Wed, Oct 31, 2012 12:13 PM
If you've ever seen one of those old movies about ancient Rome
you'll always find the obligatory scene where the Emperor is
sitting around getting fed grapes by some young maidens while being
entertained by the "court jester." And the look of absolute fear in
the eyes of the jester is one that anyone who has seen a comedian
bomb will recognize. The ironic thing is that if the jester did not
make the Emperor laugh he would be killed. This is where the term
"dying" in front of a crowd comes from.
I've performed standup comedy many times during my career and I
can tell you without any doubt that it is the hardest form of
entertainment to pull off. Sometimes I would revert to comedy at a
music show because of a technical problem, and would "fill time"
until it was resolved. Or a few times I'd tell some jokes or funny
stories because I had lost my singing voice. You know, the
necessity being 'the mother of invention' deal.
In keeping with the format of my column I will speak of some of
my favorite standup comedians, and also share some insight into the
world of "funny," at least that is my hope.
As a child of the 60's I can tell you that the Tonight Show was
the place comedy careers were launched. When you got "a shot on
Carson" you went from being a $100 a night comedian to a $5,000 a
night headliner in one fell swoop. And if you were lucky enough to
get the wave over from Johnny, and invited to sit on the couch that
was the endorsement that launched careers into super stardom.
Comedians like Freddia Prinze, David Steinberg, David Brenner,
Rosanne Barr, Tim Allen, and yes even Jay Leno were just a few of
the anointed ones who went onto big paydays in Las Vegas and
But the comedian that was made on the Tonight Show was the great
Rodney Dangerfield. Truth is that Rodney's first real big break was
as a last minute fill in on the Ed Sullivan Show in the summer of
1967. His nervous demeanor and tag line "I get no respect" caught
on quickly and in the next ten years he became a sure hit whenever
he appeared on a number of shows, most notably the Dean Martin Show
and the Tonight Show. His standup was the door opener to Hollywood,
where Rodney enjoyed great success in movies like, "Caddyshack,"
"Easy Money" and "Back to School." Rodney Dangerfield comedy
legend. We miss ya Rodney.
Ethnic comedy has always been the grassroots, proving ground for
many up and coming standups. Whether it was the Borscht Belt
(Catskills area of Upstate New York) Jewish comedians like Jackie
Mason, Myron Cohen, or Henny Youngman, or great Chitlin Circuit
(Southern black night clubs) icons like Redd Foxx, and Moms Mabley,
ethnic humor has been fertile soil for great comedy.
We can also see in the last twenty years emerging styles like
the "blue collar" comedy, that started with Jeff Foxworthy and his
"you know you're a redneck if....." This can be traced directly to
ethnic comedy, or sometimes referred to as "niche comedy." This
targeting of a specific audience provided an opportunity for
comedians to gain great crossover appeal, resulting in a larger and
diverse audience. Nowadays you can walk into a comedy club and see
a Chris Rock playing to a largely white audience, as well as see a
wide demographic at a Jerry Seinfeld show, which only proves what
we all know: "funny is funny."
In closing my friends I suggest in the YouTube era to check out
some great old school comedians online, like Jackie Vernon, Joan
Rivers, Richard Prior, Dick Gregory, as well as some of the above
mentioned purveyors of comedic verbiage. Because there ain't no
such thing as too much laughter my friends.