Friday, April 20, 2007

Cue The Dancing Giraffes!

The boy's been pretty funny of late, trying out different gags and concepts to see what amuses his old man. He's past the stage where everything he does is "great," so these days I'm honest with him -- not brutally so, he's still a kid, but just to let him know that I care enough to be critical, to hone the rough edges of this or that bit.

Last night he played a few Christmas carols with the bathroom faucet. His "Jingle Bells" actually sounded right.

"That's very Ernie Kovacs," I said, smiling.

"I know! That's exactly what I was going for!"

Some may say that I'm corrupting the kid by pushing all my favorite comics on him. There are times when I think so myself. I'll tell him that he doesn't have to like what I like, that he can go his own way if he wants. And while there are times when he rejects something I offer (he wasn't all that crazy about Abbott and Costello, but then, he hasn't seen them meet Frankenstein yet), he usually finds something he can latch onto, and when he does, he really studies it.

In recent weeks, I showed him Jerry Lewis' "The Patsy" and "The Nutty Professor". He preferred the former to the latter, though there were a few Buddy Love moments the boy found amusing. He especially likes Lewis' absurdist, at times surrealist, slapstick; and he noted to me the sharpness of Lewis' timing. I then showed him a couple of clips from two of Lewis' lesser efforts, "Who's Minding The Store?" and "The Errand Boy", both of which have some great routines, but really don't hold together as complete films (especially "The Errand Boy" which is all over the place).

The first bit is a Lewis classic, something he first did on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" with Dean Martin, but refined and made slicker for "Who's Minding The Store?":

And then there's the nearly silent elevator sequence from "The Errand Boy", a much grittier-looking film than most of Lewis' Paramount work - not quite Cassavettes, but for Lewis in his prime, pretty downscale. Few film comics exploited claustrophobic conditions as well as Lewis did, and of course in his case, there's always at least one strange visual bit thrown in. See if you can find it. (And the man with the pince nez glasses is Bill Richmond, Lewis' co-writer who came up with some wild visual gags, and later went on to write for "The Carol Burnett Show".)

The boy enjoyed both clips, especially the typewriter bit. Then he said, "Let's watch the Kovacs credits again."

"You really like those, don't you?"

"Yeah. It's weird and funny. More shows should do that."

"Well, that was a much different time, son."

So, here are the closing credits to one of Ernie Kovacs' last shows for ABC in 1962, just before he was killed in a car crash. The man made his mark -- a 10-year-old boy in 2007 loves his work. We should all have such reach long after we're gone.