Monday, August 5, 2013

Comedy Acrobatics Nirvana

The Gaspards

[post 332]

Yes, right here! I hit the jackpot this past weekend, and of course I'm sharing the wealth with you. Here's the story....

Although I'm partial to the use of physical comedy within a storyline, as in silent film comedy, I've always gotten a big kick out of pure comedy acrobatic acts, especially when they involve eccentric movement, partner work, and some sturdy furniture. I was first exposed to this when performing on the Hubert Castle Circus in the late 70s on the same bill with the Gaspards, whose table acrobatic numéro had many of the same moves you'll see in the vidéos below.

The Gaspards
I've never been able to track down the Gaspards, and just have a few snapshots of them taken at another venue, but about six years ago in London I watched a video clip of what I thought was the sharpest knockabout act I'd ever seen. Of course I wanted a copy, but the collector who had shown it to me promptly disappeared from the face of the earth. Luckily I had written down the name of the act — the Mathurins — and never forgot about it. Then a week or so ago I finally tracked them down to a November 24, 1957 appearance on the British tv variety hour, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, sort of England's Ed Sullivan Show. I got to see the clip for the second time ever on Friday.

I was happy, but then happier still on Saturday when on another episode of the same show I discovered  the Trio Rayros, another excellent comedy acrobatic act, who had twice appeared on Ed Sullivan (5-11-58 and 4-4-59).

And then this morning I woke up to find that my old friend Julia Pearlstein had sent me a link from Carlos Müller to a 1910 film of comic acrobats from the archives of the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. And guess what? It's really good too!

So let's start with the 1910 anonymous film of three anonymous acrobats. This begins with some standard acrobatics but gets wackier and wackier, and is full of nifty moves, including monkey rolls, pitches to 2-highs, pitches to back sits, eccentric walks, a hat dive, a jump to a thigh stand, the old putt-putt, and some great front fish flops. It's amazing to see so many of these same comic bits in use a half century earlier, yet more evidence that physical comedy vocabulary was transmitted by variety performers directly into early film comedies.

Fast forward to November 24, 1957 and the Mathurins. Many of the same pitches, 2-highs, and partner balances, but more trips, slaps and falls, some ahead-of-its time break dancing, awesome table and chair moves, and the best peanut rolls this side of China... a knockabout encyclopedia!

Did he really say "it looks easy"???  I'm speechless on that one.  

And here's the Trio Rayros at the Palladium three years later (10-4-60). Some of the same plus a 3-high column collapse, and a few nice creative touches with the suitcases. The whole idea of embedding the trampoline, while common nowadays, what with the popularity of wall trampolining, was likely pretty unusual back then. My favorite parts are of course the silly bits: the quickie walk up to and down from the 2-high and the "chair-pull" sequence with the suitcases.

Hmm... the 1910 clip comes from Belgium; the Mathurins were from France; Trio Rayros sounds Spanish but they use the French word for baggage (bagage). The Gaspards were French. As we say in French, coincidence? Maybe not, maybe this specific brand of comedy acrobatics was just more of a French tradition....

• The pratfall that begins with laying first one straight leg horizontally across the top of the table and then, rather optimistically, the other leg, was a trademark of Buster Keaton, which you can see him do during different stages of his life right here.

• You can see more table acrobatics in this previous post, but I'm also going to repeat here one of the clips from that post because it belongs to the same genre as what you just watched. This was from the Colgate Comedy Hour (hosted by Abbott & Costello on November 23, 1952), and the performers are the Schaller Brothers, who also had a comedy trampoline act.

Bon weekend!

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