Friday, December 03, 2010

Make 'Em Laugh - 15 Things

So we talked about 15 influential games, and 15 things which influenced my games. And then one of co-workers mentioned 15 things that influenced her sense of humor. And I thought about it considerably longer than 15 minutes, and come up with the following list of 15 things that influenced my strange sense of humor:

The Dick Van Dyke Show: I am not alone with this - about half the scriptwriters in Hollywood were sold on the idea that this was how comedy was written, and in a broader sense, how corporate creatives lived in the world. You worked with people you liked. You made jokes. Your bosses were mildly insane. You were married to Mary Tyler Moore. When everything is working well, this is the TV show I am living in.

M*A*S*H: The TV show, not the movie. The show was in endless syndication even when I was in college, and represents the TV show I am living in when things are not going so good. I and my design colleges have talked about "Meatball Design" and "Editorial Triage" like we were honestly subjected to attacks by Five O'Clock Charlie.

George Carlin: Representing the stand-ups, George was another college addiction, with his album Class Clown. I was too young for Lenny Bruce, which is Carlin's predecessor, but Carlin's love of language roped me in. Plus, ANYONE can do his "Hippy-Dippy Weather Man, with the Hippy-Dippy Weather, Man" routine. He got old and more pointed but I still love his stuff.

Tom Lehrer: Of course this is obvious, from other entries in this blog, but he gets the nod from the album/musician comics and the political comics, edging out Alan Sherman. "Pollution" was the first one I remember hearing, but his stuff is just a cool now as it was in the 60s (though now it sometimes requires footnotes to explain what we thought was so troubling back there).

Doctor Demento: Wind up your radios! I got to hear a lot of Tom Lehrer and others thanks to the good doctor, broadcasting on Friday or Saturday or Sunday nights on the Pittsburgh radio. That and Pirate games (with Nellie King and Bob Prince) were reasons to have a radio.

Monty Python: Back to college, where the Pythons were a regular feature of late-night PBS out of the Chicago stations. It was, for many people, the first introduction of what Britain was supposed to be like.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: Edges out A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum only by the fact that I saw it first. The first time I saw it, at the old South Hills Village theater, I didn't know most of the cast, but I knew they were funny. Only later did I get the idea that this was a collection of the comedic talent of the age. Others have tried to replicate it - Cannonball Run, Rat Race, but none have succeeded.

Woody Allen: From the movie people, he just edges out Mel Brooks. Yeah, there was standup before, but What's Up, Tiger Lilly, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Love and Death and Sleeper were a run of seriously funny films.

P.G.Wodehouse: Does this surprise anyone? I mean, does this surprise anyone who encountered Giogi Wyvernspur and Tertius Wands, who were cut, if not of the same cloth, of at least cloth two bolts down? Before the entire Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie presentation on BBC, I read a lot of the adventures of Bertie and Jeeves. And it was genre as high art form - there was a single plot with continual variations.

The Odd Couple: The TV show, the movie, and the play that predated both of them. You can see the eroding effect of other media on the characters as you make the progression between them. Still, though the combination is classic (Two and a Half Men really should be sending a piece of the action to Neil Simon), Klugman and Randal are the best Oscar and Felix. Oh, and like Monty Python instructed about Great Britain, so did the TV show instruct about New York City.

Blackadder: Back to the Brits, with this funny, erudite, and literate bit of fun, which unleashed Rowan Atkinson on the rest of the West. The second and third seasons are the best, when Blackadder gets to devour the dictionary and spit out the best parts.

Warner Brother Cartoons: I know way too much about stars of the 30s and 40s from watching these as a kid on TV. They were on TV because they were cheap, and if the kids didn't get the references to Bogart and WC Fields, who cared? I think my interest in that era (and black and white films) comes out of those old cartoons.

Marx Brothers: And speaking of old movies, the Brothers Marx were the gold standard of the era. Yeah, they were creatures of vaudeville, and Groucho's character was an evolution of the stock figure "The German Teacher", but still it was classic comedy, and they get the nod for that era.

MAD Magazine: Another view into New York City, it showed you could go after both political and economic issues. By claiming Madison Avenue as one of its early targets, it had a lot more depth than any of its imitators, and infused an entire generation with good-natured cynicism about the consumer marketplace.

Firesign Theater: Another group that reached me by a comedy album, they were more head-oriented than Cheech and Chong, and that's saying a lot. Their most coherent production, and the one I would send you to first, was "The Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye," which was on the album How Can You Be Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All, which had the album cover of the cast (duplicated) in front of a poster saying All Hail Marx and Lenin (with Groucho and John Lennon) shown below.

And you wonder while I am such a strange individual.

More later.