Archive for December, 2014

The 15 Best Comic Drunks (and Drunk Comics) of All Time

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by travsd

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New Year’s Eve — what a wonderful time of year! When we all have a rare chance to start out all over again with a clean slate…and then generally use the opportunity to commit acts we will spend the beginning of the new year regretting! (Not me — it’s been many a long year since I’ve ushered in the new year with a hangover. In which case my regret is now…that I wasn’t at a party.)

At any rate – -thank God we have comedians to show us how asinine we look when we have a few too many. Here are some of the best comic drunks of all time (clink on the links to learn more about each comedian):

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Charlie Chaplin

It’s seldom foregrounded, undoubtedly because Charlie Chaplin does so many things so well, but he is one of the greatest comic drunks of all time. There have been certain comedians down through the years who have made drunkenness their whole act. Chaplin could easily have gone this route. His bit in A Night at an English Music Hall had gotten him widespread notice; on the strength of it he was hired by Keystone. The routine was a favorite with audiences; during his Keystone stint he would showcase his talent as an inebriate in around 20% of his films, starting with his second picture Mabel’s Strange Predicament. He never abandoned this reliable comedy wellspring. It appears in his work as late as Limelight (1952), one of his last films.

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Joe E. Brown

A hilarious comic drunk, as he has the opportunity to showcase in many of his films of the 1930s.

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Leon Errol

In his years in burlesque and with the Ziegfeld Follies, Errol developed a top notch comic drunk bit, which he milked for most of his career. The character was not a down-and-outter. Usually, it was more of a bourgeois hail-fellow-well-met…a Rotarian, trying to sneak in at 2 in the morning so the wife won’t hear. The piece de resistance to his characterization was his patented, rubbery-legged walk, which made it look as though he would collapse to the ground any minute. You can see him do this in countless comedy shorts of the 1930s, and in Lupe Velez’s Mexican Spitfire comedies of the 1940s.

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Marie Dressler

Trust me. Watch her drunk bits in Chasing Rainbows and Anna Christie (both 1930). Srage and screen veteran Dressler was mighty expert and mighty funny at being blotto.

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Red Skelton

Multi-talented, multi-media comedian Red Skelton was famous for his “Guzzler’s Gin” routine.

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Jack Norton

Jack Norton played a drunk in walk-ons almost exclusively — best remembered today for his turns in Preston Sturges comedies and in W.C. Field’s The Bank Dick. 

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Foster Brooks

I don’t think I’ll hear much dissent if I call him the greatest comic drunk of all time. When ya find yer niche, baby, work it!

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Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley

It may not be too much to say that the stars of Absolutely Fabulous rewrote the history of comedy. Trailblazers, and among the funniest people who ever lived. They are slapstick pioneers, in that it’s fairly unprecedented (rare, at least) for women to take the brakes off and totally humiliate themselves for our glee. I only put them this far down the list because they are contemporary.In terms of how highly I rate them as comic artists, it’s near the top.

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Amy Schumer

Again, blazing new comedy trails even as we speak. Full equality means the freedom to be (or, in this case, portray) a woman who’s capable of being as big a train wreck as a man. I don’t know enough about her, though, (since she’s so convincing) to know for sure whether she belongs in the present category, or in THIS one:

DRUNK COMICS WHO WERE ACTUALLY KIND OF DRUNK A LOT OF THE TIME

Downing suds in "International House"

Downing suds in “International House”

W.C. Fields

We love him for bits like the funnel he uses to get his housekey in the lock in You’re Telling Me, and for leaping off an airplane to retrieve a falling whiskey bottle in Never Give a Sucker an Even BreakBut the laughter masked serious consequences. Booze took a serious toll on his health during his last decade, and eventually took his life in 1946.

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Buster Keaton

‘Nuff said.

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Joe E. Lewis

Definitely the originator of the whole Rat Pack thing of comically celebrating and glamorizing booze from the night club stage, this comedian was a big influence on the two men pictured below as well as the guy who played him in The Joker is Wild, Frank Sinatra.

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Jackie Gleason

How Sweet It is!

