David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy: Language, Laughs

Language

• Between 1935 and 1940, Buster Keaton was making films in foreign countries. Movies had sound then, so he recorded the movies in various languages, learning a sentence in one language and recording it, and then learning that sentence in another language and recording it, and so on. For one movie, he recorded the dialogue in French and in Spanish, and he did OK. But his German language instructor noticed a problem with his German: “Oh, I understand him very well, only he’s speaking with a French-Spanish accent.”

• Near the end of his life, Monty Python member Graham Chapman used to go to college campuses where he showed film clips of his work and told anecdotes. (The author of the book you are reading now saw Mr. Chapman when he appeared at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.) He usually began his talk by asking his audience to hurl verbal abuse at him for ten seconds. Why? According to Mr. Chapman, “It would certainly save a lot of time later on.”

• In his stand-up act, comedian Drew Carey uses a lot of profanity, but of course on his TV sitcom The Drew Carey Show he could not use nearly as much profanity as he does in his stand-up comedy. In fact, he remembers his first memo from the network censor, who wrote about the script for an episode, “Please note the excessive use of ‘h*ll’ and ‘d*mn’ found on pages 4, 20, 21, 22, 28, 38, 40, and 52, and reduce this number by half.”

• Will Rogers developed his writing skills in vaudeville. At first his was a dumb act — meaning he didn’t speak in it. However, Will wanted to impress his audience with the difficulty of some of his tricks — such as throwing two ropes simultaneously and roping both a horse and its rider — and so he began talking to the audience. The audience found Will and his Oklahoma accent pleasing, and he began to make jokes.

• It can hurt you not to know your audience. Stand-up comedian Judy Carter once opened for Jim Nabors in Kansas, where she said, “You know what really p*sses me off?” Big mistake. Kansas audiences in general and Jim Nabors fans in particular find the word “p*sses” offensive.

• Comedian Phyllis Diller was a frequent visitor to the Playboy Mansion in Chicago, Illinois. The door to the Playboy Mansion bears a brass plate with this Latin inscription: “Si Non Oscillas, Non Tintinnare.” (“If You Don’t Swing, Don’t Ring.”)

Laughs

• Who wrote the world’s funniest joke? English comedian Spike Milligan did. No, that’s not personal opinion. A professor studied this subject. Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, posted several jokes online, then asked people to vote on which one was the funniest joke. Over 300,000 people from all over the world did just that. Later, after the results were tallied, Professor Wiseman saw some 1951 footage of the Goons in their very first television appearance. The footage showed the Goons doing a version of the joke voted funniest in the world. And Spike Mulligan had written the jokes in that footage. So what is the funniest joke in the world? Updated for modern times, it is this: Two people go hunting, and a terrible accident occurs, severely injuring and perhaps killing one of the hunters. The uninjured hunter gets on his cell phone and calls 911, then sobs as he says, “There’s been a terrible accident, and the friend I was hunting with is dead!” The 911 operator replies, “Please be calm, sir. The first thing we need to do is to make sure that your friend is dead.” The 911 operator hears silence on the telephone for a moment, then he hears the sound of a shot, and the hunter says, “OK. Now what?”

• Buddy Hackett was dining with a group of comedian friends when a woman approached the table and said that she wanted to tell a joke. Mr. Hackett told her, “Lady, go tell your joke at a table where amateurs are sitting. We’re professionals here. We got all the jokes we can handle.” By the way, if you ever want to make a comedian angry, here’s an excellent way to do it. Buddy Hackett almost had a role in Martin Scorsese’s excellent movie Goodfellas. Mr. Scorsese even came over to Buddy’s house and explained Buddy’s role in the movie — he would be in the background telling part of a joke. Buddy walked over to a window, then invited Mr. Scorsese to come over and look at the view. Buddy asked him, “Isn’t that a beautiful lawn?” Mr. Scorsese agreed that it was a beautiful lawn. Buddy then told him, “Take a real good look because you will never be back in this house again. Part of a joke! Get the f**k outta here!”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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