Thursday, July 8, 2010

What is Funny, Anyway?

In 1956, I was 17. I made my first trip to New York that year. Jazz was seriously on the place. Teagarden at the Round Table, Gene Krupa at the Metropole, Red Allen was there too in another band. I went to Jimmy Ryan’s every night for there the great Wilbur de Paris band was at its zenith. And what a band it was.

All these things will be chased around in future blogs. But wait!

While I was in New York in 1956, one of the movie houses was running W.C. Fields movies- a week-long festival. I went there and saw a different Fields film every day. The classics I saw included “It’s a Gift,” which is often spoken of as Fields’ masterpiece.

I left New York with a better understanding of what a jazz band should be and with my concept changed forever about what was and what was not funny.

The more modern comics I mostly prefer to skip, enjoying so much more the works of Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Ben Turpin, Fields and a few others. I have suggested to my wife Tina that if I am ever confined to a bed, she will almost certainly cause me to become well by setting me up to watch the old comedy movies. “It’s a Gift,” is my favorite movie of all time.

But there is another more modern movie that I would like to have included: “Young Frankenstein” by Mel Brooks. This movie is for me! If you haven’t seen it, I recommend a quick trip to Blockbuster video or Netflix.

Recently, my wife, Tina, and I went to see “Young Frankenstein – the Musical,” a road show touring from what I assume was a hugely successful run on Broadway.

Here in San Antonio, these things almost always play at the Majestic Theatre and the Majestic Theatre is one of a cluster of classic movie palaces across the USA. Just to walk into the place and see it without a play is worth a lot. But, of course, we were there for all the bells and whistles.

Okay, here is my verdict: This “Young Frankenstein” was about the most fun I ever had at a play. I thought it was, as Louis would quip, “a gasser!”

If you have, as we used to say, “even a Chinaman’s chance” you should grab it and pay the bread and see this thing fast.

Of course, the famous climax of “Young Frankenstein” is the monster in top hat, white tie, tails and walking stick dancing and singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” all out of meter.

At intermission I peered into the orchestra pit and saw several of our San Antonio aces resting their chops having wailed out the first half of the tricky New York score. One was John Carroll, who also is the principal trumpet player in the San Antonio Symphony. Also looking up from the floor of the pit, was Ron Wilkins, trombonist and jazz virtuoso the likes of which cannot be found anywhere, even New York (no kidding). Ron used to play a lot at the Landing and he still blows a set at the Landing on rare occasions, but usually he is a big shot over at the University of Texas.

Back to what is funny. Check out the amazing tickling scene from Laurel and Hardy’s “Way Out West.”

“Give me that deed to the gold mine,” a woman says to Stan Laurel.

Stan shakes his head and puts the deed in his shirt.

“Give me that deed or else,” she says, approaching slowly with clenched fists.

Stan is resolute.

The woman makes a dive for the deed and an insane tickling scene ensues – a perfectly choreographed wrestling match full of Stan's insane, high-pitched laughter and convulsing.

The scene is crazy, random and hilarious.

Here’s what Stan Laurel thought about comedy: “A friend once asked me what comedy was. That floored me. What is comedy? I don't know. Does anybody? Can you define it? All I know is that I learned how to get laughs, and that's all I know about it. You have to learn what people will laugh at, then proceed accordingly,” he said.

Okay, this is the end of Le Blog Hot for today, but listen, and seriously, try to see that road show. I posted videos of Stan Laurel being tickled and "Puttin' on the Ritz" following this blog for your enjoyment.

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