Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Great (film) Debates vol. 25

Comedy comes in many styles, from stand up to slapstick to word play to simple jokes. And different comedians are good at different things.

Who is the best comedic actor for physical comedy? (and what is their best role)

Panelist: T-Rav

Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, no doubt about it. Today, they might be called cheap fat-guy jokes, but his antics still crack me up every time I see it, and I love the energy with which he threw himself into his act.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Tough to pick just one, but I'd say Peter Sellers is certainly right up there, particularly with Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series so I'll go with him. More recently, John Belushi was great with Animal House as his signature film, although, strangely 1941 was also one where he was great as I recall.

Panelist: ScottDS

I'm going to go off the beaten path and here and say John Ritter, who I always felt was underrated. I still miss him, too. He was one of those actors who made it look easy, which no doubt takes years of practice. As for his best (comedic) role, I never watched Three's Company but as a kid, I was a big fan of Peter Hyams' 1992 film Stay Tuned, in which Ritter and Pam Dawber (they play husband and wife) are sucked into a bizarre Satanic cable TV system and must fight for their lives in various TV shows: warped parodies of real shows and films with titles like Driving Over Miss Daisy, Northern Overexposure, etc. It's not a great movie by any means but it's a lot of fun. "Holy Shatner!"

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Physical comedy is not my thing because too often it's just falling down and playing stupid, slipping on banana peels and looking awkward about it, that sort of thing. But one guy who rises far above this is Jim Carrey, particularly in Ace Ventura. With him, the joke is never that he took the fall, it's the way he gets back up and that's what separates him from the crowd.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

I’m going to say Jim Carrey. Though his schtick is getting old, he is just hysterical in Fun With Dick & Jane. When they announce on tv that he is going to be indicted for stealing money from Globadyne and he starts running around yelling “INDICTED?!”, it’s hysterical.

Comments? Thoughts?


Tennessee Jed said...

Less of a spread than I might have imagined. I must agree with Andrew, physical comedy is not really my favorite and to be honest, I couldn't remember who I had picked until I read this article :) We have two SNL boys (if you count my 2nd pick) and two Jim Carey picks.

I will say I happend to watch a little of "the party" on one of the HD movie channels the other day, and Sellers and the actor who played Chatsworth Osbourne Jr. were making me laugh out loud.

It is interesting that nobody mentioned Leslie Neilson. I think that is because although he did some very good physical comedy, he was probably truly great at deadpan delivery ala Jack Benny.

I thought about Carey, Bev and Andrew. I dismissed him after seeing Liar Liar a few years ago. That was a movie I howled at the first time I saw it, but I couldn't even crack a smile on the replay. That said, I cannot dispute his greatness as Ace Ventura.

Chris Farley as Tommy Boy was one funny character. Maybe if he had done more, I might have given him more consideration.

Scott - Interesting pick. To be honest, I never watched that show so I didn't know enough about him to consider him more. Also, I think I was honing in on movies vs. t.v.

Individualist said...

I find physical comedy to be hilarious if it is done right. Whaty is doing it right, the Three Stooges. The actor in the 20th century that I think was great at it was Dick Van Dyke.

How is it done wrong today. Too much overt Sex or grossness. When Laurel and HArdy made jokes about where they are looking at a woman or making offhand comments they are not overdone. In the first case the reaction "oggling" the woman is done naturally. While they may be walking into a bus they are looking the way a man would unconsciously lose his focus and not making a point of engaging in perversion. When the comedy is based on sexual jokes they are subtle. Something you might expect a teenager to miss.

A good modern example of modern physical comedy I would say would be Austin Powers. The scene at teh end where she and him are nakked and talking to the spy boss was well done. Everytime the came in front of the camera there were Melons to cover her front. A banana bunch to cover his lower regions, a pineapple for hers. It was obviously titilating but it was not overtly perverted or gross. IT was not the type of 14 year old bathroom humor where you show a poopy or sex cause that's something to snigger at.

Unfortuantely in today's world where the sensors are gone away. The producer's don't have to work for the laugh. They can just appeal to Beavis and Butthead out there directly and physical comedy today just does not meet the level of quality of the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin or Abbot and Costello. There are some successes but they are usually not repeated or the sequels degenerate back to what the 14 year olds will obviously laugh at.

Tennessee Jed said...

Indi - those are great comments. Interesting you mention the Stooges because they are a great example of physical comedy vs. say Groucho's dead pan one liners. I agree that comedy often devolves to the lowest common denominator. It may have been iowahawk who coined the term a "teen bong fart joke" comedy in reference to some of today's fare.

Dick Van Dyke is a master of physical comedy. Although he had been in numerous films, his trip over the stool at the beginning of the Dick Van Duck show was iconic in terms of televised comedy. Lucille Ball was also a great physical comedienne. Like Reese Witherspoon, Lucy could masterfully use her facial features to drive home a joke.

Anonymous said...

This one was tough. I guess I would've considered it "cheating" to simply pick the Three Stooges or Harold Lloyd or any of those guys.

It actually never occurred to me to pick Jim Carrey but that's probably because none of his movies have interested me in years. I love Eternal Sunshine... but that's a bit off the beaten path for him and it's not a full-fledged comedy. I think the last big comedy of his I saw was Bruce Almighty and Steve Carell gets most of the laughs for me in that one. (And I didn't think Fun with Dick & Jane was funny at all.) :-)

Great calls on Chris Farley and Peter Sellers. Tommy Boy is the quintessential "comfort food" movie and I mean that as a compliment. It still makes me smile years later and it's one of a handful of movies my parents can/will quote at the dinner table.

For Sellers, while I think the Pink Panther films were all 15 minutes too long and whenever Sellers or Herbert Lom aren't on the screen, they grind to a halt... but Sellers was excellent in them. I think the end credits of one of the films (Trail of the Pink Panther?) features a great montage of his best bits. And shame on Blake Edwards for continuing the series without him.

As for John Ritter, coincidentally, my friend just showed his young kids Stay Tuned yesterday. Again, it's far from a great movie and he did have to explain some of the 90s references, but they all enjoyed it.

CrisD said...

Jim Carrey--anything!!! But "Liar, Liar!" fighting with himself cracks me up every time. Carrey strikes me a a truly certifiable person but that's what makes his achievements more amazing!

tryanmax said...

I think some of what makes it so hard to point out a physical comic is because so few of them are exclusively physical. Not since the silents has pure slapstick been able to carry a comedy, so a lot of physical comedy is done by comics known for other things. The Stooges are a notable exception in that their banter was really just the verbal equivalent of beating on each other.

I can think of other reasons that it might be tough. It carries that air of "anyone can do it" even though we know that isn't true. Physical comedy tends to become associated with a particular character, pigeon-holing the comedian. Television--to my mind--has proven the better medium for slapstick than cinema, which has an unconscious effect on how we think of those actors. Finally, and this ties into my first point, physical comedians like other comedians can be divided into straight and comic.

I'm going to pick Michael Richards, a.k.a. Cosmo Kramer because every moment is a physical moment with him onscreen. Seinfeld lore has it that he never opened a door the same way twice. I can't verify that, but it strikes me as likely. Plus, his physicality is completely over-the-top but it somehow never strains credulity (at least for me). Other physical comics might do only half what Richards does but still make me react with, "no one would ever do that." Richards best attribute is that he is not an everyman, so I can believe that such a person exists.

T-Rav said...

Jim Carrey is a good comedian. I think his late-night appearances crack me up as much as his movies do, although I agree his recent stuff isn't as great as the Ace movies and other work of his in the '90s.

Scott--I saw Stay Tuned once or twice as a kid (I think it got my attention because the characters became cartoon mice for a while) and I liked it a lot.

Dick Van Dyke would have to be my second choice. If we were doing just classic comedic actors, I would have gone with him.

Tennessee Jed said...

Cris - the fact that you and I laughed our asses off the first time through, and you have upon subsequent viewings while I had suchan opposite reaction brings up a potentially interesting point. To a certain degree, comedy can be the toughest to do well because it can depend a lot on the mood the viewer is in to make it work.

We have all had the late night sillies where almost everything is silly (often times after becoming slightly inebriated.) Comics rely more heavily on good material, e.g. it is harder for a good comic to "carry" a bad joke. Comedy may tend to wear out faster than drama. The one comedy that has always made me laugh is Nat. Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. And yet, this past season, I watched it, and admitted I was getting just so slightly tired of it.

Tennessee Jed said...

Tryanmax - I agree with your astute observation. Comics usually are a mixture of both. But I also think most people tend to think of slapstick when they think of physical comedy (probably myself included.) However, if I think about it, perhaps the very best physical comics are not those who do pratfalls well, but those who use physical gestures and facial expressions to sell their comedy. Again, Lucy as a classic, and more recently Reese Witherspoon have been actresses I think do that superbly well.

T-Rav said...

Reese Witherspoon is one of the better actresses today, although nothing she's done since Walk the Line has really stood out to me. Certainly she's far better at it than the crude stuff which passes for comedy nowadays (*cough* Bridesmaids *cough*)

LawHawkRFD said...

I vote for Harold Lloyd, in Safety Last. His stuntwork was brilliant, but he had a physicality that couldn't be ignored even when he was just gazing at his female costars. I'm not a silent film buff, so I'm not trying to do the "old films are the best films" bit. I just find Lloyd's comic turns to be brilliant and in a class all their own.

My favorite female would have to be Lucille Ball, though I think she was at her best on her TV show rather than in her movies I have probably seen her Vitameatavegamin routine twenty times, and I still laugh as if I had just seen it for the first time.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

This question begins and ends in the Triune god of physical comedy... Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton.

I love Farley, Carrey, Sellers, etc., but none of them would have the cojones to say they hold a candle to any of those three -- and they would be right.

They're all different in their genius and I would say Keaton is the greatest ever if I had to choose; though Lloyd is my favorite and Chaplin has moments of pure joy as well.

Buster Keaton -- Steamboat Bill, Jr. (the house falling), but too many to name.

