Friday, February 5, 2016

Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy || part 5 -» the seventies

1970 Mary’s InterviewMary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, James L. Brooks, Allan Burns, The Mary Tyler Moore Show Lou: You know what, you've got spunk! Mary: Well, yes …Lou: I hate spunk.
These three words — “I hate spunk” — uttered by Ed Asner as Mary’s soon-to-be boss, during the pilot’s job-interview scene, trenchantly captured exactly what it was like to be a single woman trying to enter the workforce in the early ’70s and the fundamental (proto–Leslie Knope vs. Ron Swanson) dynamic that would propel the show through seven critically acclaimed seasons. And not only that, but it was being directed toward Mary Tyler Moore, an actress America fell in love with as Laura Petrie, the fictional wife of Dick Van Dyke. Incredibly poignant at the time, it also set a template for a charming yet awkward female protagonist trying to have it all (see: Liz Lemon).
1971 Ernestine Talks to Mr. VeedleLily Tomlin, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In “We are the phone company, Mr. Veedle. We are omnipotent. That’s potent with an omni in front of it.”Tomlin's Ernestine exploded after her appearances on Laugh-In. The phone operator was as big as a fictional character gets, appearing on countless other late-night shows and in Tomlin's own comedy projects, even interviewing Cher at one point (Cher!). Ernestine was insistent, with a mildly sinister snorting laugh, and she pretended to be your friend, which is what made her dangerous. This joke in particular hit the hardest, as the aforementioned  “Mr. Veedle” was supposed to be Gore Vidal. The whole enterprise was subversive at the time, commenting on major telephone companies' tendency to extort money and information from customers. Initially, Ma Bell tried to stop the bit from ever happening, though they later played nice and offered her a  “community service award.” Tomlin is rarely given enough credit for her trailblazer status, crushing it as a  “woman in comedy” and as a Generally Hilarious Human Person before SNL was even a thing. Her influence reached every sketch and character performer who came after her, from Gilda Radner to Mike Myers to Kristen Wiig.
DaveCheech and Chong, Cheech & Chong “It’s, it’s Dave, man, will you open up? I got the stuff with me.” “Who?”“Dave, man. Open up.”“Dave?”“Ya, Dave, c’mon, man, open up, I think the cops saw me.”“Dave’s not here.”A Mexican-American from L.A. dodges the draft and meets a half-white, half-Asian guy in Canada. They form a comedy duo. The source of their material? Marijuana. One sketch about a deal gone wrong due to a brain-dead smoker becomes a hit, leading to more hilarious albums about weed and music and race, then eventually a film franchise. It's hard to call Cheech and Chong's comedy "sophisticated,” but there is something singular about  “Dave,” which is essentially a stoner  “Who's on First.” There's a humanity in this short sketch, especially in Chong's confused character. Stoner comedy is still going strong today – if not more so today, as weed becomes more socially acceptable – and it can be traced back to this three-word punch line. Big LebowskiFridayPineapple ExpressHalf BakedBroad City, etc.: All of it.
David Brenner on Gas-Station AttendantsDavid Brenner, The Tonight Show “Did you ever notice you go into a gasoline station, the attendant’s directions always start the same way: ‘Now look buddy, pull out of the station.’ No, I want to drive the pumps for nine hours; I don’t want to pull out of the station.”Did you ever notice: Four words that would go on to define a generation of comedians, and Brenner was one of the first stand-ups associated with it. He used the phrase to start the above joke in his first Tonight Show set, and it would be used in many more Tonight Show sets as his style became de rigueur during the ensuing comedy boom. Before Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld, there was Brenner, who, as Richard Lewis put it, was the king of observational comedy.
c. 1972 ‘I Get No Respect.’Rodney Dangerfield “I get no respect: I played hide and seek; they wouldn’t even look for me.”This is the joke that started it all. Dangerfield had the second half, but, as he told an interviewer in 1986, he needed to put something  “in front of it: I was so poor, I was so dumb, so this, so that.” It was 1972, the year The Godfather came out.  “All I heard was the word 'respect,"' he told the New York Times.  “'You've got to give me respect,' or 'Respect him.' I thought to myself: It sounds like a funny image — a guy who gets no respect.” It was a game-changer for Dangerfield, who struggled for years under the name Jack Roy. With a new image and catchphrase, he became a comedy star, building on the work of Henny Youngman and Don Rickles to create one-liners that were darker, grittier, more specific. Comedians have an ideal age for their comedy, and it seems Dangerfield needed to be a little older and a lot more grizzled before America wanted to hear from him. By the time he really hit it big, in the ’80s, Dangerfield was already in his 60s. Old, but not too old to push stand-up forward.
