Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: Larry Gelbart

From Wikipedia...

Larry Simon Gelbart (February 25, 1928 - September 11, 2009) was an American comedy writer and playwright with over sixty years of credits.


Born in Chicago, Illinois, to Jewish immigrants Harry Gelbart ("a barber since his half of a childhood in Latvia") and Frieda Sturner, born in the farming village of Dombrowa, Poland. Gelbart began as a writer at the age of sixteen for Danny Thomas' radio show during the 1940s and also wrote for Jack Paar and Bob Hope. On 1950s television, he worked for Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour, along with the other gifted comedy writers Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Carl Reiner.

Larry Gelbart wrote the long-running Broadway farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim in 1962 and he collaborated with Shevelove on the British movie comedy The Wrong Box.

In 1972, Gelbart was one of the main forces behind the creation of the television series M*A*S*H, writing and producing many episodes until leaving after the fourth season.

Gelbart in 1982 co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Tootsie. He also wrote the screenplays for Oh, God! starring George Burns, Blame It on Rio with Michael Caine and the 2000 remake of Bedazzled with Brendan Fraser.

Gelbart's other Broadway credits include the musical City of Angels, which won him the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical and an Edgar Award, and the Iran-contra satire Mastergate, as well as Sly Fox.

In the early 1960s, he uttered the now-classic line, "If Hitler is alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical."

In 1997, Gelbart published his memoir, Laughing Matters: On Writing M*A*S*H, Tootsie, Oh, God!, and a Few Other Funny Things.


Bizarre? Sure.

But let's be honest, does this make any less sense than the "plot" of most "Cirque-Style" shows?

Admit it, with Steve Wynn's money behind it you could see this as the storyline of a show opening on the Strip next year.

I'd call it Beauvolage, have it directed by anyone French-Canadian, performed by three dozen Eastern Europeans dressed up as transgendered neon-colored superhero clowns from space and feature the music of Enya.

Experience Beauvolage.

Tickets start at $100. and the gift shoppe opens one hour before curtain.


Link suggested by Son Dance

Looking at how film comedy lasts - or doesn't

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle Movie Critic

Funny thing about comedy. It's the truest and most enduring genre, universal and timeless in its appeal. But it's also the genre with the worst shelf life, that dates poorly, that can go from delightful to pointless within a generation, sometimes within a decade.

Watch Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Groucho Marx or Jackie Gleason, and the years fall away. Yet just try to sit through a Martin and Lewis movie - it's excruciating. Even weirder is watching things that you once thought funny, say Frank Gorshin's impressions or Freddie Prinze's stand-up routine. The audience is laughing, and they seem to mean it, and yet what's so funny about Prinze calling himself a "Hungarican," just because his mother was Hungarian and his father Puerto Rican?

Looking over the movies of the past few decades, we can already see what's going to last and what's going to be forgotten. Woody Allen is still funny, even his earliest movie as a writer-director, "Take the Money and Run" (1969). In fact, once you get to "Annie Hall" (1977) and "Manhattan" (1979), Allen's movies don't feel as though they've dated at all. To a lesser degree, neither does the best of Mel Brooks' work. By contrast, Chevy Chase's movies from around those same years play like something uncovered in an archaeological dig.

In the case of Chase, he was a funny guy, but his movies weren't. That was a familiar pattern a generation ago: Imagine if you only knew John Belushi, Richard Pryor and Rodney Dangerfield from their movies? Pryor's concert films will always have their place, and some of Steve Martin's early films may retain interest, if only for what they indicate of Martin's later work. But is anybody really going to be watching "Animal House" or "Ghostbusters" in 2050? I doubt it.

Comedians have their moment, seem invincible ... and then the power ebbs away. Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, and then some time around "Harlem Nights" (1989), the graph started pointing downward. Jim Carrey was huge in the 1990s, but the formula began to go stale with "Bruce Almighty" (2003). The public discovers someone, sees him or her (usually him) as the embodiment of some previously unknown truth about people or human nature. And then eventually that interest is satiated, and the comedian must either fade or innovate.

In the 1990s, Adam Sandler was one of the exemplars of the Disturbed Idiot genre - a popular comedy subtype that also included Carrey, Pauly Shore and Tom Green. But since then, Sandler has branched out into semi-dramatic roles, including this summer's "Funny People," while Carrey hasn't quite found his next move. Shore and Green have faded to the margins.

Eventually, everyone falls out of fashion. Chaplin lost his popularity in the late 1940s, and Keaton was considered a has-been long before he turned 40. Keaton had to be completely rediscovered in the '50s and '60s, while Chaplin had to be, at the very least, reappreciated in the 1970s. But when fans and scholars went back and saw the work, there was great comedy there to see. The jokes held up.