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Dean Martin

Dino had a lot going for him — great pipes, many hit records, decent acting chops, and for a time he was one of the best straight men in the business. On his tv variety show and his later Celebrity Roasts, he generally made out that he was half sloshed. Was that tea in his glass? Or whiskey? I’ve heard both.

At any rate, Have a Happy New Year! And may all tonight’s inevitable alcoholic fueled nonsense result in comedy, not tragedy.

Laurel and Hardy in “The Battle of Century”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Laurel and Hardy, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Laurel and Hardy silent comedy short The Battle of the Century (1927). In addition to being very funny in its own right, this film is famous for having in the cast a young extra named Lou Costello, who plays one of the people in the audience at a boxing match.

At the start of the picture Laurel is boxing in a bout, with Hardy as his manager and trainer. Somehow Laurel manages to knock his opponent down, but then foolishly squanders the victory by not going to his corner for the count, even going so far as to wrestle with the referee about it. In the meantime, the opponent has more than sufficient time to recover. He K.O.s Laurel. When Laurel wakes up, the crowd is long gone.

In the next scene, with the two broke from the loss of the bout, Hardy buys accident insurances for Stan, with the plan of having him slip on a banana peel. Meantime, a man unloading a pie truck slips on the peel and gets covered in pie. There follows a classic L & H “tit for tat” sequence, culminating in the titular melee. Enraged, the truck driver throws a pie at Ollie. Ollie throws another one , missing the guy and hitting a passing lady. This keeps multiplying until everyone on the entire block is embroiled. It looks like a tong war. It is the zombie apocalypse of pie fights. This a legendary scene — one of the very few times I have enjoyed a pie fight. In the end, a cop says to Ollie “did you start this pie fight?” Ollie says ‘what pie fight?” Then the cop gets a pie in the face.

For more on 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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That Was the Year That Was (and the One About to Be)

Posted in Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, PLUGS on December 30, 2014 by travsd

2014 was a sad and violent year both at home and abroad, but we’ve already done more than our share of hollering about it from the seat of my rocking chair on my virtual front porch. Instead today, as we do every year, we take the opportunity to crow about the blessings that were bestowed upon us, and to announce exciting plans for the new year 2015. Thanks to all of those who’ve been along with us for the ride. We hope you’ll stay with us!

JANUARY

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Trav w/ co-star Audrey Crabtree

In January we finished post-production on our short silent comedy Too Much Nutcracker and unleashed it into the world: Check it out here. 

FEBRUARY

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February marked the centennial of Charlie Chaplin’s start in motion pictures. We marked the occasion with a sold-out SRO screening and talk at the Brooklyn Lyceum. More info on that event here.

MARCH

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In March. none other than Bette Midler gave us this terrific shout-out for our book No Applause in People magazine.

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In April (April 1, to be exact), we announced the re-discovery of the long lost Marx Brothers silent comedy Humor Risk. Watch it here. 

MAY

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In May, I helped put on the month long, citywide Marx Brothers festival known as MARXFEST. We got coverage in USA Today, The New York Times, The New York Post, Newsday, The New Yorker, Time Out New York, et al and yours  truly appeared on WBAI radio and on the Halli-Casser Jayne Show. Links to all that press and media are here. 

Here are photos of my personal highlights:

Opening ceremony, Algonquin Hotel

Opening ceremony, Algonquin Hotel

Trav speaks on the early Marx Bros at Coney Island USA

Trav speaks on the early Marx Bros at Coney Island USA

Kaufman Astoria talk

Trav speaks on the Marx Bros early Paramount pictures in Astoria, Queens

The Marxfest committee hangs with Dick Cavett!

The Marxfest committee hangs with Dick Cavett!

Historian Rob Bader shows us one of his discoveries -- the site of Groucho's first audition

Historian Rob Bader shows us one of his discoveries — the site of Groucho’s first audition

Trav introduces Duck Soup at the Museum of Modern Art

Trav introduces Duck Soup at the Museum of Modern Art

Introducing the first presentation of the Marx Bros first show "I'll Say She Is" in 90 years

Introducing the first presentation of the Marx Bros’ first show “I’ll Say She Is” in 90 years

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My talk at NYPL was not only SRO, but a near riot broke out

My talk at NYPL was not only SRO, but a near riot broke out!

