Sunday, April 02, 2006


In his Block Party, Dave Chappelle comments on the connection between musicians and comedians: musicians can teach comedians a thing or two about timing (his personal timing hero is Thelonious Monk), and comedy is all about timing, he says. I've thought a lot about comedy in various aspects of my own life--comic films, cartoons, comic strips, the funniest people I know, comedic writing. Comedy isn't pretty, Steve Martin says, and I also remember someone saying that comedy is hard. But it can't look hard, or it's not funny anymore, unless it's the kind of comedy that's about how funny it is when someone's trying so hard to be funny, but they're not. Comedy also causes a headache.

I am moved to think about this in part because Dave Chappelle is very funny, and it seems like his comedy is nearly effortless. In the movie, there's a recurring bit, with Mos Def playing the drums, lounge band style, behind Chappelle's joke-straight man-punchline comic stylings. The jokes he's telling are not in the least bit funny, but the bit is funny, because they've got the timing right, and the imitation of bad comedy is exact, and it's Mos Def and Dave Chappelle doing this thing they don't do. "Hey, Mos," Dave says. "How's it goin, Dave?" says Mos. Insert silly set-up line here [Dave C.--"did you hear the one about the industrious prostitute?"), automatic straight man line here (Mos D.0--"No, I didn't, Dave"), and horrible punch line here (Dave C. again--sorry, can't repeat it, I have standards). There didn't even have to be a joke--I found myself laughing just because of the way he lifted an eyebrow. No jokes, just timing.

I envy comic writing. My friend Ann has a great column in the DNews that I have cherished and envied for years. I also treasure great comedies of all kinds. Given half a chance, I will tax my friends' patience by reciting my favorite lines from sitcoms past. There are certain movies whole tracts of which I (and those I love) have memorized. (Luckily for my readers, I just repressed a powerful urge to review an excellent passage from Tommy Boy, a movie that is way funnier than it has a right to be.)

What are your most valuable comedies? Decidedly lowbrow entries get extra points. For instance, I horrified my compatriots recently by revealing that Encino Man is, in my view, a very, very funny movie. (Extra points squared if a funny movie you love features Pauly Shore.)


  1. Not a movie, but Johnny Carson's mind racing after Ed Ames' tomahawk throw: wooden cowboy cutout (wouldn't see that today!) gets hit in groin; tomahawk's position makes cowboy appear erect; Ames starts to retrieve tomahawk and put an end to the embarassment; Johnny forcefully restraining Ames, knowing Ames was about to pull on the tomahawk's (cowboy's) shaft; Ames nearly falls to the floor when he realizes this. All while the audience howls; no words spoken; Johnny thinking of a punchline, topical for the day, that will pass the censors: "I din't know you were Jewish!"
    (Carol Burnett - "Comedy is tragedy plus time."

  2. "Get's kinda hot in these Rhinos!" (from Ace Ventura 2, two!!! yes, two!!)

    Middlebrow breaks up at the most basic physical comedy, and Son laughs loud at the RoadRunner.

    Me? I think fondly of (the old) Woody Allen, I mean "Annie Hall."

    How about Jeff Goldblum saying, "I forgot my mantra"? Or Woody saying
    "I'll have some sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast." Or Woody again, "Did you hear him? He said 'Jew eat? Jew eat?' I told you he was anti-semitic."

    Or basically Joan Cusak in anything. My favorite is from "Working Girl" (yes, with Melanie Griffith)
    "I can dance around in my bra and sing, but it doesn't make me Madonna." (pause) "And it nevah will."

    Yes, it's all about timing.

  3. "Animal House," "Duck Soup,' Bobby Lee on Mad TV, Chris Rock. I also love old Three Stooges bits (the split finger poke in the eyes is alway funny, always), the Smothers Brothers have had me in tears, old Bill Cosby, and, of course, as lynn says, Road Runner rules.

  4. Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, The Cable Guy. Road Runner is excellent. Punch Drunk Love has me laughing out loud. I think Ishtar is great. Hudson Hawk. (I haven't seen this in fifteen years, but I used to think it was absolutely underrated).



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