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 Hill Show. The show was produced by Thames Television and was distributed to a worldwide audience of 93 different countries. The show consisted of a variety of sketches in which Hill gropes a girl, and then gets slapped and then they run around to the tune of “Yakety Sax”, which if you are familiar with Benny Hill at all is a song that is already rolling around in your head. You’re Welcome! READ MORE
This week, I decided to write about Rob Schneider after listening to him on Marc Maron’s WTF. The man who starred in dreck like The Animal, The Hot Chick, and Big Stan was on the show and he was laid back, interesting, and funny! He also had some fascinating insight into stand-up comedy. For example when talking about a venerated San Francisco comic, Schneider points out that while funny, the comic lacked the discipline to put together an act, which Schneider feels kept him from breaking nationally. Which is a pretty damned astute and reasonable advice for any comedian. READ MORE
Every once in a while the concept of “clean comedy” will come up, though never among those of us who are passionate about comedy because to us it simply isn’t an issue. We love comedy and whether that means listening to Doug Stanhope tell a filthy hooker story or Brian Regan talking about Fig Newtons, the only deciding factor in our enjoyment is, “is it funny?”
However, in the mainstream this is still a subject of fascination. They tend to marvel at comedians who choose to avoid dirty language in their acts as if those comics are pulling off some kind of magic trick. Unfortunately, this tends to have the reductive effect of dismissing comics who do use foul language, while coming off as patronizing toward the comic who chooses to perform without that language.
“Awww, look at you! You told a funny and didn’t even use a swear! Here’s a nickel, go get yourself some taffy!”
Sure, in my mind everyone still speaks like they live in the 1930s, but that doesn’t change the fact that this line of thinking can be aggravating. Do some comics use bad language as a crutch? Absolutely, but they tend to be either newbies or simply bad comedians. The dirty comics who are uncompromisingly filthy are often that way because after years of trial and error, found that through bad language they were best able to express their worldview. Seriously, does anyone think that Doug Stanhope or Jim Norton telling a hooker story on stage would be better served if they cut out the language?
And the “clean comedy” label is one that Sinbad has long bristled at himself. Like any human being, he does not like being put into a group and, in his words, “To me, you just play my comedy when you just call it clean.”
Sinbad’s got a point. It must be frustrating for any kind of artist to spend years developing a craft, just to have some critic come along and reduce your life’s work down to two words. It is also incredibly lazy. READ MORE
When I have children, I'll sit them on my lap and explain to them that when I was their age we had an expression about a piece of art that was not to our liking. That expression was, “not my cup of tea.” I'll explain to them that this expression was used when talking about a piece of art that, despite its pedigree and achievement, was simply not to a person’s liking. This phrase will seem very alien to my children since they will have been brought up exclusively in the Internet age. Today, there are two absolute ways to voice your opinion about a piece of art and they are as follows:
“That shit sucks.”
“That shit is amazeballs!”
Of course, once I'm finished with my lecture on olden times civility, they will walk away and whisper to each other, “damn, Dad’s story about old phrases sucked shit!” Then they will plod off to their holographic gaming device and spend several hours killing zombies, an experience they will consider to be “the most amazeballs shit EVR!!!”
Well, I assume that’s what it'll be like. One of the most lamentable facts about the Internet is that it's brought about a society in which moderate thought is simply not considered. Nothing is just “okay.” Either something sucks or it's amazing and it's this dichotomy of thought that has led to an infantile discourse in politics, to be sure, but that has also seeped into our discussions about something as trivial as televised situation comedies. Which leads us to Everybody Loves Raymond. READ MORE
During interviews for the 2009 feature film Funny People Judd Apatow, who shared an apartment with Adam Sandler in Los Angeles during the late 80s before they made it, often said that Sandler was one of the funniest people he knew. So funny, in fact, that he started tape recording the prank phone calls Sandler would make to keep for posterity. It was one of those phone calls that Apatow used in the opening scene of Funny People.
In this brief clip, we see why Apatow was keen on capturing the moment and why he was so confident that Sandler would go on to be a big star. Adopting the old lady voice that would become familiar to Sandler fans, the prank is fearless, irreverent, and sophomoric, three adjectives that would define much of Sandler’s work in the years to come. However, just exactly how big a star Sandler would end up being, perhaps not even Apatow could have guessed. READ MORE
For over half a century, Bob Hope was arguably the most famous and beloved comedian in America. Like most comics from his era, he started as a song and dance man in Vaudeville and slowly made his way up the ranks through radio, stage, and ultimately into the movies, where his brand of acerbic humor won him accolades as well as fame. Hope also became famous for his variety specials that aired on NBC as well as his unwavering commitment to entertaining American troops overseas through the USO. So what the hell is he doing in this series?
Just days after Hope’s death, Christopher Hitchens wrote what might be called an anti-obituary titled “Hopeless: Did Bob Hope ever say anything funny?” in which Hitchens wrote of Hope’s brand of humor, “This is comedy for people who have no sense of humor and who come determined to be entertained and laugh to show that they ‘get it.’” Never one for nuance, Hitchens’ attack on Hope seems as short sighted and ignorant as his infamous Vanity Fair piece about women in comedy (he was not a fan). Bizarrely, Hitchens praises both Mitlon Berle and Benny Hill in his tirade against Hope, so one should grab a fistful of salt when reading his article. Perhaps the most dishonest part of an article in which Hitchens asks if Hope was ever funny is the fact that he limits his target to the Hope of the late 1980s and 90s, when it could be argued that the great comedian did indeed lose his way. But for a career than spans three quarters of the 20th Century, it is a bit like saying Ben Stiller isn’t funny because you didn’t like The Watch. READ MORE
During the comedy boom of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Rosie O’Donnell was one of the fastest rising stars in the New York standup scene. At the time, there were half-hour comedy shows on just about every cable network, and O’Donnell appeared on just about every one of them. In fact, she would go on to replace comedian Bobby Collins as host for VH1’s foray into the stand-up business, unimaginatively titled Vh1’s Standup Spotlight.
However in the intervening years O’Donnell’s reputation as a comic has receded to a point that younger readers may even be surprised to hear she ever did standup at all. This may be because, except for the odd standup performance at charity functions, O’Donnell doesn’t perform as much as she used to. In the years since her rise through the standup comedy ranks, she has been a movie star, a talk show host (three times!), run her own magazine, and has become a vocal activist for gay rights (specifically advocating for the right of gay parents to adopt).
Throughout this time, O’Donnell has not been shy about voicing her political beliefs, which above all else may account for her diminished reputation in the comedy world. Which is a shame, really. At her best, O’Donnell’s acerbic style of comedy was biting without being off-putting, which is a difficult trick to pull off. Here is a clip from O’Donnell’s heyday: READ MORE
At times Carrot Top’s life seems like some sort of Faustian deal with the devil gone wrong (not that most deals with the devil go right). Carrot Top is one of the most recognizable comics working today and is in incredible shape (even more so now that he has lost the cartoonish bulk of his weightlifting days), yet he is the constant butt of jokes from comedians all over the country, arguably more so than the previous entrants in this series, Jeff Dunham and Larry the Cable Guy. While Larry the Cable Guy and Dunham seem to take their criticism with a grain of salt, Carrot Top seems to take his criticism with a weary resignation.
In an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast about a year and a half ago, Marc and Carrot Top dig deep into being comedy’s punching bag and Carrot Top answers with what amounts to a shrug. The subject seems important to Maron as throughout the interview he continues to circle back to it. And it's no wonder that Marc Maron, who obsesses over his standing in the comedy community and prides himself on his reputation as a “comic’s comic”, finds being so famous and yet so ridiculed such a fascinating subject. Perhaps it's the gold that Maron has struck in previous interviews with comics with Carrot Top-like inverse proportion to fame and respectability that Maron felt he should stay on this track, however the fireworks never come as even Carrot Top doesn't seem to really feel that he can adequately defend his act.
Which is too bad. While there's a lot to find fault with Carrot Top’s act, there's also much to be admired. With a stage filled with large trunks stuffed with props, Carrot Top, a whirling dervish of excitement and enthusiasm, pulls them out willy-nilly, shows them to the audience with a pun filled joke or a topical reference then thoughtlessly discards the item while digging through the trunk looking for more. If you don’t like one joke, two jokes, or even five in a row, there is one right around the corner, bound to get you and make you laugh in spite of yourself. READ MORE
Every week I'll be writing about a comedian who is wildly successful, yet receives little to no respect in the comedy community. I find this divide fascinating and wonder sometimes how the comedy idols I hold dear, like Paul F. Tompkins for example, are ignored by the masses, while comedians like Larry the Cable Guy are embraced on such a huge level. The easy answer is that just because something is popular doesn’t make it good. But there are a lot of very bad comedians who make a living on the road and they don't become national sensations. The other answer is that these comics have a lot of things working in their favor. Sometimes it is just a preternatural work ethic, or a ridiculous amount of charisma, and perhaps some will even be people who will surprise me with wit and jokes that I had not expected.
The first thing to remember about Larry the Cable Guy is that he is not a real person. The man behind the persona is a man named Daniel Whitney and he was born in Pawnee City, Nebraska and grew up on a pig farm as the son of a preacher. It would not be until he went to college and met his southern roommates that he learned how to perfectly speak in a southern accent.
Daniel Whitney started performing stand-up during his college days and ended up dropping out as his comedy career picked up steam. At around this time he added different characters to his act, one of which was a redneck character called Larry the Cable Guy. Before the inclusion of this character, his act was pretty basic middle of the road stuff. Looking at this clip, Whitney’s act seemed like he had more in common with Drew Carey than any of the Blue Collar boys. READ MORE
In 2010, Forbes ran a story about the ten highest paid comedians in the country and at the top of that list was ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. Through television specials, merchandise, and a rigorous touring schedule, Dunham had reached the top of his profession. Dunham is now a household name and a huge draw that sells out stadiums throughout the world.
That’s right, stadiums. Tickets for an upcoming show at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (the home stadium for the Tampa Bay Lightning) start at $90. Jeff Dunham not only plays these places, but tickets frequently sell out and they are not sold for a small amount of money. Dunham’s touring success naturally extends to his televised triumphs as well. His standup comedy specials continually set viewership records for Comedy Central and the only mis-step in his career seems to be his disastrous sketch comedy show for Comedy Central, The Jeff Dunham Show, that is diplomatically described as a “limited commitment series” on Dunham’s web site.
The question of whether Jeff Dunham is a great comedian or not is moot. The question standup neophytes would most benefit from asking is: what does Jeff Dunham get right? How did a ventriloquist become the highest paid stand-up comedian in the world? READ MORE
They say necessity is the mother of invention. That may true, but let’s not forget the three headed monster-father of vanity, greed, and laziness that plants the seed. Don’t get me wrong; this is a good thing. Without these important ingredients, we would be missing out on any number of inventions that make life oh so livable like cars, movies, and Spanx.
Luckily for us, comedians have all of these traits in spades! So, what happens when comedians decide to really put their nose to the grindstone and invent techniques that change the industry altogether?
Let’s find out! READ MORE
Oh, young people, just look at you! Wandering around with all of your stupid hope and possibility. You probably even think the future will be good or something. Just remember that life will beat the living hell out of you and one day your goals will turn from, “I am going to make a movie!” to “I am going to update my Netflix Queue!”
Well the good news is that as you get dragged kicking and screaming through life, there are always chances to make your dreams come true! Here is a list of comedians, ranging from stand-ups to writers, who didn’t make it until they were well into their thirties or older. I know, thirties, right? Gross! READ MORE
Oh fame, you are fickle temptress! While the Bill Hickses of the world receive your clammy embrace only after death, you mount yourself on a Dane Cook like a teenager after her first taste of Peach Schnapps! But there are no guarantees in this life. And there are no sure paths to becoming famous. Hundreds of top-notch stand-ups and sketch/improv performers are toiling away in obscurity at this very second (okay, maybe not this very second, but you get the gist).
So, how the hell do you become the next comedy sensation?
While most of our most renowned comedy performers have come up either through stand-up or sketch/improv (the two have been combine for brevity’s sake), there are a few talented writers and performers who find a work-around. Here are their stories. READ MORE
A few weeks ago I re-watched the venerable Mel Brooks film, Blazing Saddles. I hadn’t seen the movie in at least seven years, mostly because due to my near nightly screenings of it during my teens and early twenties, there was no point. The film had been committed to memory. After finding out that my girlfriend had seen the movie only once (obviously she must have had a full social life as a young person), I decided it was high time to see this film again.
But while watching it, I began to feel uncomfortable. In my memory, this was a madcap romp with jokes flying fast and furious, speeding past me like the bullets from Black Bart’s guns. What struck me, however, was that the pace was not nearly as quick as I remembered. The jokes didn’t fly at a devil-may-care pace. In fact, it moved pretty damned slowly.
Now, I would never argue against Blazing Saddles’ rightful place in the pantheon of classic comedies. It was and is a truly courageous, biting, and most importantly, hilarious comedy that performed double duty as fantastic spoof of the Western genre and as a brilliant satire of racial relations in America at that time. But the fast paced and layered comedies of today, such as Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Community, Knocked Up, and even The Hangover may have ruined my ability to enjoy the older classics such as Blazing Saddles. READ MORE