Harold Lloyd -- Safety Last

City Lights -- the final scene may be the best minute or so of acting ever put to film in any genre.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I found this surprisingly difficult to answer because I keep running into exactly what you mention -- I enjoy the films the first time (usually) and just find them tedious the second time. But even then, I don't just don't find physical humor to be all that great.

And when I thought of guys like Peter Sellers or the Marx Brothers, it was never their physical stuff that enjoyed, it was all the rest.

Individualist said...

I think an example of physical comedy that for me is done wrong are the Spoof Movies that come out. There are some funny parts such as the 300 guy kicking Paris Hilton in the pit but even when they have a scene that works like this one they tend to ruin it by overdoing it with a string of people to throw in the pit.

These movies don't work for me because there is stuff that is so gross I just am wincing more than laughing. There is a scene where a guy is putting his private parts into another guy's ear in one of them that I wish there were drugs that could make me forget seeing it.

Watching Abbot and Costello, Three Stooges, the better Jim Carey films, the original Airplane, Lucille Ball, some of tne later more sophistcated and less juvenille Sandler movies I never have a cringing why did I have to see that moment.

You guys have all pointed out some comics that are great. I never thought of Reese Witherspoon as a commediene but merely an actress that does romatic comedies but thinking about it she does a good job because you are laughing at the joke and not her.

Perhaps there are some gems out there today and it is just that they are lost in the onslaught of gross comedies.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That's an interesting point. There is real truth behind the idea that restrictions cause creativity and in a world where you can do anything, you end up with jokes about people jerking off into pies.

I agree with you about that Austin Powers scene, that's one of the best moments in the film. And the reason it works is that it is full of anticipation. So it keeps you waiting to see how long they can stretch out the joke. It's like the moments before the guy hits the banana peel.

Too many modern films are just about the actual moment of stepping on the peel.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

And Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" routine in Singin' in the Rain is also genius

AndrewPrice said...

Jed and Indi, This may be sacrilege, but I have never been a Stooges fan. I just don't like slapstick. I much prefer the verbal cleverness of the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

John Ritter... also check out Skin Deep -- a Blake Edwards comedy he did in the 1980s... there's a routine he does after being numbed by a shot that is high-larious.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Your mention of John Ritter raises an interesting point with me. I know him from Three's Company originally, but the role I liked him in best was It, a non-comedic role.

I have similar feelings about Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. I ultimately have liked them better as dramatic actors than comedians. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think their comedy years gave me a lot of good will for them which helped them a lot when it came time to do something darker.

Anonymous said...

Floyd -

I didn't really enjoy Skin Deep, but the scene you mention might be the funniest in the movie. (The glow-in-the-dark condom scene was okay but not as funny as its reputation suggests.)

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, My favorite Carrey movie was ultimately The Truman Show. That one started off with him in a very typical funny role and by the end he had made it such a different movie, everything from deep sadness to great joy.

On Liar, Liar he definitely does the "fighting with himself" better than any other actor I can think of.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's a good point. One of the problems with physical comedy is the sense that anyone can do it, and I think that comes from the fact that so many BAD comedians use it as a crutch -- "I'm not clever enough to make people laugh with a joke, so I'll just hit myself with a pie." That doesn't help the reputation of physical comedy.

And indeed, the ones who are memorable to me are the ones who do something unique. Jim Carrey is a good example of this because he stretched his face all over the place. Kramer is another example because while he does seem real, he's so far out there that he doesn't look like anyone else.

One of the problems I have with Peter Sellers is that he no longer seems very unique or special to me. And I wonder if that isn't just a matter of everyone having copied him and thereby washing him out. Much of what he did in the Pink Panther movies became the gold standard for comedy in the 1970s and 1980s and that makes him so much less unique than he was in 1970.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - I have not spent a lot of time with silent movies, and must admit I'm not familiar with "Safety Last." On the other hand, if you liked it, I can't imagine it not being great. Vita Vita was a classic.

Floyd, certainly am familiar with Chaplin and Keaton. Both were giants and still revered although I don't see much of their stuff shown anymore.

Andrew- I don't think it is sacrilige to state that about the Stooges. Quite frankly, I feel the same way. Slapstick, when done well does make me l.o.l. However, I tire of it much more quickly than wittiness.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav (Jed and Indi), I think it's interesting you all think of Dick Van Dyke as a physical comedian. He definitely is, but I've never thought of him that way except for the trip over the chair in the sit-com intro. I actually think of him as a song and dance man from Mary Poppins and some other Disney films.

He's another one who has earned tremendous good will with me.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I had to stretch my mind to get beyond the slapstick label. When people mention "physical comedy," my first thought is entirely slapstick, pies in faces and banana peels. It takes a moment before I think about all the rest -- the silly walks and facial expressions, the use of props, the guy who pushes a button he shouldn't (that's on bit I hate, by the way).

One of the reasons I don't like Steve Carrell is because to me, he's nothing more than in imitator of the most over-used aspects of other comedy. He is the guy knocking off Peter Sellers pushing a button he shouldn't and then trying to hide the fact he did it. To me, that's his whole career and I really don't enjoy that at all.

