Tag Archives: comedians

Danny Kaye

Archive photo from the Los Angeles Times

Archive photo from the Los Angeles Times

My childhood was shaped by television events like the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz and classic movies on Friday nights when I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the whole thing.  I have told you before how much I loved the comedy of Red Skelton.  Another comedian who shaped who I am through his wondrously manic movie performances was Danny Kaye.

One of those Friday movie classics that really struck home was the wonderful, kid-friendly movie Hans Christian Andersen.

1952 movie poster from Wikipedia

1952 movie poster from Wikipedia

The movie was about a storyteller from a previous century and embroidered his biographical story with his famous children’s stories in the form of songs.  And Danny Kaye could trip through multi-syllabic, fast-paced musical numbers like no other rubber-faced clown I have ever seen.   I wanted to be such a story-teller from a very early age.  I even wanted to write the kind of stories that could be made into songs.  Let me show you a few of the bits that amazed me and killed me with laughter.

This song from the Inspector General was doubly engaging because the corrupt businessmen were trying to poison the character Danny played with the wine he was supposed to drink during the drinking song.

The_Five_Pennies

The movies Danny Kaye was in were mostly about the musical comedy.  But sometimes they were just about the music.  He appeared in musicals like White Christmas with Bing Crosby and stage musicals like Lady in the Dark which won him awards on Broadway.  He made movies about music like The Five Pennies and A Song is Born.  He always said he couldn’t read music, but he demonstrated perfect pitch and scored a number one hit with The Woody Woodpecker Song recorded for the animated cartoons of Walter Lantz.  How cool is that?

And you already know that The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time.  In 1964 Danny became the host for CBS’s annual showing of the film.  He was able to do funny songs that made you snort your hot cocoa through your nose from laughing, and he could also do beautiful ballads like these.

I will always take the opportunity to watch a Danny Kaye movie one more time, whether it comes on YouTube or a Netflix oldie or a $5 DVD from the bin at the front of the Walmart Superstore.  And I will always think of him in his role as Hans Christian Anderson.

Oh, and he was a very funny comedian too when he wasn’t singing, as in The Court Jester and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

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Filed under autobiography, comedians, humor

Sometimes Humor Isn’t Funny

He isn’t the funniest late night comedian.  But he is, in my opinion, one of the top three.  I rarely watch him anywhere but on YouTube, well after the fact.  But his monologue about the birth of his son had me riveted.  Is it possible to dry yourself out completely and turn yourself to powder just by crying?  That’s what it felt like.

If you haven’t already seen it, you should.  But having a heart means you will need something to mop up the tears.  The people whose job it is to make you laugh sometimes make a more important point by making you cry.  True, I may be more affected by his story about spending time in an ER in agony over what happens next to your child because I have been there with my own children.  I have lived it.  And the story he tells brings it all back like the storm has started raining sledge hammers instead of rain.  But anyone with at least a little bit of empathy will get the point he is trying to make.

Humor is like that.  It makes you laugh to soften the pain.  But it also makes you cry because that is how it changes you for the better.

In Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,  I find a lot of things to laugh it.  The schemes of the King and Duke are ridiculous and they get what’s coming to them by the end.  Yet, I cried at the part where Huck finds the dead body of his young friend Buck Grangerford shot to death in the creek by the feuding Shepherdsons.  It was a totally brutal and senseless death.  And we learn more about the hypocrisy of slavery and its injustice and cruelty by the sadder, more painful things that happen to Jim along the journey.  Humor is meant to be weapon against the things that harm us.  And sometimes the people who harm us.

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It is relatively easy to laugh at the mutant racist orangutan we accidentally elected to lead us.  But the laughing part is not the part we need right now.

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The damage he is doing may be permanent and irreparable.  He is trying to profit off of health care reform and destroying it in ways that may kill many of us.  He may have already done permanent harm to the environment by removing regulations with executive orders.  There is reason not only to be moved to tears, but to be horrified to the point that we need to take immediate action.

Jimmy Kimmel has been through a hard thing and deserves our empathy.  But even more that that, if you heard the appeal at the end of his monologue, the tears he made us cry are reason to take action, and thank him for his courage in using his tragic moment to lead the way.