1972 Archie Bunker Meets Sammy Davis Jr.Norman Lear, Carroll O’Connor, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Dana, All in the Family Archie: Now, no prejudice intended, but, you know, I always check with the Bible on these here things. I think that, I mean if God had meant for us to be together, he’d-a put us together. But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries. Sammy Davis Jr.: Well, he must’ve told ’em where we were, because somebody came and got us.It’s difficult to describe, at this distance, the shock waves that All in the Family radiated out into the network-TV pond. Most late-’60s sitcoms were the palest of pap, in the Munsters and Gilligan’s Island vein; unless you count the young-and-single status of the Marlo Thomas character on That Girl, it was tough to find even a hint of the social dynamics riving the country. Suddenly, a family in Queens with a racist dad and a lefty son-in-law was arguing — really vigorously! — over the Vietnam War and the dynamics of race, dealing with crime and hypocrisy and, in one episode, a very close call with a rapist. The series almost never slid over into treacly Very Special Episode territory, either; the issue-oriented stuff was baked into its premise, and it usually stayed funny. The Sammy Davis Jr. episode upped the stakes with a celebrity cameo, and what an ideal celebrity for Archie to meet: black, Jewish, one-eyed, and wildly charismatic.
1973 Comedy Minus OneAlbert Brooks, Comedy Minus One Audio Albert: Thank you, thank you, and good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Albert.[Pause.]Albert: Wait a minute, how could you be me?[Pause.]Script Included With RecordAlbert: Thank you, thank you, and good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Albert.You: And I’m You.Albert: Wait a minute, how could you be me?You: I didn’t say I was you. I said I was me.Early in his career, the L.A.-based comic, actor, and director Brooks longed to cheerfully destabilize the staid realms of comedy with which he’d come into contact. As he appeared on TV variety shows in the late ’60s and beyond, Brooks breathed new life into the old tropes of comedy by making the usual subterfuge involved in particular kinds of acts abundantly obvious. To wit, one of his earliest bits, on the Flip Wilson Show, featured him deconstructing ventriloquism by telling stock jokes and moving his mouth in an obvious way; while it doesn’t seem funny on paper, Brooks’s knowing script and chipper delivery made it shine. On his first album, Comedy Minus One, he even invited you — yes, you — to get involved in the act. The title track, a routine about a trip to the garage, leaves empty spaces for lines read aloud at home from a script, which was included on the inside of the album cover. Over the course of the scene, you — yes, you — essentially grift Brooks (and guest comic Georgie Jessel) while picking up all the laugh lines. Though, if you are just listening, which presumably most are, you'll only hear Brooks and Jessel talking to no one. The smarts behind the experiment, and the verve with which it’s delivered, make the jokes irresistible. It’s the sort of anti-comedy experiment that doubtless had an effect on Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin, not to mention essentially every alternative comedian of the last 20 years.
1975 Word AssociationPaul Mooney, Chevy Chase, Richard Pryor, Saturday Night Live Interviewer: Jungle bunny! Mr. Wilson: Honky!Interviewer: Spade!Mr. Wilson: Honky honky!Interviewer: Nigger!Mr. Wilson: Dead honky.“Word Association” was not even written by one of the show's writers, as Pryor insisted the show hire Paul Mooney for the week. Mooney is one of the all-time greatest comic minds on the subject of race, and this sketch showed just that. That “Nigger” –“Dead honkey” climax still feels dangerous and revelatory, partly because of how direct and simple it is. Mooney wrote in his memoir it was the easiest thing he ever wrote, as all he had to do was write what it was like to interview with NBC executives earlier in the week to work on the show. As a piece of comedy, it demanded attention. It's a role that comedy unfortunately has continued to play ever since: forcing people who like to believe that racism doesn't exist anymore to confront that it does, and ideally laugh at how oblivious they were being. It's arguably the most important sketch about race ever written, and all comedy about race — whether by Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, or Key & Peele — follows in its path.
1976 The King of ImpressionistsMichael O’Donoghue, Saturday Night Live“There's one thing I think everybody agrees on, and that's who the nicest guy in show business is. And, of course, I'm talking about Mr. Mike Douglas. Yeah! Yeah, come on! You know, I was home the other day and I happened to catch Mike's show, and a funny thought occurred to me. I wondered: What if someone took very large steel needles, say 15, 18 inches long, large steel needles with real sharp points, and plunged them into Mike's eyes. What would his reaction be, huh? I think it might go something like this.” [O’Donoghue turns his back to the camera to prepare his impression. He turns back around, puts his hands to his eyes, and screams maniacally.]
SNL’s inaugural season left viewing audiences reeling for many reasons, not least among them the show’s penchant for raw, rough humor, and the cast’s irreverence toward the popular culture they were raised on. The grim prince behind much of the darkness was Michael O’Donoghue, a performer and writer famous for not only contributing to National Lampoon but creating pitch-black satires such as “The Vietnamese Baby Book.” In addition to teaching John Belushi’s eager foreign man to speak English phrases such as “I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines,” O’Donoghue made himself known in SNL’s first year as an impersonator of sorts. Buck Henry came to the stage and informed the crowd that the “king of impressionists” was on his way. O’Donoghue, dressed in Vegas-standard jacket and tie, amiably wondered what it would look like if Mike Douglas had steel needles shoved in his eyes. The aggressive screaming and flailing that followed was a shock, and O’Donoghue’s wild commitment sold it as comedy. (Henry capped off the bit by asking genially, “Uncanny, isn’t it?”) The violent, gross-out gag was a gauntlet thrown down to its audience, a test to see how far they were willing to go, and the reverberations of the gesture can be felt in generations of black-comedy acolytes.

Went With the Wind!Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, The Carol Burnett Show Ratt: “That gown is gorgeous.” Starlet: “Thank you, I saw it in the window and just couldn’t resist it.”
One of the silliest and sweetest family entertainments ever to air on network TV, The Carol Burnett Show knew exactly how to please its audience. While Burnett and her supporting cast of inveterate gigglers were known for their recurring characters, big performances, and breaking one another onstage, they also committed to opulent, crowd-pleasing movie parodies. The show took on many classics, including Double Indemnity and From Here to Eternity, but it was their parody of antebellum Southern landmark Gone With the Wind — and one visual gag in particular — that stuck in fans’ minds. Like Scarlett herself, Carol Burnett’s Starlet tears down and transforms her drapery into a makeshift gown when she looks to seduce Harvey Korman’s Ratt Butler. But when Starlet sashays down the long flight of stairs, draped in her drapes, it’s clear she has overlooked one simple aspect of the alteration: the curtain rod, which sticks out two feet on either side of her shoulders. This sort of impeccable detail helped push the movie parody to new heights, and a ripple of its influence was not only felt not only in burgeoning shows like SCTV and SNL, but in masterful visuals crafted by the likes of Key & Peele.
Elayne Boosler on Male Sexual HypocrisyElayne Boosler “[Men] want you to scream ‘You’re the best’ while swearing you’ve never done this with anyone before.”
When Elayne Boosler arrived on the comedy scene in the 1970s, she broke ground for female comics with her brash, pro-sex material. A 1979 New York Times article highlighted her unapologetic approach to stand-up — she wasn’t self-deprecating, she wasn’t that interested in losing weight, and she wasn’t filled with shame about being a woman. In this joke, she’s giving voice to the woman’s perspective in dating and casual sex, at a time when female comics were few and far between. It was another decade before she became the first woman to have her own hour-long TV special (she had to self-finance it, however), and while she never became quite the mainstream-success story of her peers, like Jay Leno and Andy Kaufman, she paved the way for every subsequent female comedian who wasn't afraid to go up against the boys.

1977 Annie Hall’s IntroWoody Allen, Marshall Brickman, Annie Hall “There’s an old joke: Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’ Well, that's essentially how I feel about life — full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”Allen's masterpiece Annie Hall is jam-packed with jokes and moments that irrevocably changed comedy, but it's the film's famous fourth-wall-breaking intro that warrants mention, as it basically sums up Allen's career in one joke. In it, the writer-director-star literally builds on the work of his comedic predecessors, taking jokey-jokes and making them more introspective, neurotic, existential, and cerebral. Annie Hall was the last true comedy to win the Best Picture Oscar, beating Star Wars in the process. That’s fitting: The history of sci-fi cinema can be divided into before and after Star Wars; the same can be said of Annie Hall and comedy.
7 Words You Can Never Say on TelevisionGeorge Carlin, George Carlin at USC “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.”While Carlin may have had routines more philosophical than the one about the seven curse words one can’t say on television, there’s no denying this juggernaut of censorship and linguistic glee. Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce’s infamous obscenity arrest, and was arrested under similar circumstances himself, so his evolving examination of the nation’s selective prudishness was fueled by very real experiences. The routine encapsulates Carlin’s insatiable drive to examine hypocrisy in our culture — be that hypocrisy in the realm of religion, language, or politics — and his determination to open his audience’s eyes about the rites and rituals holding society back. Even as Carlin punctuates his speech with a rhythmic, recurring loop of the seven words, his erudition and incisiveness make the bit the most intelligent dissection of swear words to date. Carlin revisited the routine for the better part of the decade. It was first heard on his 1972 record Class Clown, but it's most iconic performance might've been when he finally performed it on television, in his 1977 HBO special, which provided a warning before he went into it. Of course, comics can say almost anything they want on TV these days. The relaxing of our national morals may have a lot to do with it, but surely Carlin’s crusading had some sway. The bit’s impact can also be felt with profane, brainy boundary-pushers like Bill Hicks and Patrice O'Neal, and shows like Inside Amy Schumer.

On Location: George Carlin at USC (2/2) by therustyfishplate ‘Excuuuuuuuuuse Meeeeeeeee!’Steve Martin, Let’s Get SmallTaken from his 1977 debut album, Let's Get Small, Steve Martin's “excuse me” bit is an incredibly layered moment of comedy. He starts off playing the banjo, tells the audience he's going to make a bit of a departure from his normal routine, asks for mood lighting, and then goes into a seemingly off-script diatribe about how the backstage crew isn't meeting his standards, leaving the crowd wondering if this is part of the show or just a comedian being a bit of a diva. Then he finally gets to the punch line, two simple, drawn-out, overly exaggerated words: “Excuse me!” And then he just goes back to playing his banjo, seemingly letting the audience know that it was all just a brilliantly crafted dumb joke. It's the purest articulation of anti-comedy you'll find: It's a comedy show, so people are expecting something funny to happen, what would be really surprising (and thus really funny) is if something unfunny happened. (Yes, explaining the humor dries it up a little. Sorry.) This joke exists as a sort of patient zero for which so much comedy can be traced that it's almost silly to make a list. Even so: The SimpsonsMr. ShowWet Hot American Summer, Norm Macdonald, Tim and Eric, and oh so many other alternative comedians, past and present, followed in Martin’s footsteps. The fact that the joke created a national catchphrase and made Martin an unprecedented stand-up megastar is a testament to how revolutionary it was.
1979 Richard Pryor on His Heart AttackRichard Pryor, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert “Thinking about dying, ain’t ya? Didn’t think about it when you was eating all of that pork!”The man an overwhelming number of comedians and comedy fans will espouse as the best of all time, Pryor was at his loopy, confessional, raucous, and blue best in the live setting. It follows that Pryor’s filmed performances, Live on the Sunset Strip and Live in Concert in particular, are indisputable powerhouses. The latter sees Pryor sweating through his shirt and twitching behind his mustache, sticking and weaving as he moves from topic to topic, not unlike the fighters in his bit about boxing. As usual, Pryor makes stray observations about race as readily as he delves into drug addiction, and reveals his vulnerabilities as quickly as he gets political. He also depicts a lot of strange things, the most memorable of which is a heart attack. It’s a scary and delicate subject Pryor lays plain without hesitation, twisting his body on the floor as he remembers some great force stopping his breath and even scolding him, “You know black people have high blood pressure, anyway, don’t you? Watch your diet!” It’s an unfettered and beautiful bit that has inspired a horde of comics, including Chris Rock and Louis CK.

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