And I couldn't agree more with the assessment of so much of modern comedy as the "teen bong fart joke". As Scott would say, that's "low hanging fruit." Indeed, it's the lowest. I don't respect that and I find it almost insulting that they would just toss something so uncreative on screen.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I'm not a silent films fan at all, so I've only seen a couple and I can't comment on Lloyd. I do understand, however, that he is the guy who basically invented much of what is done today.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, Although I have very little experience watching those guys, I cannot dispute what you say. They definitely are the guys who established comedy on film. :)

I've seen the clock bit with Safety Last and it is very impressive. With Chaplin I've only see The Dictator which I thought was great.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Andrew.... I highly recommend Keaton... he's probably the most accessible.

Steve Martin in Roxanne is great also.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think the problem with the modern spoof movies is that they aren't really spoofing a movie, they are just ramming together a million references combined with dirty jokes.

In other words, Airplane was a spoof. Almost all of it was a take off on the original subject matter, though taken to an extreme. But something like Meet The Spartans (an atrocity) isn't about 300, it's an attempt to make as many pop culture references as possible, whether or not they make sense in light of the parody, and then each reference is brought to the lowest common denominator of sex, violence or body function. Essentially, it's a crude, random standup routine hiding behind the fake premise of being a parody.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I remember that John Ritter bit. He really was a solid comedian.

I keep meaning to check out some Buster Keaton, but I just never do. I think I'll add some to my list and just do it. :)

Steven Martin was very good in Roxanne. He had one of the best "faces" before Jim Carrey came along.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Same here. I can enjoy well-done slap, but it's never my favorite and I really do prefer to see it mixed in with something else other than just standing on its own.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

honorable mention to Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles... the shaky gun hand bit was hilarious

Also on Brooks land...

Kenneth Marrs as the Inspector on Young Frankenstein, Peter Boyle as the Monster, and Madeline Kahns sashay as the Bride were all great bits of physical comedy.

CrisD said...

I thank you for considering my take on Carrey and "Liar, Liar" scene.
At the risk of making everyone here crazy--"Dumb and Dumber" is a family classic at our house. We had just moved to Colorado and the kids were tweens and teens and we LOVED all the Colorado/Vail jokes. It is a vile movie but I cna say many of the lines aloud along with my now-grown kids. The first time I saw it, I hated is too much for my usual sensibilities but I have to admit it has become a bit of a comedy cult in my house.

Funny about Chevy Chase/ "Christmas Vacation"--I saw it again this year and happened to be "in the mood"!!! ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I love the shaky gun hand bit. That movie also had one of the best barroom brawls of any "western" in history.

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, I "knew" I would hate Dumb and Dumber going in. The trailers, the description people gave, etc., it just looked awful. But I really enjoyed it. And I still enjoyed it when I saw it again years later. :)

tryanmax said...

Floyd, Brooks is probably my favorite writer of physical comedy bits. That's not to say he necessarily invented them, but he knew when to use them. In a way I could say that Brooks is actually my favorite physical comic if you allow the fact that he didn't always perform the bits, but he gave them a context in which to be performed.

T-Rav said...

You know what's not enjoyable? Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. You know what's even less enjoyable? Being stuck on a bus for four hours straight coming back from senior trip, and someone other than you is controlling the TV/movie monitors inside the bus, so you have no choice but to watch that movie. Twice. I practically ran off the bus when we stopped to eat.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I feel your pain! Whenever I've been stuck on an airplane with a film it's invariably been something that would make me want to slit my wrists.

And yeah, Dumb and Dumberer was just horrible.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Brooks does do a great job setting up jokes. I will say, however, that many of his films haven't held up well for me. I loved them all when I first saw them, but I don't care for most of them at this point, with the very notable exceptions of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

CrisD said...

Ha-ha T-Rav and Andrew-
Dumb and Dumberer is considered a sacrilege by my off-spring! They're offended!?!

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, Glad to hear it! I don't know if it was one of the more cynical attempts to cash in on another film or if it was just really bad writing, but either way, it's a horrible film.

Tennessee Jed said...

Cris - I admit to l.m.a.o. at Dumb and Dumber :)

Floyd - Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn are right in my wheelhouse:

"Now let us drink, some very sexy wi . .i . .ne."

"Is this really brave or merely rotten"

Great, great stuff :)

Tennessee Jed said...

btw, I'm refering to Sherlock's smarter brother above for any who might have missed this lesser known addition to the Wilder/Kahn catelog.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I haven't seen that one in years!

DUQ said...

Excellent choices and interesting discussion. I don't have much to add really. I will say that Anna Farris belongs on the list. She is great with physical comedy, especially in the "Scary Movie" franchise.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Farris is one of my favorite modern actresses. I think she has tremendous comedic timing and a real ability to "sell a joke." In other words, no matter how ridiculous the set up, she is always believable.

Tink in Cali said...

