Sunday, November 11, 2012

TV Comedians Before 1970

I was surprised at the number of people who said they did not enjoy comedies last week. I am always grateful for a laugh-for a Charles Willeford book or a movie like Shaun of the Dead.

Of late, there are lots of comedians I find funny. Louis C.K stands out. But there are many funny comedies on TV in the last two decades. The humor is verbal, quick, incisive. THE BIG BANG THEORY is a sure thing for me. So too was THE OFFICE in its day.SEINFELD never failed until the last years.

But if I look back to my childhood, it's very different. Which early comics did you find funny? For me, not very many. I never laughed at Jackie Gleeson, Jack Benny or Milton Berle. I think I would have probably enjoyed Mike Nichols and Elaine May but they were before my time. Also never a fan of the Carol Burnett show or Lucille Ball. Monty Python was only sporadically funny although I love Fawlty Towers. Bill Cosby's albums were funny as were Bob Newhart's.

Who made you laugh from that earlier era?Who makes you laugh now? 

42 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I still listen to Jack Benny's old radio shows and laugh. Richard Pryor and George Carlin both came along in the early '60s and were funny from the start. I like Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. Shelley Berman. Got a kick out of George Gobel. Way too many to name, really.

Anonymous said...

Robert Klein
Rodney Dangerfield
George Carlin (at least until the later years)
Groucho
W. C. Fields
Jack Benny
Bob Newhart
Robert Schimmel
Steven Wright

And yes, I loved Lucy (on the original show).

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I doubt anyone today will realize how funny Richard Pryor was. I can remember falling on the floor listening to him. Now George Gobel, I don't remember much at all but the others were brilliant, weren't they?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Robert Klein was amazing. I don't know Robert Schimmel-tv, radio?

Dan_Luft said...

The Tom Lehrer albums hold up surprisingly well.

Anonymous said...

HBO mostly. He was extremely raunchy, would say the most outrageous things. I found him hilarious but I'm sure others wouldn't agree. He was like Pryor in talking about things like his own serious heart attack, and later non Hodgkins lymphoma. After all that he died tragically when he was a passenger in a car his daughter was driving that flipped over. He later died from his injuries.

He started out writing for IN LIVING COLOR and Dangerfield gave him a boost by putting him on his comedy specials. His "comedy hero" was Lenny Bruce.

Interesting sidenote: his mother Betty Schimmel wrote To See You Again: A True Story of Love in a Time of War, about falling in love in a concentration camp (both parents were Holocaust survivors) and how she met the guy again 30 years later.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll look for him on you tube.

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a tragic life!

Jerry House said...

Jack Benny was the comedian's comedian. I could watch/listen to him forever.

Bob Newhart was a breath of fresh air and always entertaining.

Let me also throw in a vote for the Smothers Brothers, Burns and Allen, Stephen Wright.

As a kid, I laughed my head off at Phil Silvers playing Sgt. Bilko -- I suspect that had more to do with Nat Hiken's writing than Silvers' performance.

pattinase (abbott) said...

When I was a teenager I babysat for a couple that stayed out until five in the morning-no joke. There's a story there, but anyway, it seemed like TOP BANANA was always on The Late, Late Show. A really wretched movie starring Phil Silvers. That's what I remember him best for.
I liked the political humor of the Smothers Brothers but not so much the mother like you best routines.

George said...

WHY IS THERE AIR? was the Bill Cosby album that I wore the grooves out. So funny! And none of the mean-spiritedness of much of contemporary comedy. Loved Soupy Sales and George Burns, too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Looking up Tom Lehrer, Dan. I think if they weren't on TV, I probably didn't buy comedy albums.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A singing comedian. Pretty rare now, right. Maybe THE CAPITAL STEPS.

Deb said...

Bob Newhart's brand of low-key comedy always brings a smile. I wish the audio were better on reruns of his show from the 1970s. I remember busting a gut at some of Robin Williams's mid-1980s stand-up. The comedian today who makes me laugh out loud is Jim Gaffigan. Both Peter Tosh and Dane Cook leave me completely cold. I can't figure out how anyone could find them funny, but obviously--judging by their frequent appearances on tv--someone does.

Heath Lowrance said...

No one makes me laugh more than Buster Keaton. And the Marx Brothers. Aside from that, I still love George Carlin, Louis CK, and, in a different way, Brian Regan.
Comedy TV shows, that's a different story. I never cared for Seinfeld, and none of the shows on now do anything for me-- too formulaic and forced.
With the exception of "Community". I really like "Community".

pattinase (abbott) said...

Community is good. Not at all formulaic. Have never heard of Brian Regan. Will look him up.

Heath Lowrance said...

