Did you hear the one about PBS airing a comedy series? It’s no joke, but it is funny. In January 2009, PBS will present the series MAKE ’EM LAUGH: The Funny Business of America, a six-hour comedy epic showcasing the most hilarious men, women, and moments in American entertainment and why they made us laugh. Hosted by America’s favorite funnyman, Billy Crystal, the documentary explores the currents of American comedy throughout a century of social and political change, illuminating how comedy has tackled and poked fun at our political system, race relations, gender issues, and the prevailing American standards and taboos in everyday life.
Co-produced by Thirteen/WNET and Ghost Light Films, the series premieres nationally on January 14, 21, 28 at 8 p.m. and will repeat at 10 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).
Melding performance, biography and history, MAKE ’EM LAUGH features interviews with over 90 comedians, writers, producers, and historians including Judd Apatow, Roseanne Barr, Anne Beatts, the Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Sid Caesar, George Carlin, Larry David, Will Ferrell, Leonard Maltin, Cheech Marin, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Mort Sahl, Dick Van Dyke, and many, many more.
Each one-hour episode focuses on a distinct genre of American comedy – from the most ingenious physical schtick, to those fast-talking wiseguys, to the most incisive satire and parody – re-acquainting viewers with some of their favorite classics. Billy Crystal will introduce each episode and Amy Sedaris will narrate throughout.
January 14, 8 p.m. (ET) Would Ya Hit a Guy with Glasses?: Nerds, Jerks, & Oddballs
While America, a country of immigrants, has always championed the idea of inclusiveness, the outsider has been a source of constant amusement. Perhaps best epitomized today by characters in such blockbuster Judd Apatow comedies as The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad, this episode also looks back at the bespectacled wannabe (Harold Lloyd) and the vain coward (Bob Hope) as the outsiders of their day. Along with pioneering women in comedy like Phyllis Diller and truly zany characters who seem to have arrived from another planet (Jonathan Winters, Andy Kaufman and Robin Williams), the great social upheaval of the 60s and 70s introduced counter-culture favorites Cheech & Chong, as well as superstar nerds like Woody Allen and “jerks” like Steve Martin – who ultimately became so popular that the idea of the outsider had to be re-cast.
January 14, 9 p.m. (ET) Honey, I’m Home!: Breadwinners and Homemakers
The domestic comedy may be the most American of comic concepts. The moment that Burns and Allen admitted to their radio audience that they were a married couple, a tradition of laughter on the home front began. Groundbreaking television sitcoms like The Goldbergs, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons reflect the ongoing changes at home and in the workplace. Sitcoms continue to be a consistently humorous barometer of American gender roles and attitudes toward racism and politics.
January 21, 8 p.m. (ET) Slip on a Banana Peel: The Knockabouts
Physical comedy and slapstick have always found rich soil in America. From the mastery of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to the computer-generated antics that helped transform Jim Carrey into a human cartoon, slapstick has evolved into a sophisticated art, stretching the boundaries of time and space. This episode explores the comic genius of teams like Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis, and the Marx Brothers, and the one and only Lucille Ball.
January 21, 9 p.m. (ET) When I’m Bad, I’m Better: The Groundbreakers
In the ongoing war against hypocrisy, conservatism, political correctness, prejudice, prudery, censorship, sentimentality, liberalism, extremism, and complacency, it was always the comedian who led the first wave of attack. Rather than using risqué jokes and four-letter words simply to get a rise out of an audience, the most audacious comedians – from pioneers like Mae West and Moms Mabley to 60s and 70s bad boys like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin – invoked what the First Amendment of the American Constitution calls “freedom of speech” to bring the biggest and most dangerous laughs to the American public.
January 28, 8 p.m. (ET) Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: The Wiseguys
America loves the wiseguy who defies convention by speaking the truth no matter the consequences. Whether in the form of the curmudgeonly W.C. Fields of the 1930s or today’s Larry David, who manages to aggravate everyone within reach, the wiseguy (or gal) always gets the last – and funniest – word. Along with classic smart-alecks like Groucho Marx and con men like Phil Silvers, other legendary names in this episode’s “Wiseguy Hall of Fame” include Jack Benny, Paul Lynde, Joan Rivers, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock.
January 28, 9 p.m. (ET) Sock it to Me?: Satire and Parody
Americans have always loved to make fun of the world around them using the slings and arrows of parody and satire. Whether it was Will Rogers, Johnny Carson, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert poking a finger in the eye of the government, or Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks and the “Saturday Night Live” gang lampooning the latest blockbuster, generations have reveled in the anarchic tradition of mocking American life, politics and preoccupations.
MAKE ’EM LAUGH is being produced in HD format. Michael Kantor is the series’ producer, director and writer. Bill O’Donnell is supervising producer and David Horn is executive producer.