Although I am not a huge fan of his movies overall, Will Farrell comes to mind. Much of his work on SNL was pretty great. And although he doesn't do "straight" comedy, I think Jackie Chan broadened the definition with his own style of wacky karate moves/fights in many of his movies.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, not all Brooks is created equal, but then, you can say that about most directors. The two you name are generally received as his best. I think History of the World: Part I is pretty perennially favorite, too.

But other films like Dracula: Dead and Loving It are real stinkers (lovable stinkers, but still...) from the title on down. Spaceballs has an understandable cult following, but successive viewing provide consistently diminishing returns. And The Producers probably ought to have been a musical from the get-go--though that is by no means a slight against Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

If you haven't watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights for awhile, I'd suggest giving it another go. The genius move was casting Cary Elwes as Robin Hood. He is a brilliant straight man. (And a member of triumvirate of absurdly handsome men.) Is it dated? Yes. Hammy? Yes. Unabashedly Yiddish? Of course. But moments the quarter-staff battle on the river bridge never get old. (IMHO)

Tennessee Jed said...

TMax - I agree with you about Men in Tights. Very funny as was Princess Bride.

rlaWTX said...

I recently horrified my uncles when I said I had never seen much Mel Brooks. I am under orders to watch...

Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis

That D O'Connor Singing in the Rain skit mentioned
my dad loved the Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, but I never quite got it - funny for about 2 min, then I was done.

Like Carey in Liar, Liar, but not in most of his other "funny" stuff. Can't stand Austin Powers.

AndrewPrice said...

Tink, Jackie Chan is fantastic! And is combination of martial arts and comedy is just phenomenal to watch. Good call!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I haven't seen Men in Tights in years, but will give it another shot.

Like I said, I liked all of these movies when I first saw them. Some of them I liked a lot. I even liked High Anxiety enough that I bought the film and then started looking into Hitchcock just to see the source material. But for one reason or another, his parodies just haven't held up for me. (I tried watching High Anxiety a couple years ago and actually turned it off.)

I think part of the problem is that his films often feel too dated. He makes references to popular trends at the time and then he hires comedians who are just past their primes and lets them "do their schtick" in the middle of the film. Both of those things make these movies feel stale and like B-films.

Also, his parodies feel to me like they are forced. That's the thing about Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles is that none of it feels forced. Those films play out in their own time and don't need to stop to insert another reference. The parodies, on the other hand, seem to use the plot as a way to pass time between the jokes.

I know a lot of people love Space Balls, but what bothered me about it is that I always felt the jokes were too easy. Don't get me wrong, it was worth seeing and I laughed and I enjoyed the jokes, but I never felt that Brooks ever stretched himself in that film. And since the plot gave you nothing to care about, the jokes were all it had going for it.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I love Princess Bride on so many levels. Great flick!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, You should check out Blazing Saddles if you haven't seen it. Holy cow! This film is all about race and racism and it is just incredibly funny. Just make sure you get the uncut version, not a television version, because you need the race-jokes they take out for television for the film to make sense.

When Cleavon Little says: "hey, where the white women at?" I almost fell out of my seat laughing so hard.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I hear everything you're saying about Brooks, and I cannot disagree. I love Brooks, but I won't play his apologist. I think what draws me to his movies is that he is a sort of one-man preservation society. It's not about writing the new gags. It's about finding a home for the old gags so they aren't remembered only as chunks of grainy footage mausolating within some lumbering documentary.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of goodwill for Brooks and I have enjoyed all of his movies when I saw them originally. And frankly, having two of the "greatest of all time" films is a heck of resume in and of itself and puts him up there on the list of greatest directors.

It's just that most his stuff hasn't held up for me.

T-Rav said...

The ending scene where they burst onto a....sorry, I won't ruin it for rla, but that's probably my favorite part of the movie. Also Harvey Korman's line: "You will be risking your lives, and I--will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor!"

T-Rav said...

Actually, Korman is probably my favorite person in Blazing Saddles; his lines are collectively the best.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Korman is great in that (and in other Brooks films). He's one of those guys that I always expected would have a bigger career, but he never did. I guess because he mainly stuck with television?

Outlaw13 said...

Not much to ad except the thought of Peter Sellers as Clouseau with his key stuck in the door spilling rice onto the floor that morphs into him doing a tap dame and tearing his pants half-way off cracks me up every time.

I always thought Tommy Boy had a really sweet heart to it and enjoy it every time I see it. It was funny but it wasn't mean and the character was a good person...I like that.

Don Knotts also had a gift for physical comedy, on TV as well as film in The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (atta boy Luther!) etc.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Don Knotts is one of those "rubber body" guys who can make you laugh with just his posture. I've always enjoyed his work.

My favorite Pink Panther bit is: "Does your dog bite?" That still makes me laugh.

Ed said...

Rowan Atkinson -- Mr. Bean. Good stuff, all physical. Genius in fact!

Anonymous said...

For the room -

Yeah, physical comedy does seem to encompass a wide variety of skills, from pratfalls to facial expressions to reactions, etc. I suppose like anything else, some of it dates better than others. I can still laugh at Don Adams in Get Smart walking into his apartment's invisible shield after all these years.

A few more honorable mentions...

Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman... totally manic and energetic.

Kevin Kline's Oscar-winning performance in A Fish Called Wanda... a friend and I were just talking about this the other day and he totally takes a roll that could've been a throwaway character and made it into something special.

Martin Short in almost everything he's done. I still laugh at Innerspace when he drunkenly dances to "Twistin' the Night Away."

Tom Hanks in his early years, specifically Bachelor Party and The Money Pit. One wonders what his career would be like if he stuck to comedies and never bothered to branch out.

tryanmax said...

I'm gonna have to watch Pink Panther again. It's been too long!

I'm a little surprised no one has mentioned John Cleese yet. His is a very absurd brand of physical comedy. Rather than playing the klutz, he simply played straight mad. Very British, I suppose.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I have to agree about Kevin Kline. There isn't anything in the dialog he spouts which makes that character anything interesting or special, i.e. it's all very straight, generic dialog. But he makes that character something truly inspired with his physicality.

And even more interestingly, when you compare his performance there with his almost depressed performance in Silverado (where the dialog actually had more "larger than life" in it), you see just how great an actor he is. In both cases, he reads the character's needs perfect regardless of what the script gives him to work with.

Hanks is another guy who benefited from the good will he generated being in comedy before he branched out. I think that's carried him through some rather nasty roles (e.g. That Thing You Do) where a different actor would have come across as just too rotten.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Cleese is an odd case. I honestly expected him to have a HUGE career after the Python stuff and Fish Called Wanda. But it never happened. Instead, he ended up a bit player every now and then, but that's about it. I don't know if that was by wish or if Hollywood just ignored him?

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Mel Gibson showed some flashes in Lethal Weapon and In What Women Want

Cary Grant playing the drunk in North By Northwest and in Bringing Up Baby, Philadelphia Story (I believe he was a circus performer in his youth)

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, He was indeed a circus performer. And I've always heard that apart from Toshiro Mifune, he was one of the most agile actors of all time, being capable of an incredible array of effortless-seeming motions.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

If you watch The Pink Panther again, just remember... it's a sex comedy/romantic caper. Clouseau is only a supporting character; he becomes the lead in A Shot in the Dark. I first saw all those films when I was little and I kept waiting for Sellers to show up and when he did, it was only for a few minutes at a time. :-)

Andrew, et al -

Keep in mind, we're only talking about household names. There are countless gifted comedic performers. All of the classic comedy teams had their foils. One that comes to mind is Jimmy Finlayson who was in many a Laurel & Hardy short.

William Demarest also does some insane pratfalls in Preston Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, You're opening another conversational can of worms! LOL!

That said, I agree with you in part and disagree in part just to be disagreeable. I agree that recognition does not equate to quality. But I disagree in the sense that recognition is all we have to go by. In other words, Britney Spears may sell a botoxed butt-load of CDs, but that doesn't make her a quality singer. But at the same time, we don't know Jane Doe in Anytown, USA, who may be infinitely better.

I tend to think that quality can only be judged by longevity. That separates out the "trendy" and gives the "cult favorites" a chance to catch on. And the fact we are still talking about specific people 70 years after their last films, means they had something special that others did not.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

It wasn't my intention to open a can of worms! Perhaps I could've phrased it better; it was only my wish to draw attention to yet more people we haven't discussed yet!

I know recognition doesn't always = quality. Hell, I'm usually the one bringing up the old "The only true test is time" routine. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Yep, which is why I enjoyed using that against your point! ;)

Just kidding.

In terms of obscure comedians, hmm. Tough question!

In meantime, let me add Christopher Lloyd to the list, who is always great in a vast variety of roles, many of which require some physical aspect.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, I'm posing an interesting question related to Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds on Wednesday.

If you've been meaning to see the film and haven't, this would be a good time to do it. :)

Individualist said...

Tink (and Andrew)

Forgot Jackie Chan, he is phenomenal. My favorite gag of his was Rumble in the Bronx when he is facing this really big guy. He hits him wiht his fist the guy laughs, he hits him with a boad the guy sneers, he picks up a 20 lb metal wrench and the guy put his had up and backs away...; classic

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That's actually my favorite Jackie Chan film. The stunts he does in that are just incredible... and very funny.

Tennessee Jed said...

Little side note on Don Knotts. He was the uncle of one of my boyhood friends and neighbors, and came to visit several times. This was before any roles with Andy Griffith, but he was one of several comedians who did the man on the street sketches on the old Steve Allen show.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Jonathan Winters tearing down the gas station in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World has always made me laugh.

Jack Nicholson's macabre waltz in Burton's Batman is a good piece of physical humor also.

Backthrow said...

I echo Floyd opinion on Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd being the all-time top bananas in the realm of physical comedy... most the others, including super-talents like Peter Sellers and Steve Martin (well, in the 1970s/1980s, anyway), are pikers in comparison.

For those of you who've never really bothered with silent comedies (maybe limited to a clip of Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock in SAFETY LAST), you really owe it to yourself to try out a couple of the best... they're filled with excitement, tight plots, and --particularly in Keaton's case-- great filmmaking (including impressive special effects work, both physical and optical).

A good gateway to sampling Keaton is Kevin Brownlow & David Gill's excellent, three-part documentary series, BUSTER KEATON: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW, which (amazingly) isn't on DVD, but is serialized on YouTube, beginning here:

That's what really got me interested in watching Keaton's features and shorts, before which I was only really aware of THE GENERAL.

Same deal with Harold Lloyd; the documentary, HAROLD LLOYD: THE THIRD GENIUS, by the same makers, really displayed who he was and what he could do, beyond the iconic 'hanging-from-the-clock' image. Also not on DVD, so it's up to YouTube again:

As for their films, I'd definitely recommend Keaton's:

THE GENERAL (feature)
SHERLOCK, JR. (feature)
COLLEGE (feature)
ONE WEEK (short)
COPS (short)
THE GOAT (short)

Lloyd (all features):

THE KID BROTHER (his best, and very Keaton-like)

I'd also like to give a tip of the hat to W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase (who only really starred in shorts, silent and sound, which is why he's largely forgotten today).

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Welcome and thanks for the recommendations and the links! Thanks especially for the youtube links, that makes it easy. :)

Here are your links:



AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I knew Winters first from Mork and Mindy, but then saw him in the Twilight Zone. I only saw him later in Mad... Mad World, and you are right, he was great in that.

Backthrow said...

Thanks much for the welcome, Andrew. Great site. :)

An added incentive to catch some Keaton & Lloyd: they were the prime comedy inspiration for Jackie Chan, who incorporated their brand of physical comedy with martial arts (he's said so, himself, numerous times in interviews). This is especially true for his pre-Hollywood films made in Hong Kong, like this scene from PROJECT A:

Jackie Chan: Master of Bike-Fu

Another expert at such things is Sammo Hung (the heavy-set fellow in the latter half of that clip, best known stateside for his U.S. TV series, MARTIAL LAW)... these guys, along with Rowan Atkinson as 'Mr. Bean' (on TV, anyway), are who'd I'd consider the real masters of modern physical comedy (though Aktinson has disappointed in subsequent things like JOHNNY ENGLISH).

If you go by a just a great 'physical comedy' character performance (rather than a career doing so) one guy who really deserves some praise is Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD 2 and ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Backthrow said...

Sheesh, I need some remedial HTML lessons... the Jackie Chan clip link:

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Backthrow! I'm glad you like the site. :)

I've actually started watching the Keaton clip and it's really pretty fascinating. So thanks again for that!

Here's the Jackie Chan link: Chan

I agree completely about Atkinson. I saw him first as Blackadder and he had a real flair for adding the physical side of comedy in that -- plus, it was just a truly hilarious series. Then I saw Bean and I couldn't believe how incredibly expressive he was even without saying a single word.

I agree that his most recent efforts like John English have been disappointing, but I really enjoyed Mr. Bean's Holiday in France. I've seen that about a dozen times by now and I still laugh throughout.

Outlaw13 said...

The mention of Jackie Chan made me think of Stephen Chow, if you have never seen Kung Fu Hustle you owe it to yourself to see it...awesome.

The late John Candy had some pretty good performances, more on the SCTV TV show than film...another great talent gone too soon.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

I second Kung Fu Hustle... fun movie

Eric P said...

Dang, Mr. Turbo beat me to Steve Martin in Roxanne, so guess I'll have to settle for his role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels instead.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Nice debate!

One quibble about the Three Stooges, Curly in particular:
It wasn't all physical comedy. Curly was brilliant, IMO, with the delivery of "Nyuk nyuk," and several other seemingly meaningless phrases and sounds that fit in perfectly, and make his expressions and actions even more funny.
Many folks still repeat those phrases today. "While soitenly."

And no one played the comedic straight man like Moe who was only the straight man relatively speaking.

There's much deeper comedy in the Three Stooges than just the physical, at least while the original Curly was alive.

Jackie Chan truly is brilliant!
Even in his worst movies you can always count on some good laughs and spectacular stunts.

His inspiration was Buster Keaton but he managed to create something totally unique and fun to watch in his own right.

I see a lot of his ideas copied in action movies today.

I also like Sammo. He has worked primarily behind the scenes more than Chan has, but he's a terrific actor as well as martial artist.

There's very few purely physical comedians and I think it's much harder today to pull off successfully than it used to be.
And more often than not it doesn't hold up well over time as say the works of great actors or witty comedians.

Many of the truly great physical comedians are exceptions, IMO. And they had to do far more than simply fall down funny, have good use of their expressions or take pies in the face well.

I'll add Red Skelton as a good example of what I'm talking about.

BTW, love the Bean character!
I thought his second Bean flick was as good if not better than the first but it wasn't received as well for some reason.

Also, Benny Hill! He always cracked me up!

rlaWTX said...

I was going to mention Cary Grant (even though I hate Bringing Up Baby), but since I always do, I didn't. Glad someone else did! ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw and Floyd, I liked Kung Fu Hustle a lot. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, LOL! That's still a good film to "settle" for!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Grant was an all-around great actor!

