Friday, December 22, 2017

Ho! Ho! Ho! — A (Baker's) Dozen of Santa's Favorite Physical Comedy Acts

[post 434]
Your 3 Santas: Hovey Burgess (left), Mr. Clown (center), and yours truly

Here's a Winter Solstice-Chanukah-Christmas-Kwanza-New Year's present for you, a compilation of Santa's favorite physical comedy acts. This year you're being gifted self-contained acts, not physical comedy that's part of a narrative, which is why there are no movie clips from Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, and the rest of the gang in your stocking. Sure, some of these 13 acts are from movies, but they were just snuck in there like whiskey in the eggnog to punch things up.

So off we go, in no particular order. Happier holidays!

Larraine & Rognan
Her name is often listed as "Lorraine" but her actual name was Jean Larraine. Either way, she's fabulous. If you've never heard of them, that's because their career ended tragically in an airplane crash that killed him and left her with injuries too severe to continue dancing. You can read more about them in this previous blog post.

Walter Dare Wahl & Emmet Oldfield
I love the movement imagination of these guys. So inventive!

Donald O'Connor:  Make 'em Laugh
You could make a case for this being the best physical comedy act ever. It's got everything but the kitchen sink. I wrote a lot more about it here.

The Mathurins
HIgh-speed, high-caliber comedy acrobatics (even if the host says "it looks easy"). Not big on character, but boy do you get your money's worth!

George Carl
There are many versions of this amazing act available online, and I'm sure you've all seen at least one. Still, Santa would be remiss to leave him off the list.

Charlie Rivel:  Comedy Trapeze
The legendary Catalonian clown could do it all. This is from the movie, Acrobat-Oh!

Red Skelton:  Guzzler's Gin ("Smooth!")
Perhaps the classic drunk act. For more on Red Skelton, see my previous post.

Dick Van Dyke & Rose Marie: Mary's Drunk Uncle
I came across this piece since I wrote this post and this post about Van Dyke. As with Jean Lorraine, what I absolutely love here is Van Dyke's back-and-forth between two states of being.

Beijing Opera: The Fight in the Dark
This one goes back centuries, but it's a masterpiece of physical dexterity. This is the tradition Jackie Chan came from, and it's easy to see the connections. Fifteen minutes long, and it's not all comedy, but it's great.

The Wiere Brothers
A recent discovery, which you can read all about here, and see lots more videos.

Lupino Lane with Lillian Roth (The Love Parade, 1929)
Lupino Lane was one of the great silent film comedians, although his characters never registered as strongly as those of Keaton or Chaplin. He was, however, every bit their match as a physical comedian. A member of the legendary Lupino family, with theatre lineage dating back to the pantomime days of Joseph Grimaldi, he was a superb dancer and acrobat. As it turned out, he could also sing and act well enough to survive the transition to sound. Lubitsch's Love Parade, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette McDonald, was one of the first good movie musicals, and it signaled Lane's new career direction. Shortly thereafter he left Hollywood and returned to London, where he remained a star on stage and screen for decades. Lots more on Lane here and here.

The Jovers (1980)
Here's proof that you don't have to be skinny and you don't have to have 15 tricks in a row to do good physical comedy. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Alrighty then, that's twelve, one for each day of Christmas, but let's make this a baker's dozen in honor of all the people who never bake the rest of the year but are churning out cookies for Santa while we lazily sit around watching these videos.

Wilson & Keppel
Long before Steve Martin's King Tut, there was this sublimely silly sand dance performed by Jack Wilson, born in Liverpool in 1894, and Joe Keppel, born in Ireland a year later. Wilson and Keppel first performed together in New York in March 1919 as a comedy acrobatic and tap dancing act in vaudeville, and continued working together until 1963. Yep, that's 44 years together.

Ho! Ho! Ho! indeed.

No comments: