Friday, February 5, 2016

Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy || part 6 - the eighties

1980 ‘I Am Serious ... and Don't Call Me Shirley’Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Airplane! Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it? Ted: Surely you can’t be serious.Rumack: I am serious ... and don’t call me Shirley.
Airplane! is arguably the quintessential cinematic example of brilliantly stupid humor, and this joke may be the stupidest — and therefore, the best. The 1980 classic abounds with quotable one-liners and layered jokes that improve with time, but no one steals the show more than the straight-faced Leslie Nielsen imploring Robert Hays to land their out-of-control plane. It's been named one of the American Film Institute's “Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time,” and its genius is in its homophonic simplicity: It's funny, I can say from experience, to both a small child and a professional comedy critic. It’s the kind of quip that thousands of screenwriters have attempted to mimic — how could Austin PowersZoolander, or countless Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy characters exist without this one line?
The Dalai Lama StoryBill Murray, Harold Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray, Douglas Kenney, Caddyshack Carl: So we finish the 18th and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.In the late ’70s and early ’80s, improv theater Second City's influence on American comedy was ever-present, and you didn't have to look much further than Saturday Night Live, with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Dan Aykroyd all cutting their teeth on the show. And then there was Bill Murray, the man Second City alum Harold Ramis frequently called the best verbal improviser he's ever seen. So when Ramis had a chance to direct the improv-heavy Caddyshack, he let Murray off the leash. The Dalai Lama scene is a hilarious testament to improv training and the ingenuity of the human brain, influencing essentially all comic performers that came after it. Now, every actor in a comedy is asked if they got to improvise lines on set — this joke is why. And then there is the sarcastic tag – “So I got that goin' for me, which is nice” — which set the tone for many comedic protagonists thereafter. Vince Vaughn's entire career is basically that line.
1982 ‘Cocaine Is God’s Way of Saying That You’re Making Too Much Money.’Robin Williams, An Evening With Robin WilliamsComing, like all Williams's jokes, in a tornado of riffs, this is the defining joke of the 1980s Comedy Boom, a time in which too many comedians made too much money and spent it on too much cocaine. Williams, with his struggles with abuse and his manic stage persona, embodied this better than anyone (though he said he never performed high). Seven months before he taped the HBO special in which the joke appears, Williams was out with his friend John Belushi; the next morning Belushi would be found dead of a drug overdose. Williams was never known for being the most confessional comedian, if only because he never stayed on a topic long enough, but there is a powerful truth to his most famous joke.
1983 Bill Cosby on Raising a Football PlayerBill Cosby, Himself “Hi, Mom!”Okay, we need to compartmentalize here and consider Cosby, difficult as it has become, exclusively on the merits of his stand-up career — because those merits are staggering. Time was, his material about life and family bridged racial gaps and explored the role of modern fatherhood in a way that gave rise to such comics as Ray Romano, Louis C.K., and Jim Gaffigan. “Hi, Mom!” was the perfect distillation of his comedy sharply articulating the unique frustrations and thanklessness of being a parent — specifically, in this case, the overlooked one. It was such a simple, evergreen bit that Carlos Mencia would be accused of nabbing it decades years later. Himself would also encourage NBC executives to give Cosby, who already had a few failed TV shows under his belt, another try on the small screen. The resulting effort, The Cosby Show, was groundbreaking and beloved, until it could be no longer.
Andy Kaufman’s Adopted ChildrenAndy Kaufman, David Letterman, Late Night With David Letterman Letterman [screaming backstage]: Andy! Andy, are you close to doing this? Kaufman [from backstage]: In a minute. I’ll be ready in a minute.Letterman [to the “adopted children”]: Okay, umm, well, this will be nice when Andy comes out here.Kaufman and Letterman are, of course, two comedy legends, each with many bits that could have a place on this list. But there is something nice about putting them together, as they were kindred spirits in expanding the meaning of comedy and entertainment. Kaufman was a frequent guest on Letterman's Late Night, with each appearance pushing comedy forward, or at least sideways. The joke here, which plays out over 12 hilarious, awkward minutes, is that Kaufman has adopted three children; however, instead of babies, they're three grown black men, Herb, George and Tony (a.k.a. Tino). What could have been a one-off sight gag turns into an even longer bit as Letterman interviews them, with Andy disappearing for a stretch and returning to do his dead-on Elvis impersonation. This appearance isn't as famous as when he was fake-assaulted by wrestler Jerry Lawler in 1982, but it is most indicative of what these two brought to comedy. Kaufman, at his best, pushed the buttons of comedy with a childlike innocence; Letterman did so with a bemused irony. Kaufman would pass away less than nine months after this appearance; it's trite to say, but it's very true: Comedy was never the same.
1984 Goes to 11Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, This Is Spinal Tap Marty: Why don’t you just make 10 louder? And make 10 be the top number and make that a little louder? [Pause]Nigel: These go to 11.While it certainly owes something to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Albert Brooks’s reality-TV predictor Real Life, This Is Spinal Tap advanced the substance and style of the mockumentary and defined its future. The film follows the tumultuous comeback of vapid, leopard-printed rock trio Spinal Tap, played by Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean. This scene between Guest’s idiotic Nigel Tufnel and blandly accepting documentarian Marty DiBergi, played by Rob Reiner, perfectly illustrates the combination of structure and play that makes the movie its own sort of comedic Stonehenge. While the clueless Nigel insists that the big numbers on the dials of the band’s amps make them special, Guest & Co. perfectly skewer the pretensions of pop musicians with a conjunction of character, improvisational wit, and comic timing. Without subtle but seminal moments like this one, there would be no fourth-wall-busting comedy such as The Office — not to mention Guest’s latter-day treats Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.
1985 Steven Wright’s BurglarSteven Wright, I Have a Pony “I came home the other day and everything in my apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. I couldn’t believe it. I said to my roommate, ‘Look at this stuff, it’s all an exact replica.’ He said, ‘Do I know you?’”One-liners are as old as comedy itself, but few comics have mastered them as fully as Steven Wright, whose 1985 album I Have a Pony is brimming with smart, tight jokes. Everything about Wright’s manner — his stoicism, his precise wording, his refusal to interact with the audience — made him a superstar during the ’80s boom, and his ability to identify banal aspects of life and spin them into absurd ideas remains unmatched. Of all his jokes, this one about exact replicas stands out for its imagery and many layers — it tells a little story with extreme brevity. It’s obvious why and how Wright inspired legions of other comics, most notably the late, great Mitch Hedberg — he of “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too” — but also the likes of Demetri Martin, Myq Kaplan, and Zach Galifianakis.
Surfer ChickWhoopi Goldberg, Direct From Broadway “So I go home and I go, ‘Mom,’ and she goes, ‘What?’ And I go, like, ‘I’m like totally PG.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, you’re in a movie.’ And like finally I got it, you know. And it’s like, ‘No, I’m not in a movie. I’m, like, totally with child, like Mary was with Jesus, except I know who the father was.”Before she was an EGOT winner, Whoopi Goldberg, more than any comedian of her generation, made stand-up more theatrical. Getting her start as an actress, she was given opportunities at stand-up clubs like the Belly Room at L.A.'s Comedy Store, which, unlike the famed Original Room, was more open to experimentation and, more notably, women. There, without a late-night set in her sights, she was free to do a show that would run well over an hour. Eventually, with the help of director Mike Nichols, she brought her show to Broadway. Filmed for HBO as Direct From Broadway, the above joke was told by Goldberg in character as a California surfer girl (not Valley girl) who gets pregnant by accident. The comedy comes from how specific and well-drawn the character is. Along with the likes of Sandra Bernhard, Goldberg's blurring of stand-up and storytelling one-man shows changed the game, with John Leguizamo in the ’90s and the Mike Birbiglias of the world today following in her footsteps.
1986 ‘No Man Has Ever Put His Hand Up a Woman’s Dress Looking for a Library Card.’Joan Rivers, Johnny Carson, The Tonight ShowIt’s no easy feat to fight in heels, but Joan Rivers made a career out of it. She had moxy, smarts, and stamina, and she never apologized for her jokes. After finding her voice at Second City in early ’60s Chicago, Rivers invaded the downtown New York boys’ club at the Bitter End and the Gaslight Cafe, playing alongside Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. She made a strong connection with Johnny Carson and, from there, she took off — writing, hosting shows, touring, and exhibiting the work ethic of a carpenter ant until the end of her life. Like many other comics with a vast catalogue of one-liners (and in Rivers’s case, a physical card catalogue), Rivers reused material when it suited her. This joke was one Rivers had used for years, but used here in reference to Christie Brinkley, represents a midpoint between Rivers’s downtown years and the red-carpet years yet to come. Though she was often catty and brutal, Rivers’s best stuff weighed in on the life of women in America — their struggles with romance, their bodies, and with the patriarchy in general. This line completely sums up Rivers’s understanding of what a woman is up against despite lip service from men. There are some gossipy comics, e.g. Kathy Griffin, who owe their careers to Rivers, while others like Whitney Cummings and Chris Rock just took a cue from her ability to craft a pointed zinger.