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I thought the second Bean film was much better than the first. I think the first tried too hard to please American audiences and lost the feel for the character. The second one stayed right in the zone of what Bean does best.

I think physical comedy doesn't last as long because it's easier to copy. That means whatever your invent, a dozen people will copy and tweak. Soon it feels played out. That's much harder with funny storytelling and with verbal cleverness.

Chan is amazing. No matter how good or bad the movie, his stunts are always incredible and his martial arts scenes are worth the price of admission!

Backthrow said...

Agreed, KUNG FU HUSTLE was awesome, one of the very best comedies of recent years. When the chain-smoking, super-fast landlady went on that 'Roadrunner'-like chase, I nearly bust a gut!

Steve Martin; he made a lot of good comedies, but I think DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS and PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES probably tie for his best big-screen comedy work. I was a fan of his since I was a kid in the late-1970s; had the first two of his hit comedy albums, got his book, 'Cruel Shoes', caught him regularly on SNL and those Lorne Michaels-produced prime-time NBC comedy specials he did (into what black hole did those fall into, I wonder? Surprising they never got a video release), saw THE JERK, DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID and ALL OF ME in their original runs.

The only drawback, to me, is he sometimes goes too "big" during a bit or scene, for his own good, and that comes across as forced/phoney. Examples of this, in the otherwise excellent DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, would be when he milks the scene in the jail cell, when he can't correctly guess Michael Caine's character's name... or, when Caine asks him what he wants (after failing at tricking him into leaving town) and Martin yells, "THIS!! I - WANT - THIS*!!!"... I mean, sure, he's playing a goofy/crass jerk (partially a cover for his con, as he's not quite the fool he appears to be), but it's at times like those that I wish he'd dial it down a little. Louder isn't automatically funnier. Martin playing "Ruprecht", on the other hand, is comedy gold.

Cary Grant; as a kid, I used to kind of like BRINGING UP BABY, when I'd see the film occasionally on TV, but I think that's more because I was so into dinosaurs back then that the movie got instant brownie points for the big brontosaurus skeleton prop that falls down... that, and having a live leopard loose in the house, through camera trickery, which was quite nicely done. Seeing it as an adult, it's a real 'fingers-on-the-chalkboard' torture test. Katherine Hepburn, as the most annoying socialite ever (there, that proactively settles a potential future 'Great (film) Debate', haha!), and Cary Grant manically trying to (seemingly) channel Curly Howard (those little squeaks of frustration). FAIL!!! That leopard deserved a big, two-course meal that would have ended the narrative early!

I like my Cary Grant cool and low-key... he's funnier and all-around better that way. Apparently, he really wanted and aspired to be a manic screen clown, but I don't think it suited him well. The only exceptions I can think of would be HIS GIRL FRIDAY, which was excellent, but there he was a fast-talking slickster, rather than flummoxed bundle of nerves, and the whole film was designed to be an accelerated back-and-forth between just about all the large cast of characters.

The other one I can tolerate is ARSENIC & OLD LACE, mainly because it's Frank Capra, it's fomething to put on during Halloween and there's enough good stuff in it (Peter Lorre, Jack Carson, etc) to offset Grant's manic excesses.

Quite true about the two BEAN movies... the first one was a real disappointment... way too mild and watered-down, in the studio's mis-guided attempt to pander to what it thought would appeal to American family audiences. The second one was back to form and reasonably funny, though it still can't touch the better TV episodes, particularly the Christmas special, and the one where Mr. Bean plays his golf game through a town.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I agree completely about Steve Martin. He has a penchant for being over the top and that doesn't suit him. He's much better when he tones it down a bit, and then he's really excellent.

I was actually really impressed with his performance in a dramatic role in Spanish Prisoner and then it hit me that he's just a much better actor when he "isn't trying too hard."

I prefer the cooler Cary Grant as well. He's fantastic in all the Hitchcock films in particular where he plays the suave Cary Grant.

Agreed on Bean. I was particularly disappointed in the first film because his Bean television stuff was so strong and I expected to find something similar to that, but instead they really dumbed it down to please American audiences and it wasn't at all what I hoped for.

TJ said...

I have been away on vacation, so I'm trying to catch up. Some of my favorite moments/actors:

1. Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story.

2. Martin Short in Innerspace and Three Fugitives.

3. Jackie Chan in just about everything he's been in.

4. Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

5. The whole cast of The Carol Burnett Show. I still enjoy that show after all these years.

6. Airplane! I just love that movie.

I love Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs as well. One other movie that stands out to me, but it has been a while since I've seen it, was Stir Crazy with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. I don't know if it would still hold up today, but I remember laughing so hard at that one.

TJ said...

Okay, I've thought of a couple more - The Naked Gun movies and Home Alone I and II - Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci were brilliant in those.

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, Good choices! I've seen Stir Crazy a couple times in recent years. It's not as funny as I remembered as a kid, but it is an enjoyable film. In fact, watching it, I have no idea why I thought of it as such a hilarious film because it doesn't even try to be laugh out loud funny. But I do enjoy it very much.

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