Yoko Ono has kindly emailed Boing Boing this beautiful photograph of her husband, former Beatle John Lennon, who was murdered on this day in 1980. Photographer Allan Tannenbaum took the image on November 26, 1980, shortly before Lennon passed away.
"Please share your memories of John hereat this website," Ms. Ono says to Boing Boing readers, and, "WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT. You can download the poster here. Print it out, and display it in your window, school, workplace, car & elsewhere over the holiday season."
I’m not sure but I think I saw that Totoche (Martine) was part of your group in Shanghai this year or last. She was definitely in China, just not sure where. She is a wonderful and sweet girl from Montreal. I had the honour of working with her several times.
I have just learned that she has been struck by some virulent but so far unidentified illness and is in ICU. She felt ill on Thursday and went to the hospital and apparently is now in imminent danger of losing her life.
I have forwarded this request for good wishes. I translated it on Babelfish but its still difficult to understand.
Karine is asking anyone who wishes, to send a note and or photo and she will make a large card or booklet to take to Totoche or her parents on Wednesday.
Karine, who sent this is life and clown partner of Adam (Zip-E) Zimmerman, who you also might know.
I’ll keep you posted, Ian
This is absolutely awful! For those who have never met Martine Boucher, she is, hands down, the sweetest, kindest person and the loveliest clown you could ever meet. PLEASE keep us posted and let her know that she is in the hearts and prayers of all of the "China Clowns"and do not hesitate to to ask if there is anything at all that we can do!
Please excuse my ignorance, my French is not good enough
to determine if Mr. Leonard is Rolph's partner or son.
This just in from Marcelo Melison...
Yes, the auguste is Achille Zavatta's brother Rolph's partner, and his name is Eugene Leonard, a member of the Leonard Trio, as you can see in the poster. From L to R, Eugene, Yvette and Marcel. Yvette was Marcel Leonard's wife (yes, that grotesque auguste was a woman).
Unless otherwise noted, photos and information courtesy of Don Stacey and George Garrard
Albert "Bandbox" Austin, born in 1872
Photo courtesy of The Clowns' Gallery
Spider and Alby Austin with Little Billy Merchant
Albert and Leonard Austin were two of England's most popular 20th century clowns. They followed their father, Albert "Bandbox" Austin into the business, their mother Addie being from the famous Ginnett circus dynasty.
Albert Jr., known as "Alby", born in London in 1903, made his clowning debut in 1916 when he joined his father in the ring at Frank Bostock's Circus.
Younger brother Len, known as "Spider", later joined the pair adding his droll sense of humor to Alby's more grotesque auguste style.
Later Alby and Spider teamed up with William "Little Billy" Merchant. At one time or another they worked such famous British shows as Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, Yarmouth Hippodrome, Crystal Palace, the Royal Italian, Ginnett's, the Royal Agricultural Hall, Blackpool Tower, Sanger's, Bertram Mills', Chipperfield's, Robert Bros., Bell Vue, Manchester, Billy Smart's, and Captain Prince-Cox's circus promotions.
After touring together with Bertram Mills' Circus, Alby and Little Billy stayed on with Spider heading out on his own.
In 1953 Spider took a troupe of British clowns to that haven of great clowning, the Cirque Medrano in Paris.
For some years Alby and Billy worked with Coco at the Bertram Mills Circus and after the Mills' retirement Little Billy teamed with Jacko Fossett.
Spider Austin's troupe at Medrano
Photo courtesy of The Arthur Pedlar Collection
The clowns of the Cirque Medrano in Paris, 1953-54
At top: Arthur Pedlar; 2nd row: Billy Beck, Ken Simpson, Frankie Fossett, Will Norman; 3rd row: Loriot, Spider Autin, Holley Gray; 4th row: Rhum, unidentified child clown, Nino and Charly.
Does anyone out there know what agency is currently handling Denis Lacombe or how to contact him directly? I received this email this morning and would like to forward the information...
To Whom It May Concern,
I'm not sure if you could help with this but I figured that I might as well attempt to get ahold of someone who may know. I am helping with a show right now in which they are interested in hiring Mr. Lacombe. If there is anyway you can help out it would be greatly appreciated! Hope to hear from you very soon.
Here is Wayne Scott (whiteface in plaid in the center) apparently receiving a diploma from Clown College from the one and only "Uncle Miltie" Milton Berle in 1969.
But didn't Wayne graduate Clown College in 1968?!?
Michael Karp tells us that this photo was taken in the summer of 1969, at the Inglewood Forum outside of Los Angeles, and was merely a straight-ahead photo op.
Jack Ryan of Solters and Sabinson, who handled the show's national PR, simply hustled several of the clowns out of the alley, shot the photo and whisked Berle away!
Here's Wayne Scott at the Venice arena during Clown College in the autumn of 1968 (at right in Hawaiian shirt) observing as Danny Chapman teaches... well, I'm not exactly sure what Danny is teaching here and I actually think it would be better for all concerned if I didn't even venture to guess.