1988 Roseanne on Working MothersRoseanne Barr, John Goodman, Roseanne Dan: Fixing the sink is a husband’s job, and I am the husband. Roseanne: And I’m the wife, so it’s my job to do everything else.Dan: Oh, don’t give me that.Roseanne: Oh, well, it must be true. I put in eight hours a day at the factory and then I come home and put in another eight hours. I’m running around like a maniac, taking back —Darlene: Mom, where’s the tape?Roseanne: In the bathroom, third drawer.It's almost shocking to look back on Roseanne's pilot through the lens of today's network comedies. The pilot is messy, the jokes aren't rapid-fire or referential or filled with snark, and the characters are unwieldy and normal-looking, without a Token Hot Person in the bunch. They yell at each other and over each other, and don't seem to care that anyone can hear them. Even the studio audience feels more reallike they're genuinely enjoying themselves and haven't been neutered by machines. The show was revolutionary in its honesty and in its portrayal of a lower-middle-class leading woman as a working mother, something previously unseen on network TV. This joke captured Roseanne’s character perfectly, as she can’t even make a point about how hard it is to be a working mother without being interrupted by one of her kids. The show's success — it was one of the five highest-rated TV shows during its first five years on the air — sparked at least a few subsequent comedies, like Grace Under Fire and Reba, though nothing on air since has captured Roseanne's tone in quite the same way.

Roseanne Season 1 Episode 1 by f718473651 The Barbershop SceneEddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Landis, Clint Smith, Coming to America Saul: What about Rocky Marciano? Clarence: Oh, there they go. There they go, every time I start talkin’ ’bout boxing, a white man got to pull Rocky Marciano out they ass. That’s their one, that’s their one. Rocky Marciano! Rocky Marciano! Let me tell you something, once and for all-Rocky Marciano was good; but compared to Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano ain’t shit.Saul: He beat Joe Louis’s ass.Morris: That’s right, he did whoop Joe Louis’s ass.Clarence: Joe Louis was 75 years old when they fought.The spirited back-and-forth in this scene from Eddie Murphy’s prime is impressive even before you consider the fact that Murphy is playing both Saul and Clarence. This was the first, and arguably best, time we saw Murphy pull off what would become his signature multicharacter act. It was a perfect setting: Depicting barbershop culture that was never before seen on the big screen, it allowed Murphy to do what he did better than anyone — talk shit and embody very specific characters. The big payoff comes at the end, but everything Murphy says leading up to it is equally hilarious. Even if you watch today, it's still incredible how much of a comedy powerhouse Eddie Murphy was. Murphy was the biggest comedy star of the second half of the century, bringing a vitality and sense of now to comedy. It's hard to compare his stardom to any one comedian; the closest approximation might be that he was like the entirety of the original cast of Saturday Night Live's influence condensed into one person.
1989 ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having.’Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner, Estelle Reiner, When Harry Met Sally ...
When Harry Met Sally... was the launching pad for a seemingly endless string of romantic comedies, all of which tried to replicate the magic of this perfectly crafted scene. Meg Ryan, with a brilliant idea and a perfect performance, blew up the conventions of flirty dialogue, pushing the classic rom-com tension to never-before-seen heights. And then director Rob Reiner cuts to his mom, Estelle, who delivers the most-repeated line from the most famous scene in the history of romantic comedy. (We dare you to think of a more oft-quoted moment in a rom-com. What are you gonna say, “You had me at hello”? Child's play!) It’s a jokey-joke, almost Catskillian in its delivery and Jewishness (Estelle met Rob’s father, Carl, when she was a set designer in the Catskills), which, in a way, connects the joke to those days. It’s a direct line: Woody Allen updates the Borscht Belt, and When Harry Met Sally updates his update.

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