Today is the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007).
Vonnegut was my favorite contemporary fiction author during my high school years; I read every book he’d written up to that point (graduation was 1983) and kept up with his new books through Bluebeard (1987). I’m not sure why I didn’t stay on top of his new writing after that; I’m sure moving to New York and producing theatre and not really keeping up with anybody had something to do with it.
At any rate, in 1984, the film version of his novel Slapstick came out in the U.S….and seemed to go rather quickly to video, which was how I saw it. Imagine my excitement when I saw the cast list! Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Jim Backus, Orson Welles, Pat Morita! Based on the terrific Kurt Vonnegut novel! It’s got to be a comedy masterpiece, right?
No, no, it’s one of the worst movies you will ever see. And there’s nothing worse than a bad comedy. With a bad science fiction film or melodrama, you at least enjoy the consolations of laughter. But at a bad comedy, you are duty-bound NOT to laugh. All that happens is that your stomach gets tied in knots, and your blood pressure goes up. Vonnegut acknowledged that it was one of the worst movies ever made and he regretted allowing Steve Paul, who only had one previous credit, to make it. Vonnegut often cited it as the reason he didn’t allow more movies to be made of his novels.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out 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
To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.