Johan Aasen, The Tallest Comedian in History
Today is the birthday of Johan (John) Aasen (1890-1938), best known as the giant Colosso in Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry? (1923). Accounts of his height vary wildly, from nearly nine feet tall, to a little over seven. (People have measured what is purported to be his skeleton and it is 7’2″, but in photograph after photograph he looks well over eight, and in a manner that is not the result of any lifts in any shoes, which could only add an inch or two at best. See above. Lloyd was 5’10” and they’re right next to each other. Now, people do shrink a little when they get older and infirm, but that still wouldn’t account foot for a foot and a half differential. My theory is that Loma Linda University has the wrong skeleton.)
A North Dakota farm boy, he broke into show business in 1917 when he joined the side show at the Sells-Floto Circus. He was plucked from obscurity when Lloyd had an emergency need for someone to play the giant in his film when the previously cast George Auger died suddenly. His use for comical purposes was immediately apparent, and he was subsequently two Charley Chase films Long Fliv the King and The Sting of Stings (both 1927), the sadly lost Two Flaming Youths with W.C. Fields and Chester Conklin (1927), Should Married Men Go Home? with Laurel and Hardy (1928), Growing Pains with Our Gang (1928), and Say Uncle with Jack Duffy (1928). Most of his talkies have a circus theme: he was in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), Carnival with Lee Tracy and Jimmy Durante (1935) and Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936). His last film was Bengal Tiger in 1936.
And now the classic tooth pulling scene from Why Worry?
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc