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June 22, 2005



"The missus and I". John, me old mukka, you're gonna have to work at this if you're ever going to be remotely convincing as a 1960s Cockney. "Me and the missus" would be more authentic. I would stick to "Her Indoors" until you get the hang of it.

Rented Mule

Comedy technology, improved? Let's get down to cases. Is "Van Wilder" funnier than "Animal House" (or funny at all?)

Farrelly Brothers so godawful, not because of their love of the gross-out, but because of their sickening sentimentality. All of their movies seem to feature a kindly idiot man-child.


Would Fisher be improved with jokes and pornography? I have my doubts.

PZ Myers

I had no idea you were a Eugenian, but the Smith Family Bookstore connection now makes the paperback cover obsession comprehensible. One of the things that made grad school at UO difficult was that tempting distraction just a few blocks away.

Aeon J. Skoble

Since you asked: no, I see no evidence that comedy technology has improved. I can't offhand think of anything from the past, say, 15 years, that's funnier than Caddyshack or Airplane. Some episodes of Seinfeld are on that level, but as a general rule, no: comedy technology is probably getting worse, not better. Look at the arc: in the old days, we had the Marx Brothers, WC Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and whoever wrote The Philadelphia Story. Later we get Abbot and Costello, Monty Python, early Woody Allen, then the Airplane-Caddyshack-Animal House period. Hardly anyone is that funny anymore, and certainly not on a consistent basis. I wouldn't say that comedy came to a standstill after Caddyshack, but you'll need to provide some examples if you seriously intend to argue that comedy today is objectively and absolutely better than it used to be.

ben wolfson

I suggest we test the comedy theory by comparing A Shot in the Dark to the upcoming Pink Panther remake.

Joe O

This almost ungooglable 9 year old newspaper column has the best discussion of comedy I have ever read.

>THAT'S ANOTHER PART I don't understand. Presumably 90 percent of the audience at any given production of ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' has seen the play before, and yet when those darned noblemen start cracking wise about Pyramus and Thisby, the audience is inevitably in a gala uproar of chuckles.

>Now look, there was a time in the life of this planet when Richard Pryor was the funniest man alive, which is to say about a thousand times funnier than Lysander and Demetrius, and still I feel no urge to see his taped performances again and again seeking renewed laughs at the same jokes.

>I think these laughing spectators are faking; that's the truth. I think they're so desperately bored that even the sound of their own forced laughter is momentarily diverting. This is heresy, I know, but I believe it anyway.


Skoble and Wolfson bring up excellent examples. The notion that comedy is progressing seems outlandish to me. Do you have any specific recent comedies in mind?

Off hand, I can't think of anyone in that last 20 years who equals Sturges, Lubitsch, Capra, Keaton, Chaplin or Wilder, much less surpasses them.

On matters of culture rather than technology, it seems betting on decline is a good rule of thumb. Maddening how regressive the last 100 years have been. They get Eisenstein, Vertov, Joyce, Kafka, Chaplin, Motherwell, Picasso. We get... Wait, did we get anything?

Jeremy Osner

Jon Carroll's thesis that comedy does not bear a second listening is so weird I think it must be tongue-in-cheek even though his column does not seem that way particularly. I could think if I spent a few minutes on it, of at least 10 or 20 comedy films that I have seen already, that I would gladly go watch again if they were showing. I'd love to listen to e.g. Bill Cosby's album "Why is There Air?", a favorite of my childhood, jokes from it come to mind regularly. Why do you think sitcoms do so well in reruns? Just because people are "so desperately bored that even the sound of their own forced laughter is momentarily diverting"? Granted that probably accounts for some of it. But many good jokes get better with repeated hearings.

Jeremy Osner

Or come to think of it, repeated herrings.

Matt Weiner

Anything that suggests that there might be something funnier than Duck Soup is mistaken. I am more confident of this than of the premises of any argument to the contrary. (And, to back Jeremy up, I've seen it I think five times. It's that parts of it are so funny it's impossible to hold it in one's memory.)

Jeremy Osner

Gotta disagree with you there Matt, Duck Soup pales before the brilliant comic light of Caddyshack. Bow before Caddyshack, Duck Soup! Bow!

Jeremy Osner

Er, what? Giblets moment -- I mean, thanks for the support...


Caddyshack was very much a movie of its time, place, and substance abuse. I bet you could get a cocaine buzz just from sniffing the original print.

John Emerson

I have a Eugene story. I went to Eugene once in about 1970 and spent an afternoon at a fun tavern called, IIRC, Max's. Lively young people like me.

Then, in about 1990 I stopped by Max's a second time and it was no fun at all -- old, tired, depressed drunks.

Then I realized that some of them were probably the same people from 1970, who had been going to Max's the whole time. The WCTU couldn't have staged it better.

Gene O'Grady

Reluctant to say anything against the Smith Family Bookstore, which is a wonderful place, but down the road in Cottage Grove there's a place called Kalapooia (maybe I spelled it right) that has an even more remarkable collection of old paperbacks notable for their covers.

And John Emerson seems to have Eugene down. I'm always bemused by what, for better or worse, might be called aging hippies, and ask if that fellow and I were the same person in 1967.


You're obviously not intelligent or sophisticated enough to read Vardis Fisher. Ape.

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