Right now, Murphy and Robin Williams are somewhat out of fashion. But I think Murphy's concert movies, "Delirious" and "Raw," will stand the test of time, and so will "48 Hrs." and "The Nutty Professor." As for Williams, he has definitely done work that will last, though I suspect he might very well be best appreciated as an actor with a funny streak, rather than as a straight-up comedian.

I could have mentioned "Beverly Hills Cop" among the Murphy movies, but I chose not to because he's cool in that movie. And coolness is so tied up with an era's misconceptions and fleeting assumptions that it puts a sell-by date on comedy, which curdles in the absence of lasting truths.

Among the women, something honest and perceptive - some timeless understanding of human nature - is present in the work of Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn. They have their place in the Funny Lady pantheon (ruled to this day, by Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard and Lucille Ball). Speaking of "Funny Lady," is there anything less funny than a Barbra Streisand movie from the 1970s?

Of the screen comedians dominating movies today, four stand out: Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell and Seth Rogen. Ferrell is the most naturally funny, but he has to guard against vanity, which was Murphy's problem in his heyday.

Carell and Stiller are both good comic actors. Their challenge is to find material worthy of them and not succumb to the lure of ephemeral fluff, such as "Get Smart" (Carell) and "Night at the Museum" (Stiller).

In a way, Rogen is the most exciting of all of them, because despite being very young - 26 - he has not let fame go to his head. So far. His work is versatile, honest, without vanity and very funny. He just might have it within him to be great, but getting there won't be easy.

More than anything, doing lasting work as a screen comedian requires an invincible vision of oneself and the world. It's a kind of confidence that, from the outside, might easily be mistaken for insecurity - a self-understanding and skepticism utterly impervious to success or praise.

The other day I was flicking around the dial and watched 20 minutes of Bill Murray in "Stripes" (1981). It was so clear: Whatever misconceptions people were walking around with 28 years ago, Murray was immune to them. Whatever vain assumptions were in the air, Murray wasn't buying them. Everything he did in that film was true to who that guy was. There were silly jokes, but no cheap jokes. The guy would not lie.

And he hasn't lied since.

That's how you do work that lasts. That's how you become a great comedian.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


David Shiner, writer/Director of Cirque's Banana Shpeel.

Cirque du Soleil Tackles Vaudeville
By Glenn Collins

From the New York Times...

With a jokey name and a whitebread spelling of “spiel” — “Banana Shpeel: A New Twist on Vaudeville” — a new vaudeville show will be landing on Feb. 11 at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, originally conceived as a sumptuous mecca for vaudeville acts.

But on Wednesday, when Cirque du Soleil unveiled the details of the 33-performer show that could be its first permanent presence in New York, the Montreal-based circus empire was careful to distance itself from bumps, grinds and sleaze.* “This is not a nostalgic look into the past,” said Daniel Lamarre, president of Cirque. “It is, as the title says, a vaudeville show with a twist.” He said the production budget would be $20 million.

David Shiner, the show’s writer and director, whose Broadway show with Bill Irwin, “Fool Moon,” won a special Tony Award in 1999, said: “It will be a family show with a simple and compact narrative,” featuring short, fast-paced comical variety performances in which choreography, dance and acrobatics play a part.

With that, 15 performers from the show took the stage of the opulent 2,829-seat 80-year-old theater (refurbished last year to the tune of $16 million), to tap, sing and cavort for a 15-minute preview.

Mr. Lamarre said the show was open-ended, and could tour at other venues across the world, returning to the Beacon as an annual presence if popularity warrants. “We see this as an entry for Cirque into proscenium venues like the Beacon,” he said, “and we see it as our entry into comedy as well.” The show, created for the Beacon in Montreal, is to be in tryouts in Chicago from Nov. 19 through Dec. 31 at the Chicago Theater.

The company has put on hold its longstanding plans to build a New York City space that would give it a permanent home in Manhattan. Cirque has announced, in addition to the recurring Beacon show, that it will establish a four-month summer extravaganza in 2011 in Radio City Music Hall as a warm-weather counterweight to the “Christmas Spectacular,” populated with acrobats and clowns but no Rockettes.

And “Wintuk,” Cirque’s $20 million annual winter holiday show at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, is expected to continue.

“It would be our dream to have our vaudeville show in the Beacon year-round,” Mr. Lamarre said.

* Exactly when did vaudeville ever feature the kind of "bumps, grinds and sleaze" that Cirque would need to carefully distance itself from???

ANDY KAUFMAN: Carnegie Hall (April 26, 1979)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: Art "Jolly" Petri

Art 'Jolly' Petri made sure laughter was best medicine

By Amy Rabideau Silvers of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Aug. 28, 2009

Art Petri, a.k.a. Jolly the Clown, poses with Jodi Geboy (center), of West Allis, and her daughter, Sara, for pictures beside the circus train during a stop in Waukesha in 1998.

When people called Art Petri a clown, they meant it in the best possible way.

