I've spent too much time this month discussing two figures who irritate me - Barack Obama and Brett Favre. And a fair amount of what's been written here has been mocking and just a smidge bitter. Hey, kvetching can be fun, but let's face facts -- it gets old. So today, I thought we should look at something else entirely. I want to talk about funnymen.
We lost George Carlin earlier this year. Carlin was a very funny comedian and social observer. While Carlin continued to perform almost until the end of his life, he'd largely faded from the scene and a lot of younger people really didn't know a lot of Carlin and his work. While some of it was of its moment, his larger observations had a timeless quality to them.
There are several other comedians out there who are still alive but whose work isn't seen as much any more. The four men I'd like to feature today are all still alive and it's good to recognize them while they are still with us. They are all a half generation older than Carlin and they are worth thinking about and appreciating while we still have them.
The first, not suprisingly, is my favorite comedian, Bob Newhart. Newhart is now 78 years old and my understanding is that his health is a little dicey. His name came up earlier this year primarily because of the passing of Suzanne Pleshette, his co-star in his highly successful 1970s vehicle The Bob Newhart Show. Newhart had already been successful for well over a decade before that show aired and some of his early stuff is absolutely hilarious. Here's a representative bit from 1965, featuring Newhart as an embarrassed customer attempting to return a gift to shopkeeper Dean Martin, who is improbably dressed in a tuxedo. Part of the fun is Dean Martin cracking up repeatedly.
Speaking of Dean, one of the highlights of his old television show on NBC was the celebrity roasts. I remember watching these when I was a kid. I didn't always get the jokes, but my dad's laughter was usually enough to get me (and my brothers) roaring along too during the wacky hijinks. These roasts often had a jaw-dropping array of talent on them - Jack Benny, Orson Welles, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and lots of others were regulars. I'm posting two quick clips featuring two very different comedians roasting the then-governor of California. Fella you may have heard of named Ronald Reagan. First is the brillant but now largely-forgotten Jonathan Winters (now 82) in his Maude Frickert outfit pretending to be Reagan's first-grade teacher from Tampico, Illinois, and second is Don Rickles (now 82 as well), doing that voodoo that he do so well. And because it was the 70s, for some reason Mark Spitz was on the dais. And while were at it, here's a 9 min. distallation of the roast of Muhammad Ali. Watch the clip then riddle me this - could you get by with saying some of this stuff on network television any more?
Finally, here's something that dates even a little farther back. It features the great sketch comedian Sid Caesar (now 85) and Nanette Fabray (who I remember most from appearances on Match Game), pantomiming an argument to Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Funny, inventive, dazzling and not a word is spoken.