 

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Filed under angry rant, comedians, humor, insight, inspiration, politics

The Art of Being Stupid

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My title today may prompt you to think, “Apparently, when Mickey does art it is stupid art.”  If my title didn’t make you think that, then my first sentence certainly did.  I am literally putting stupid ideas into your head.  And this is a problem because the people currently at the top of the people pile that is our modern society are  shoveling great smelly heaps of stupidity directly into our brains.

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I know stupid.  I was a public school teacher for thirty-one years.  No one survives the mine-field of stupid bombs in the classroom without being able to recognize the incoming booby-head missiles.  Years worth of lame homework excuses have made stupidity easily recognizable.  Being stupid is easy.  Countering it is hard.

So how does one be stupid?  I nearly found out yesterday as I was driving on an access road for I-35.  I was going the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit and got a phone call on my cell phone.  All I did was look at my phone to see who was calling in case another school child was calling because  pollen season was killing them again and they wanted to come home from school… again.  My son shouted a warning of imminent death and I looked back at the road in time to see the car dealer had left a car-carrier trailer in the road with the ramp down.  Wow!  That was almost an epic Evel Knievel stunt.

But being epically stupid is simply a matter of not paying attention well enough.  It is easy to achieve.  Note how often President Cheeto-head achieves it.

I have also found it to be a remarkably easy thing to be stupid on Facebook and Twitter.  All you have to do is post and repost stuff, or tweet and retweet stuff, that speaks to your own prejudices and ignores what is factual and what is not.  I have seen very elaborate anti-climate change graphs that seem to show a correlation between sun activity and periods of warming and cooling climate.  The biggest problem with this frequently debunked “take-that-and-stuff-it!” evidence is that it was created by a pair of propagandists with oil-company ties who were only masquerading as climate scientists.

When you vet that source and introduce evidence to your conservative Facebook friend you will get back a horrified speculation about the depths of your own stupidity for believing that Snopes.com is not also propaganda and you can’t believe everything NASA says because their funding is at stake.  And I end up having to admit I do say similar things about their cherished sources like Infowars, Breitbart, and Fox News.  Truth is apparently more the product of faith than it is the province of science.

Besides not knowing what facts are, it is fairly easy to be monumentally stupid by having no empathy at all.  Iowegians who would bend over backwards and feed their own liver to a hungry Iowan, will routinely cry about the dangers of Sharia law and talk about wall building at the sight of Syrian widows and orphans.   And don’t even get me started about shoot-first Texans.  Not after they just shot and killed another unarmed black teenager in Balch Springs.

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So how do you make an Art out of Stupid?

Well, the CBS Morning News has started running down the key events in the news with snippets quoted from late-night TV hosts and comedians like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah, and James Corden.  You defeat stupidity by aping it, imitating it, and making people laugh at it.  It is really defeated when you make someone laugh about their own stupidity, like the story about me and the I-35 launch ramp.  Comedians seem to be the only ones effectively reporting on the current Presidential situation, and even CNN and MSNBC news anchors have begun making jokes in their reporting.  I have become a lover of political cartoons like never before.

downloadYou may not be able to rescue other people’s minds from being stupid.  But what you can do and be artful about is… make them laugh.

 

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Filed under angry rant, education, humor, memes, politics, red States, satire

Danny Kaye

Archive photo from the Los Angeles Times

Archive photo from the Los Angeles Times

My childhood was shaped by television events like the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz and classic movies on Friday nights when I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the whole thing.  I have told you before how much I loved the comedy of Red Skelton.  Another comedian who shaped who I am through his wondrously manic movie performances was Danny Kaye.

One of those Friday movie classics that really struck home was the wonderful, kid-friendly movie Hans Christian Andersen.

1952 movie poster from Wikipedia

1952 movie poster from Wikipedia

The movie was about a storyteller from a previous century and embroidered his biographical story with his famous children’s stories in the form of songs.  And Danny Kaye could trip through multi-syllabic, fast-paced musical numbers like no other rubber-faced clown I have ever seen.   I wanted to be such a story-teller from a very early age.  I even wanted to write the kind of stories that could be made into songs.  Let me show you a few of the bits that amazed me and killed me with laughter.

This song from the Inspector General was doubly engaging because the corrupt businessmen were trying to poison the character Danny played with the wine he was supposed to drink during the drinking song.

The_Five_Pennies

The movies Danny Kaye was in were mostly about the musical comedy.  But sometimes they were just about the music.  He appeared in musicals like White Christmas with Bing Crosby and stage musicals like Lady in the Dark which won him awards on Broadway.  He made movies about music like The Five Pennies and A Song is Born.  He always said he couldn’t read music, but he demonstrated perfect pitch and scored a number one hit with The Woody Woodpecker Song recorded for the animated cartoons of Walter Lantz.  How cool is that?

And you already know that The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time.  In 1964 Danny became the host for CBS’s annual showing of the film.  He was able to do funny songs that made you snort your hot cocoa through your nose from laughing, and he could also do beautiful ballads like these.

I will always take the opportunity to watch a Danny Kaye movie one more time, whether it comes on YouTube or a Netflix oldie or a $5 DVD from the bin at the front of the Walmart Superstore.  And I will always think of him in his role as Hans Christian Anderson.

Oh, and he was a very funny comedian too when he wasn’t singing, as in The Court Jester and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

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Filed under autobiography, comedians, humor

Now, That’s Entertainment! (reposted for the love of laughter)

ImageImage

 

(pictures borrowed from; http://www.whenmoviesweremovies.com/RedSkeltonimages.html, http://godcelebs.com/22413-red-skelton.html,  http://vint-rad.blogspot.com/2013_03_01_archive.html)

How do you spell comedy?  R-E-D-S-K-E-L-T-O-N!  For real, that’s how I spelled it during a third grade spelling bee in 1965.  Pretty dang dumb, wasn’t I?  But it got a laugh from the prettiest girl in class.  I truly couldn’t get enough of Red Skelton on Wednesday nights.  It was on past my bedtime, but Dad always let me watch, because… well, I think it was his favorite show too.  George Appleby always trying to get something past his wife who would always catch him and punish him soundly for something that truthfully wasn’t his fault.  That con man tricked him into drinking that stuff that made him act like an insane lady’s man.  San Fernando Red pulling a gag on the man with the silver six-gun and hoofing it out of town before the townsfolk caught on to him with the tar and feathers.  He never truly got what he had coming, or what he wanted, either.  Someone else got it instead.  Freddy the Freeloader making even poverty and homelessness funny.  He never passed up a cigar butt in the street and found a dime on every sidewalk.

Image

I always thought that if it was going to be funny, it had to be done Red’s way.  Let’s face it, there were two kinds of humor back then and only one my parents truly approved of.  They were Eisenhower Republicans living in Iowa, the heart of the Midwest.  Red’s gentle humor, with its hidden ribald parts, could profoundly make you laugh, and once in a while bring a tear into your eye.  It was never mean-spirited or cruel.  It never made a political or religious point.  It always assumed that all people were good deep down, and even the bad guys could be reformed with the right joke or prank to make them see the error of their ways.  That was comedy.

ImageImageImage

The other kind, the scary kind was Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.  They would say bad words, even though you couldn’t say Carlin’s famous seven words on TV back then.  They made jokes about dark and desperate things.  Democratic political conventions in Chicago, the Viet Nam War, racial tension, the Black Panthers, these were all fair game for satire and black humor.  Their jokes assumed that all people were basically bad and greedy and ignorant… full of malice towards all.  Not even the comedian himself was assumed to be the exception to the rule.

And seriously un-funny things were happening.  Kennedy was shot in 1963.  Another Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.  were both killed in 1968.  Patty Hearst was first kidnapped by and then somehow forced to be a part of the Symbionese  Liberation Army.  Chaos took the world we knew and turned it upside down.  You had to learn to laugh at dark things, because laughing was somehow better than crying and hurting inside.  The pictures of the My Lai Massacre in Life Magazine made me sick to my stomach for weeks.  I did everything I could in class to make that pretty girl laugh, and when I couldn’t… I had to shut up for a while.  I had to think.

I decided early on that I needed humor to live.  I had to have the funny parts in my life in order to ward off the darkness.  I whistled walking home from choir practice at the Methodist church on dark November nights.  I told jokes to the rustling leaves and invisible hoot owls.  I got by.

So, what is the lesson learned?  If you read this far without gagging, then you know I mix a little funny with a little sad… and try to make a serious point in my writing.  Maybe I’m a fool to do it, but I truly believe that Red had it right.  People are basically good.  You can reform a bad guy with a good joke.   You can get by in the dark times.

If dark times are truly here again, then maybe that is why I have to tell my stories, make a few jokes, and make people think.  I know I may be killing you with boredom by now, but that’s what I do.  I’m a professional English teacher.   I bore people to death.  And if you read this far, and you’re still alive, maybe I can make you a little bit smarter too.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Now, That’s Entertainment!

How do you spell comedy?  R-E-D-S-K-E-L-T-O-N!  For real, that’s how I spelled it during a third grade spelling bee in 1965.  Pretty dang dumb, wasn’t I?  But it got a laugh from the prettiest girl in class.  I truly couldn’t get enough of Red Skelton on Wednesday nights.  It was on past my bedtime, but Dad always let me watch, because… well, I think it was his favorite show too.  George Appleby always trying to get something past his wife who would always catch him and punish him soundly for something that truthfully wasn’t his fault.  That con man tricked him into drinking that stuff that made him act like an insane lady’s man.  San Fernando Red pulling a gag on the man with the silver six-gun and hoofing it out of town before the townsfolk caught on to him with the tar and feathers.  He never truly got what he had coming, or what he wanted, either.  Someone else got it instead.  Freddy the Freeloader making even poverty and homelessness funny.  He never passed up a cigar butt in the street and found a dime on every sidewalk.

Image

 

    picture from  boomermagonline.com

I always thought that if it was going to be funny, it had to be done Red’s way.  Let’s face it, there were two kinds of humor back then and only one my parents truly approved of.  They were Eisenhower Republicans living in Iowa, the heart of the Midwest.  Red’s gentle humor, with its hidden ribald parts, could profoundly make you laugh, and once in a while bring a tear into your eye.  It was never mean-spirited or cruel.  It never made a political or religious point.  It always assumed that all people were good deep down, and even the bad guys could be reformed with the right joke or prank to make them see the error of their ways.  That was comedy.

The other kind, the scary kind was Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.  They would say bad words, even though you couldn’t say Carlin’s famous seven words on TV back then.  They made jokes about dark and desperate things.  Democratic political conventions in Chicago, the Viet Nam War, racial tension, the Black Panthers, these were all fair game for satire and black humor.  Their jokes assumed that all people were basically bad and greedy and ignorant… full of malice towards all.  Not even the comedian himself was assumed to be the exception to the rule.

And seriously un-funny things were happening.  Kennedy was shot in 1963.  Another Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.  were both killed in 1968.  Patty Hearst was first kidnapped by and then somehow forced to be a part of the Symbionese  Liberation Army.  Chaos took the world we knew and turned it upside down.  You had to learn to laugh at dark things, because laughing was somehow better than crying and hurting inside.  The pictures of the My Lai Massacre in Life Magazine made me sick to my stomach for weeks.  I did everything I could in class to make that pretty girl laugh, and when I couldn’t… I had to shut up for a while.  I had to think.

I decided early on that I needed humor to live.  I had to have the funny parts in my life in order to ward off the darkness.  I whistled walking home from choir practice at the Methodist church on dark November nights.  I told jokes to the rustling leaves and invisible hoot owls.  I got by.

So, what is the lesson learned?  If you read this far without gagging, then you know I mix a little funny with a little sad… and try to make a serious point in my writing.  Maybe I’m a fool to do it, but I truly believe that Red had it right.  People are basically good.  You can reform a bad guy with a good joke.   You can get by in the dark times.

If dark times are truly here again, then maybe that is why I have to tell my stories, make a few jokes, and make people think.  I know I may be killing you with boredom by now, but that’s what I do.  I’m a professional English teacher.   I bore people to death.  And if you read this far, and you’re still alive, maybe I can make you a little bit smarter too.

 

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