Monday, June 8, 2015

Dick Van Dyke at 89

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If you're looking for someone to make your music video a hit, Dick Van Dyke's your man. Eighty-nine years young. Inspiring!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Physical Comedy Is Not Dead! — #1

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Did you ever have this conversation?
—"So you're into physical comedy. What's that?"
—"Well, you know, comedy that uses the body and movement more."
—"Like who?"
—"Uh, well, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin...and clowns, of course."
—"Oh, yeah, silent movies..."
—"Today it would be like Bill Irwin and...uh..."

Yes, sad to say, the general public is oblivious about our heroes, and with the ascendancy of stand-up comedy, not to mention sitcoms that are just a series of one-liners, physical comedy may seem to be just a relic of a golden past, only kept alive by a few nostalgia buffs and performance purists.


It's everywhere — in commercials, in America's funniest home movies, in dance, in prank internet viral videos, in new cirque and new burlesque, and even in sitcoms. It's not always recognized as such and it's not always well done, but it is as popular as ever. I sometimes find time to collect this stuff, so here's the first in a series of proofs: four commercials that are pure physical comedy.

Those are clever but this is brilliant:

And here's a trailer for the new Sean Penn movie that revives the classic clown weightlifter gag. (I also include it because that's my oldest son Nathaniel under all those weights.)

Unfortunately, they kind of blew the gag because the final shot at the 25-second mark goes by so quickly and the background is so cluttered that it's easy to miss the joke of him not actually lifting any real weight.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Zack King: VFX & Physical Comedy

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Not too many years ago I was heavily into AfterEffects and taught a course in video visual effects at Bloomfield College. While my students were for the most part more into the sci-fi and gory violence applications, I preferred the comedic possibilities, the more surrealistic the better.

It's easy to see VFX and physical comedy as opposites. We physical comedy practitioners think in terms of live performance: we want the audience to know we really did the trick, not the camera. And if we do film something, we want to see the sequence in a single shot. Still, VFX and physical comedy are not always at war, and I've written a few posts showcasing some work that combines them with dazzling creativity, such as here and here.

I was reminded of this just yesterday when former BC student Goya Choi sent me a clip of VFX work by Zack King. I'd seen one of his videos before, but this inspired me to learn his name (often not listed with his videos on FB) and find out what else he has done. Not surprisingly, King has had millions of YouTube hits, but that doesn't mean you're all familiar with him.

Much of his VFX work is brilliant, though some of it is far from seamless. What I like about him is his fertile imagination, his sense of silliness, and his infectious enjoyment of his own jokes. It's easy to see his stuff as a descendant of the transformation gags pioneered by early French filmmaker/magician Georges Méliès, and that found their way into American silent film comedy and circus clowning.

There are several compilations online. Here's a short one (4+ minutes) and a longer one (18+ minutes); there's some overlap between the two.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Walter Dare Wahl & Emmet Oldfield

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When I did my recent post, Comedy Acrobatics Roundup, I meant to include this wonderfully inventive piece by ‪Walter Dare Wahl and Emmet Oldfield, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle. (Senility is a terrible thing.) Luckily Hilary Chaplain recommended it to the NYC Physical Comedy Lab after Audrey Crabtree had led an exercise in creating physical comedy chain reactions, so now here it is!

Yes, chain reactions, plus body sculpting, role reversal, and great visual originality.   Highly creative choreography!

Walter Dare Wahl also appears in this previous post, partnering Hollywood star Betty Hutton. More good stuff!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sexagenarian Physical Comedy

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I was going to call this post "Old-Fart Physical Comedy" but I thought I'd pull in more readers this way. Sexagenarian must have something to do with sex, right? Maybe there'll even be pictures! No, but while you're here...

Mike ("Buster the Clown") Bednarek writes: : One week short of turning 60, nursing an aching back, and fully realizing and appreciating the growing limitations  on my physical body when it asks to do some of the same bits from 10, 20, 30 years ago, I've got a question for you. What do older physical comedians/clowns do when their bodies tell their heads (usually after the fact, when it's too late): "Are you f---ing nuts?"

Well, I'm 66 and still throwing my weary bones around, so I think this is a very good question and that a serious answer would make for a useful blog post. So do any aging veterans of the physical comedy wars want to share their old-fart experiences and longevity recommendations with our readers? If so, just e-mail me a few thoughts and I'll take it from there.

Meanwhile, we might as well laugh at ourselves, so here are two comic takes on the sexagenarian physical comedian. The first is a 1959 performance by the Talo Boys on the French tv show La Piste aux Étoiles, live from the Moulin de la Galette. (Thanks to Max Weldy for the original video!) The opening is pretty much straight acrobatics, though we see that some troupe members are  not exactly spring chickens. At the 1:45 mark they get into some comedy schtick, but the old-man physical comedy starts at 4:40 when they re-enter as moustachioed "acrobates de la Belle Époque."

And 54 years later here's a piece in a similar (varicose) vein by "Fumagali and their Fumaboys," as they appeared on another French tv show, Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde (2013), and which I saw that same year at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris.

Update (3-21-15)  
Raffaele De Ritis writes: Fuma Boys act was conceived and created in the late 90s by Bernhard Paul, collector and founder of Circus Roncalli, under direct and deliberate inspiration of Talo Boys.

And just for inspiration, here's how Buster Keaton entered his sixties.

And finally, one more cartoon...

Update (3-21-15):
Click here  for a similar piece by Fratelli Bologna from about 1989. Thanks to Drew Letchworth for the link, who writes "We weren't Sexagenarians when we did this piece, but we are now. We developed The Old Act in part because we found that we were getting too old to do the young act."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sacha Baron Cohen at his Best

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Somehow I missed this when it first happened, but maybe you did too. Really hysterical. Thanks to Billy Schultz for the link. And BTW, you can see Billy bust some pretty funny moves this Friday and Sunday night at the always entertaining Comedy in Dance Festival at Triskelion Arts in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Georges Holmes

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I have yet to find any biographical information on the multi-talented Georges Holmes, but this performance is from the French tv show La Piste aux Etoiles, from the same 1959 broadcast as Les Marcellys in my previous post. Also, his first name is spelled the French way, and the few words he speaks are in French, so let's assume he's French. He's a tap dancer, acrobat, magician, and object manipulator. He's quite the human smokestack, and also does one of my favorite "stupid human tricks," the back roll with the cup of water. A variety artist full of variety!