Petri's other public persona was "Jolly the Clown." He took the name in honor of his friend, relief pitcher Dave Jolly of the Milwaukee Braves, who died in 1963.

Long the clown coordinator for the Great Circus Parade, he was one of three clowns honored at the parade this year, said his son, John Petri. Art Petri was allowed to sit in the VIP stands. He came in costume.

He was involved in bringing the World Clown Association to Milwaukee for its 1989 convention. He taught hundreds the serious business of clowning around, also helping to found four clown "alleys," or clubs.

Arthur A. Petri died of natural causes Wednesday. He was 82.

His father, Arnold, who played Santa Claus for more than 60 years, apparently had no sense of humor about unions.

The younger Petri later worked at the same bank where his father had worked.

"The union started coming in in '37, and he wouldn't join," Art Petri told William Janz, Milwaukee Sentinel columnist. "Never joined a union in his life. Very staunch Republican.

"When he quit, he had no job. Very principled . . . practical, not so much."

After a layoff, Art Petri began in security at First Wisconsin, then worked for its credit card department. He also became president of the same union his father wouldn't join.

His path to clowning began in the mid-1950s - he fit the costume at his Moose lodge - but medical problems clinched the deal. He was depressed after losing most of the vision in his left eye and surgery to save his vision in the right eye. He struggled with a lung condition that required surgery. His doctor had advice.

"He encouraged me to stop feeling sorry for myself, to start doing things I enjoyed and stop doing things I didn't enjoy," Petri once said.

The doctor also encouraged Petri to blow up balloons for respiratory therapy.

Petri gave up on attempts to enter politics. Instead, a clown was born.

Petri became known for his balloon work, creating a repertoire of nearly 200 animals and shapes. He self-published a book, "Balloonology," for the course he taught at Cardinal Stritch University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Petri went semi-pro in 1963 with his Jolly the Clown Enterprises, later AA Entertainment. He played big venues - Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair - plus plenty of charity outings. He was the only American clown invited to perform at the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal.

Petri was a longtime volunteer and board member at the Badger Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Like his father, he loved playing Santa, including in the Milwaukee Holiday Parade. One memorable year, the Santa float was built too high for a downtown overpass.

"Duck, Santa! Duck, Santa!" the crowd hollered.

"He had to duck when it went under the overpass," his son said. "They built the float shorter the next year."

Petri was the first-ever Ronald McDonald in Milwaukee, his son said. Jolly the Clown worked his last event July 4 in Brookfield.

"He was hoping to be in the parade, but he just couldn't walk," John said. "So he was at the park there."

For Petri, clowning was about something more important than money.

"Not everyone is cut out to be a clown," he said. "You have to have the heart of a clown. You have to project good in the world - even when you're not feeling well, you can make someone else feel better."

Survivors include Patricia, his wife of 60 years; daughters Linn Petri and Debi Tritschler; another son, Thomas; sister Laural Gunderson; brother Richard; and grandchildren.

Visitation will be from noon Sunday until the funeral service at 3 p.m. Both will be held at Wisconsin Memorial Park's Chapel of the Flowers, 13225 W. Capitol Drive, Brookfield.

PAUL REUBENS: Pee Wee Herman

And from a recent Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance...

OFF-TOPIC: Robert Reich on the Public Option

In this 2-minute clip, political thinker Robert Reich explains (in clear terms) what the public option is and why it's central to healthcare reform.

Robert B. Reich is an American politician, academic, writer, and political commentator who has served in three national administrations, most recently as the 22nd Secretary of Labor. He also served on President-Elect Obama's transition advisory board. He has written twelve books and is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. He is currently a professor of public policy at the Goldman School for Public Policy at the University of California - Berkeley.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

SHANE: 1st Day of 1st Grade

Shane displaying his 1st Grade Bus Pass, without which he's been told
the bus driver is legally allowed to eat you in the state of New Jersey.

At the bus stop

A sense of ennui creeps in...

Spot the trouble maker in this picture.

He's a quiet, unassuming child who keeps to himself.
I really hope he comes out of his shell one day.

Sheriff Taylor's boy Opie on his way to the fishin' hole to skip stones with Pa.

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

A kiss for Mommy...

...and he's on his way to his first day in his new school. We still haven't
gotten word on whether or not they'll be hearing the President's speech today.


Link courtesy of Jeff Gordon

FRANK FERRANTE: Groucho: A Life in Revue

FRANK FERRANTE: Teatro Zin Zanni

Monday, September 07, 2009

LABOR DAY PARADE: South Plainfield, NJ (September 7, 2009)

The congregation from Vince Pagliano's Funny Factory, which also included a gorilla car and marching band.

The Professor character continues to evolve. It's been a rough year for me personally
but I can point to the Professor as being a really big success for me professionally.

ED ALONZO: Late Late Show (2/05/09)


Combining two of my son's great passions, Playmobil and the Wii.

The circus part is just the icing on the cake.