortals Be: The Story of Puck, America’s First and Most Influential Magazine of Color Political Cartoons writers Michael Alexander Kahn and Richard West look at the history and the influence of the magazine. Richard West has written extensively about [...]

Watch Louis C.K., Stephen Colbert, and Conan Give the Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address 150 years ago this month, and documentarian Ken Burns has been asking people to film themselves reciting the famous speech and put it online at LearnTheAddress.org. Here's Stephen Colbert doing it in character as Lincoln with a beard and hat above and Conan O'Brien and Louis C.K., who does his with Jerry Seinfeld in the room, below (via Vulture):

Unearthing John Swartzwelder's 1996 Unsold Western Pilot

Antenna Free TV has a piece today on a near-mythical pilot from 1996 called Pistol Pete, written by the also near-mythical Simpsons scribe John Swartzwelder. A kooky, comic western, and an unmade show on par with cult lost gems like Lookwell and Heat Vision and Jack, it starred Brian Doyle-Murray and Steve Kearney, whom Harris tinterviews. Swartzwelder even makes a brief statement about the show, and shows up in a photo, both of which are remarkable, because if you know anything about the incredibly reclusive comic genius, it's that he's an incredibly reclusive comic genius.

That's Not Funny, That's Sexist: The Controversial Legacy of Benny Hill

The Benny Hill Show towered over even Monty Python in terms of worldwide appeal and popularity in its hey day, which is just astounding. However, history rewards the victors and while Monty Python looms large over sketch comedy even today, Benny Hill has been reduced to a curious footnote in comedy history. While both share an enthusiasm for absurdity, Monty Python’s sketches often featured a healthy dose of cerebral satire buried within the anarchic foolishness. Hill, however, strikes modern viewers as broad and cartoonish, avoiding subtly altogether.

Make no mistake; Benny Hill was a huge comedic presence for twenty years (1969-1989) during the run of his titular The Benny [...]

Exploring the Hidden Racist Past of the Looney Toons

I have an uncomfortable confession to make: I have never liked the Looney Tunes. Despite the cultural pervasiveness of these characters, and a lifelong love of animation on my part, they’ve always struck me as annoying, repetitive, and boring — for all the pandemonium that Bugs Bunny and his ilk ostensibly represent, their chaos is bland, their destruction is predictable, and their lineage is corporate.

To be fair, my exposure to Looney Tunes at the time bore that out pretty well: I grew up in the age of Space Jam and the slew of jerseys, sneakers, McDonald’s toys, pogs, and cookie jars that film spawned. Today is no better, [...]

What's So Special About 'The Richard Pryor Special'?

There's a famous story about The Richard Pryor Show — as Richard Pryor's star was rising in Hollywood in the 1970s, NBC commissioned the man to make a 10-episode sketch program to be broadcast in prime time. Family-friendly viewing not being Pryor's first priority, he clashed with the censors again and again until finally they let him off with only four episodes. These four episodes are still credited with an enormous influence over the genre of TV sketch comedy — directly cited by future blockbusters such as In Living Color and Chapelle's Show — and launching the careers of several performers, including the late Robin Williams in one of his [...]

Finding Long Lost Jack Benny Episodes

The last time on From the Archives that we checked in on Jack Benny, it was towards the end of his career, in 1973. While he was getting on in years, his oft-complimented timing was still just as sharp as it always was, and he still put on a good show. However, judging any comedian's performance at the age of 79 seems a little unfair, unless they're George Burns, so today we're going to examine Jack Benny at his peak, with the help of the new Shout Factory DVD The Jack Benny Show: The Lost Episodes.

I've spoken many times in this column about the various studios [...]

Big and Glossy and Wonderful: The Birth of the 'National Lampoon' Magazine

The first issue of the National Lampoon appeared in April 1970 and sold fewer than half of the five hundred thousand copies printed. Some readers may have thought they were buying yet another Harvard Lampoon magazine parody, understandably confused by a cover that was a variation on their recent Time parody; a dimly lit model in revealing costume posed against a muddy brown background with the caption “Sexy Cover Issue.” Less predictably, next to the model was a grinning cartoon duck — a Doug Kenney idea. “Henry would say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do an interview with [legendary New Yorker humorist] S. J. Perelman,’ and Doug would say, ‘We [...]

New Sketches in an Old Package: 22 Examples of New 'SNL' Content that Debuted in Reruns

Reruns of Saturday Night Live are usually edited somewhat from the original live broadcasts.  These edits are often just minor fixes of technical issues and improvements to the sound mix, but throughout the show’s history, the reruns have also cut entire sketches, or replaced them with dress rehearsal performances.

On rare occasions, a repeat of Saturday Night Live will feature new content.  This usually happens when another segment is cut from the rerun, and something is needed to fill time.  In the earlier seasons, sketches would often be added from different week’s shows, but even as early as Season 2, original content has turned up in an SNL rerun.  [...]

How Bill Cosby Helped Launch Joan Rivers' Comedy Career

By the time she died, Joan Rivers had such an engraved image as an outrageous, foul-mouthed comedian that it’s hard to believe that she started out intending to be a dramatic stage actress. In the late fifties, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College with a degree in English lit and anthropology, she even played the then-daring part of lesbian in a play called “Driftwood” that had a six-week run in a 40-seat attic theater on West 49th Street. (Her lover was another still undiscovered young actress by the name of Barbra Streisand.) By the early sixties, however, Rivers wasn’t getting much theater work, so she accepted an offer [...]

Watch Woody Allen's Incredibly Rare Short Film 'Men of Crisis'

One of the rarest pieces of comedy of the modern era, Woody Allen's short film Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story, has appeared on YouTube. Originally made for PBS but deemed too critical of the Nixon administration to air, the film has never been officially released.

For more info on Men of Crisis, see the first installment of our ongoing column "From the Archives."

The Best of 'Army Man,' the Humor Magazine That Was the Foundation of the Original 'Simpsons' Writers Room

If there is such a thing as a cult comedy magazine, it's Army Man, America's Only Magazine. With a writing staff that included George Meyer, Jack Handey, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, David Sacks, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Andy Borowitz, Roz Chast, Ian Frazier, Bob Odenkirk, and many many more, it's criminal that Army Man isn't more well known.

But the humor magazine ran for only three short issues and was never widely distributed. It was a homemade production, each 'zine photocopied and stapled by comedy genius George Meyer. The quality of the humor is only surpassed by the the caliber of the writing staff and their subsequent projects. Most famously, creator [...]

The Unsung Brilliance of Tom Lehrer

One of the sharpest wits of the 1950s and ‘60s was Tom Lehrer, the mathematician-turned-satirist who sang and performed blackly comic songs lampooning social norms, musical genres and the headlines of the day. In his foreword to the CD collection The Remains of Tom Lehrer, Dr. Demento calls Lehrer “the most brilliant song satirist ever recorded,” and “Weird Al” Yankovic has referred to him as “the J.D. Salinger of demented music.” Yet for all this, Lehrer remains little-known to many contemporary comedy aficionados. This is unfortunate, because though his catalog is relatively limited — a few dozen songs — each is a gem, brimming with biting humor and genuine musical [...]