Introducing the program at the historic Players Club

Introducing the program at the historic Players Club

Closing Night at Wit's End at Flute Midtown

Closing Night at Wit’s End at Flute Midtown

SUMMER

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Summer was spent getting the full production of I’ll Say She Is into shape for the New York International Fringe Festival. We sold out the entire run. In addition to directing and producing the historic production, I had to step in and replace a cast member, so I acted in it as well! The show got glowing coverage in the Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News. Time Out New York, WNYC radio and numerous others to be found here.  Returning soon to a theatre near you! Everything you’ll ever need to know about the show is here. (And this just in; we made several 2014 Top Ten lists, including this and this!)

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SEPTEMBER

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In September I appeared on the local NYC TV program”Arts in the City” with host Barry Mitchell to talk about my book Chain of Fools. More here. 

OCTOBER – NOVEMBER

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In October I directed and appeared in Dick D. Zigun’s play Dead End Dummy at Coney Island USA for the Halloween season. In November the show transferred to the Club at LaMaMa. We get great coverage in the New York Daily News, the Brooklyn Papers, and more.

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Also in November, Richard Zoglin’s new biography about Bob Hope came out, containing many a shout out for our book No Applause. 

DECEMBER

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Got to hang with the legendary Mink Stole after her Christmas show at the Laurie Beechman.

PLANS FOR 2015!

But we’ve only just begun! Here are SOME of our plans for the New Year!

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After many years of hard work, our new play Horseplay, or the Fickle Mistress: A Protean Picaresque will premiere at the Ellen Stewart Theatre (that’s the big room) at La MaMa in mid-February, with an all-star cast that includes Molly Pope, Everett Quinton, Tim Cusack, Jan Leslie Harding, Chuck Montgomery and Tiffany Abercrombie, directed by Elyse Singer for Theatre Askew. More (including dates and tickets) here, and much much much more to follow.

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2015 marks the 100th anniversary of W.C. Fields’ first film Pool Sharks as well as his debut with the Ziegfeld Follies. Accordingly I am working with WC Fields Productions to plan a year long celebration called the Year of Fields, with most of the events concentrated in June, which we are calling, yes, FIELDS FEST. Official announcement about the many events we have planned will follow in a few weeks.

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2015 also marks the 20th anniversary of my theatre company Mountebanks. Throughout the year look for many Trav S.D. solo appearances and original theatre productions in our Mountebankian vein, among them a sneak preview of our Gilbert and Sullivan style comic opera Curse of the Rat King (co-written with composer David Malamud), presented by Opera on Tap at Barbes; and a reading of my Civil War themed comedy A House Divided…and much more.

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July will mark the Centennial of the Mack Sennett Bathing Girls. In celebration, Trav S.D.’s Bathing Beauties will be back with a new silent film comedy and a new burlesque show. Details to follow!

And more, much more….

We hope you have a terrific 2015, but more importantly, we hope you’ll have it WITH US! 

Eddie Cantor in “Roman Scandals”

Posted in Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy Roman Scandals (1933), devised for him by George S. Kaufman and Robert E. Sherwood. 

The film is a very funny and charming semi-musical full of one-liners and songs for Cantor (most written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin including, “Build a Little Home”, “Be Young and beautiful” among them. The art deco version of Rome is gorgeous. Eddie plays a shlub who works in a museum and dreams he goes back to ancient Rome and becomes a slave named Oedipus. Rome is depicted as a decadent, cruel and terrifying place…essentially a totalitarian state. This fuels the humor and also provides great dramatic tension. Oedipus is made royal food-taster to the emperor (Edward Arnold), whom of course the empress is trying to poison. (The little rhyme Eddie uses to remember which dish contains poison was later appropriated by Danny Kaye in The Court Jester — people tend to remember the later version).  Gloria Stuart of Titanic is the Empress—70 years younger!  Billy Barty plays a version of Eddie when he shrinks in a steam bath. Some unfortunate black face stuff is a little jarring. (The premise is a beauty mud pack…but when Eddie starts to act like a minstrel, the intention is unmistakable).The cast also includes Ruth Etting as a slave girl, David Manners (of Dracula) as Eddie’s aristocratic young protector, and of course the lovely pre-code Goldwyn Girls, choreographed by Busby Berkley.  Among them were Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard. 

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While the movie obviously draws from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it ended up being influential itself. It is literally the basis for the Roman section of Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part One. The premise was also used by Three Stooges for one of their late features—undoubtedly others have used it as well. (Think of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). And the same premise was adapted for the later Eddie Cantor comedy Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937).

For more on 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Laurel and Hardy in “Sons of the Desert”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Laurel and Hardy, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the 1933 Laurel and Hardy feature Sons of the Desert, directed by William Seiter. 

This remains one of the all-time favorite Laurel and Hardy films among fans. As they often do, Laurel and Hardy play hen-pecked but rebellious husbands on a tight leash. Their wives here are played by Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy. In this film the boys are not literal “Sons of the Desert” (which can be a little confusing because in a couple of their comedies their characters join the French Foreign Legion). In this case, the “Sons of the Desert” refers to their fraternal lodge and the boys are just itching to their annual convention in Chicago. Naturally their wives won’t permit this, so the boys claim that Hardy is sick and must go to Honolulu for his health. (A hilarious irony — who wouldn’t prefer to go to Honolulu than Chicago?). In Chicago they woop it up with Charley Chase, at his comical best as an obnoxious drunken lodge brother from Texas). Then the newsreels begin to cause trouble. The wives learn that the ship their husbands were supposedly on has sunk. They grieve. Then later they see newsreels that show their husbands drunkenly cavorting at the convention in Chicago. They fume. The boys are busted. The wives allow them to hang themselves with lies upon their return before they throw them out. Their is an extended climax with Hardy on the roof at night during a rainstorm, just one of many Hardy rooftop sequences.

This film is best known today for supplying the name of the international Laurel and Hardy society, one of the largest and heartiest of all movie star fan clubs. Learn more about the group here.

The premise of this film (and similar Laurel and Hardy comedies) had an extended reach, for it was much emulated by Jackie Gleason in the The Honeymooners in the early 1950s, and then later by Hanna Barbera on The Flintstones in the early 1960s.

For more on 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Wheeler and Woolsey in “Hook, Line and Sinker”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Wheeler and Woolsey with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Wheeler and Woolsey comedy Hook, Line and Sinker (1930), directed by Eddie Cline.

Though the comedians are in fine form, the plot of this one is very run of the mill…the sort of thing that would be remade many times over by Joe E. Brown, the Bowery Boys etc. Wheeler and Woolsey play insurance salesman who help heiress Dorothy Lee spruce up an abandoned hotel and make a resort out of it called the Ritz de la Riviera (some echoes of Cocoanuts?) Wheeler and she are sweet on each other. Her mother wants her to marry the family lawyer, who talks a good line, but is secretly a crook. He hires a bunch of murdering gangsters and a femme fatale named the Duchess to get W & W out of the picture (and steal jewels and money from the safe). But the movie contains lots of really funny lines and situations. Woolsey romances the girl’s mother. The gangsters keep trying to kill them. The moll keeps entrapping Wheeler. Hugh Herbert plays a funny hotel detective, who’s always sleeping. At the climax, a thunderstorm knocks out the lights and they confront the crooks in the dark. Machine guns, hand grenades, dynamite. In the end all is exposed, the crooks are vanquished and the heroes get rewards.

For more on 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Syd Chaplin in “A Submarine Pirate”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on December 26, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the Syd Chaplin  comedy A Submarine Pirate (1915).

A major hit in its day and still one of the the best known comedies of its star Syd Chaplin (Charlie’s brother) who made it for Mack Sennett shortly after Charlie himself had gone over to Esssanay. It was Sennett’s biggest hot of the year. Very topical stuff in its day (the World War One era). Syd’s a waiter who overhears an inventor’s plan to use a submarine to get to an undersea treasure. He disguises himself as an admiral and worms his way into the expedition.

For more on 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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