Patti, Regan is a "clean" comedian, one of those old school observational types. He's just goofy, but he makes me laugh.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Here is a problem with comedians for me, Many of them seem to have a streak of meanness in them. And I think with some like Dane Cook it is just too obvious. For me Jim Carrey suffers from the same flaw. Even when he is being saccharine, it seems mean. Robin Williams' mind used to be amazingly agile. But now I think he has lost it. He seems addled.
I like Lewis Black.

Heath Lowrance said...

Dane Cook is a hack, always has been. And I agree with you about Williams and Carey-- their best days are far behind them. And Lewis Black is brilliant. I love angry comedy.

Richard R. said...

Earnie Kovacks and Steve Allen. Shelly Berman at times. Bill Cosby in his comedy album days. John Belushi on SNL.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, yes, yes, Rick. Great choices.
All angry men, I think. Well, maybe not Steve Allen.
It's hard to find new Lewis Black stuff though. He must hone, and hone, and hone.
Who is the angriest comic ever? I guess Mort Sahl or Bruce.
Sadly we are not naming women. And I think it's the vulgarity issue. People won't tolerate it in women.

michael said...

While other kids listened to music such as The Beatles, I was listening to stand-up comedians. Bill Cosby was my favorite by far. But I also listened to Bob Newhart, Flip Wilson, and anyone else I could find at the record shop in small town Kansas. TV had Jonathan Winters, George Gobel, George Carlin and (later) Stephen Wright. Movies had Groucho Marx, Wheeler & Woolsey, and screwball comedies.

Comedy styles change over generations. I find today's comedies boring, partly because the multi camera sitcom form is the predictable set up/ joke. I know the punch line before the character says it. Single camera sitcoms like the forgotten BETTER OFF TED are rare treasures that die too soon.

I believe Groucho to be the best comedian to ever live.

One of the reasons early TV comedians rarely made me laugh was they were so self-censored. Listen to Bob Hope and compare him to the young 60s comedians and you can hear two different cultures and points of view.

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart too. I really liked Carol Burnett, but not Lucy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Lewis Black! How could I have forgotten him? Especially as he is our age. Love his Starbucks routine, and the rants on The Daily Show.

Also Cosby. When I was younger I loved Flip Wilson, bought one of his comedy albums.

Jeff M.

Kent Morgan said...

Nobody has mentioned Stan Freberg, who I think was funny. I hated the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy and that type of comedy, never got Lucie and Desi and most stand-up. I did like Bob Newhart on record. Canadians Wayne and Shuster, who were on the Ed Sullivan more than anyone else with their skits, were very good. I do remember one time when Brad Garrett was at a small local comedy club before he was a regular on a TV show that I never watched. My softball team with their wives and girl friends was there as a fundraiser and we were seated right in front of the stage. As we had just come from a nearby game some players still had their uniform jerseys on. Garrett started to pick on us so I gave it right back at him and he finally backed off. I never thought for a second that he had any chance of making it as a comedian. I was going to say "making it big" when I remembered that he must be about 6'6" tall.

sandra seamans said...

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Red Skelton. He was always a favorite of mine. With Jackie Gleason I only like the Joe the bartender bits with Crazy Guggenheim.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Stan Freberg, yes. Although I couldn't really give you a routine he did. Red Skelton always seemed so sad. Wonder if he was.

Anonymous said...

Kent, we were just in Vegas and Brad Garrett has his own comedy club there now.

Agree on Stan Frenberg. I used to love the commercials he did for radio and television and still remember several vividly.

Jeff M.

Heath Lowrance said...

Patti, you mentioned female comics-- Sarah Silverman is pretty fearless, and very very funny.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I really like her, but I know some find her difficult. I thought the show she did with her sister was pretty original.

Thomas Pluck said...

i grew up on George Carlin, Richard Klein, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Lili Tomlin, Carol Burnett & company. They are still very funny. Louis CK is on his way to being the closest thing to a new Carlin.
I like Sarah Silverman, too.
I get tired of some new comedy movies- I always liked the Christopher Guest ensemble mockumentaries, Judd Apatow is hit or miss. Paul Rudd makes some funny, subtle comedies. Kristen Wiig. I liked Bridesmaids a lot, I think she showed the boys how it's done with that one. It was a Caddyshack style take on the topic and almost as funny as that classic.

Richard R. said...

I forgot about Freberg. His History of the United States of America Vol. 1 is hilarious. I had it practically memorized while in college.

John said...

Late to this party but here are a few women comics that no one seems to want to tlak about:

Ellen DeGeneres in her early stand up routines was absolutley hysterical to me. She was neer vulgar or raunchy or shocking. Just plain funny.

Phylles Diller still makes me laugh. Wathced a lot of her old stuff just after she died and it still worked for me.

Probably because I'm shamelessly gay I love Margaret Cho (especially when she is talking about her family) and Wanda Sykes.

John said...

Wow, that was a typo-filled embarrassment above. I need to slow down.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I haven't seen Margaret Cho since her series. Wanda is terrific. I loved her on CURB. She and the actress who played Jeff's wife really ran all over him.
And I do remember Ellen as a standup. Always likable, charming and funny.

Todd Mason said...

By not choosing to listen to podcasts, you are missing a lot of brilliant (and a lot of mediocre and bad, of course) comedic activity. It really is the medium where, outside of their club and festival performances (and to some extent online video, some of which is offered as video podcasts), most of the best of the current crop of comedians are able to express themselves most directly, w/o trammel.

Among the musical comedians who are still very much in evidence are Garfunkel and Oates (actually Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci), Mary Mack, Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman, Howard Kremer and a variety of others, including the likes of Silverman, Maria Bamford and Sandra Bernhard who use music more sparingly in their acts (and most of the folks mentioned above also do non-musical comedic activitiy, as well). Shelley Berman was just on Marc Maron's podcast last week; Berman still tries to get over that folks thought he was imitating Bob Newhart rather than the other way around.

Nichols and May before your time? So was Willa Cather! Surprised you missed Tom Lehrer over the years, though his biggest popular splash was as the song-guy for the US version of THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS in the one mid-'60s season it was on, though he'd been doing comedy and music essentially avocationally (he was a mathematics professor at MIT) since the earliest '50s. He wrote a Schoolhouse Rock or two, later on. To compare him to the Capitol Steps or even Mark Russell is to compare Richard Pryor to Katt Williams.

Before 1970...wow. The Second City crew, which includes actors (and writers) as well as standups such as Alan Arkin, Ed Asner, Nichols and May, Berman tangentially, David Steinberg and even (when she's on, she's on) Joan Rivers. (And, of course, the Second City was key to such things as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SCTV, and so much other comedy since). Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Tallulah Bankhead and Henry Morgan at times (Stan Freberg's radio series was the summer replacement for Jack Benny's on happy summer in the mid 1950s), Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Mort Sahl, Lord Buckley at times...later on, the Firesign Theater and such similar projects as the Credibility Gap (Harry Shearer and co.).

You know, neither Carlin nor Pryor was quite on top of his game till about 1970...Lily Tomlin when she's on, and likewise.

PYTHON, though too mean-spirited at rare times for me, struck me as much better than FAWLTY, likewise...interesting what grabs us and how.

The best active comedians now include Maria Bamford and Jackie Kashian (and I wasn't kidding at all when calling these two old friends the current Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl)--Mary Mack is another friend of theirs of similar appeal--Paul F. Tompkins (who relentlessly challenges himself intellectually in his improvisations...a bit like Robin Williams, only better and more consistent than Williams has ever been, I'd suggest), Laura Kightlinger (bitter division), and among those slightly older but never quite given their due, Jake Johannsen.

Yes, too many to really list. I think I missed your post which evoked a chorus of soupussery. Took too much time answering this one, and doubt my comment here will be much read...

Todd Mason said...

And, indeed, Ernie Kovacs...and...and...

Carol Burnett always had the misery just beneath the surface of her comedy...still liked her series as a kid, if not quite as much as THE BOB NEWHART SHOW which preceded it and PYTHON which followed in my favorite year of Saturday nights...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Read by me.
I am on the computer so much that listening to podcasts is not too appealing. I like to see a comedian as well as hear him too. I get an awful lot from body language.
LOVED David Steinberg and wonder why he quit to direct. He was so smart, cute, funny.
Lily Tomlin, sometimes but not often. She is never Lily Tomlin, always a caricature of someone else.
Joan is funny but I can't take her because of her meanness which runs right out of the TV screen and smacks me. Did like the doc. about her though.

Todd Mason said...

With Rivers, the sharp and the snotty are too much intermixed, it's true. One of those people who in life couldn't take Yes for an answer.

Todd Mason said...

http://www.nerdist.com/2012/11/thrilling-adventure-hour-96-beyond-belief-caped-fear/

today's new episode of Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins in BEYOND BELIEF, the bibulous psychic detectives in the Noel Coward/Thorne Smith/Hammett Nick and Nora mode...haven't heard it yet, myself, but am about to...

Todd Mason said...

Alas...the weakest (and most pantomimesque) of the episodes so far, but not without charm.

Cap'n Bob said...

The Three Stooges. Many of the above-named, plus John Byner, George Wallace (the black one), Rich Little, Johnny Carson, George Carl, and Sam Kinnison.

I hate Howie Mandel and Sinbad.