Category Archives: comedy

F is for Falling

Kilgore Falls, MD

My 81-year-old mother fell coming into her house last week. My sister who lives with her says she’s fine, and that’s good news, of course.

Even before hearing that news, I was thinking about the topic. On one hand, the fall is the lifeblood of physical comedy. Watch out for that banana peeeel! The role of the comedian, going back generations, perhaps millennia, was to take a tumble.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows was The Dick van Dyke Show. As you can see here, Dick would either trip over the ottoman, stumble over it, or neatly evade it.

And YouTube is chock full of people taking a tumble.

Conversely, One in three adults 65 and older falls each year in the United States. In 2005, 15,800 people 65 and older died from injuries related to unintentional falls; about 1.8 million people 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls, and more than 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized, again in the U.S. And that doesn’t even touch on falls from elevation.

This brings me to LifeCall. From the Wikipedia: The motivation behind the systems is that subscribers, mostly senior citizens, would receive a pendant which, when activated, would put them in immediate contact with a dispatch service, without the need to use a phone or other household device…

So far so good.

In 1989, LifeCall began running commercials which contained a scene wherein an elderly woman, identified by a dispatcher as “Mrs. Fletcher” uses the medical alert pendant after having fallen in the bathroom. After falling Mrs Fletcher speaks the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” after which the dispatcher informs her that he is sending help.

Taken at its face value, the commercial portrays a dangerous situation for a senior, with perhaps dire consequences…

The “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ad had the double misfortune of being unintentionally campy and appearing often on cable and daytime television. The fact that the commercial was a dramatization (as clearly stated in the beginning of the commercial) using rather mediocre acting also contributed to the humor. The combination made “I’ve fallen… and I can’t get up!” a recognized, universal punchline that applied to many comedic situations. All of these factors made the ad memorable, ensuring the line’s place in pop culture history.

The commercial’s punchline has also been appropriated by members of faith communities.

My final falling reference (briefly) will be falling in love. One could discuss ad nauseum what that really means. But I’ve had stuck in my head a song by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers called “Falling in Love with Love.”

“Falling in Love with Love is falling for make-believe!
Falling in Love with Love is playing the fool!” Here’s Julie Andrews singing Falling In Love With Love.
Falling Creek, GA

Note: I had a bunch of photos put aside for the post which I CANNOT FIND. Photos taken from government websites.

Movies on the Big Screen

Thom Wade opined about a recent Entertainment Weekly article noting dramas “tanking at the box office…And the big question is: Why? Why can’t potentially great films pull in a bigger audience?”

His conclusion? “Having a hi-def setup has honestly impacted how I see movies. With a wide screen hi-def television, Blu-Ray player and a surround sound system? I suddenly find that I judge seeing a movie based on how much I think it required a giant screen. And you know what? Few dramas (or comedies for that matter) require that big screen experience.”

Well, maybe.

It is true that one-third of all Americans now own an HDTV, putting market penetration at an all-time high. The number has doubled from 2006’s figures. Blu-Ray’s penetration is right or nine percent, depending on the article.

Actually, I don’t think Thom’s conclusion about how people are deciding is wrong. Rather, I think that they might be coming to the wrong conclusion. In other words, seeing dramas and comedies on the big screen is different from seeing them on the small screen.

To be sure, I have no HDTV or Blu-Ray. But short of having a very large screen in a darkened private room, I think most people treat things they see on television like they treat television. They pause a movie to eat or go to the bathroom or take a nap. The movie experience is just…different.

Long before the new technology, I saw the movie Coming Home, a 1978 drama starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, in the movie theater. Then I saw it on HBO and thought it lost something. But then I saw it again on the large screen and it was almost as good as the first time.

I wonder if dramas in America are in trouble. The season finales of House and Grey’s Anatomy both lost viewers compared with last season’s last episodes. All the CSIs were down as well. Meanwhile most comedies are on the rise. Maybe it’s a cyclical thing; it wasn’t THAT long ago when the comedy was considered moribund.

And I need to consider changing audiences, for this reason: some people treat going to the movies like they treat being at home. Anyone who’s been to a movie in recent years – cellphones, talking, etc. – knows what I mean.

Apparently, this audience bad behavior has spread to Broadway. In the June 6 Wall Street Journal, an article called “Are Misbehavin’: No Tonys for These Performances — Theatergoers Act Out With Phones, Bare Feet — and Fried Chicken, Too” catalogs these misdemeanors:

Last month, an audience member at “South Pacific” took off a shoe and, complaining of an injured knee, propped her foot up on a rail in front of the stage. “Other patrons were not amused. ‘The offenders’ toes ‘were practically in their nose…And her feet smelled.’ “

Earlier this year, Patti LuPone broke character in “Gypsy” to scream at an audience member taking pictures.

One night, actor Will Swenson, who plays a hippie named Berger in “Hair”, took a [recording] device from a person in the front row [during the nude scene] and threw it across the stage. “I just couldn’t believe the gall of this woman who was videotaping me in my face,” he says. A crew member deleted the video and returned the camera phone to its owner at intermission, he says.

During a Saturday matinee of the Holocaust drama “Irena’s Vow,” a man walked in late and called up to actress Tovah Feldshuh to halt her monologue until he got settled. “He shouted, ‘Can you please wait a second?’ and then continued on toward his seat.” Ms. Feldshuh says she typically pauses when she’s interrupted. She doesn’t recall the incident, which she says may be evidence of the Zen attitude she’s cultivated onstage.”

So perhaps one needs an “event” movie to warrant going to the theater and put up with fellow humans.

Roger Answers Your Questions, Gordon and Rick

Gordon, whose birthday is the day before mine, albeit a couple several many years later, asks:

1)Who IS your hero?
Actually, it’s anyone who speaks truth to power. But the person who’s moved me the most this year is Bill Moyers on PBS, who used to work in LBJ’s administration. He’s talked about the fallacies of the war in Iraq, taken on Big Media in a BIG way, and speaks about religion and faith and race in a wonderful, open-minded manner. Did you see Keith Olbermann on his show recently? Maybe I’m reading into it, but I think Keith, who I like, BTW, is a bit in awe of Bill, because they are in the same “town crier” business, but Moyers has been doing it a lot longer.

2) In this age of mega media-conglomeration, when the major studios are crying poverty during the Writer’s Strike…what do you suggest we (as citizens) do?
Use less. Interesting sentence, that, because take away the space and it’s useless, which is how I think lots of people are feeling about struggling against the mass everything. And it is a struggle. But to the degree possible, go to the locally-owned movie theater. See the local productions. Watch Moyers. As to the specifics of the writer’s strike, don’t watch the network shows online, don’t buy DVDs (if you really must see the complete Stargate again, rent it.)
Did you see the Story of Stuff? If you do, I think you’ll be less likely to want to buy the crap that we’re being told that we MUST have. It’s all part of the same struggle. On the same news cycle that we read that retailers are hoping for a late pre-Christmas shopping surge, we see that credit card debt is getting higher than ever.
They put out individual seasons of our favorite TV show and we buy that. Then they put out the box set with “extras”, expecting us to buy that too. Don’t. The music industry works the same way; no wonder that many people are “ripping off” the record companies. The system seems to be designed, per planned obsolesce and/or bait and switch, to make you buy the same thing again and again. Don’t let ’em.

Before I get to Gordon’s last question, I want to address this query by George (Rick) Lewis: Why are the daytime talk shows unaffected by the writer’s strike??? Well, I did not know that they weren’t affected. Poking around the Internet, I’ve read that the producers have enough scripts to get through January. And at least during the last strike 20 years ago, scabs non-union “scribes” were hired to pick up the slack. But the particulars of who is or is not covered is not my area of expertise; go ask Mark Evanier.

3) Why do people insist on playing/listening to “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”? That is one of the most annoying songs ever written.

(Plus, traumatic incidents should never be comedy fodder).

Let me take on the parenthetical aside first. Trauma is often comedy fodder. I understand the feeding the Christians to the lions was considered great fun; well, not to the Christians, I suppose.
Seriously, there are people who think that horror movies where the cliched young adults meet their demise is high camp; I tend not to watch them myself, but that’s what I’ve heard.
One traumatic event I thought was TERRIBLY funny was the end of the movie, The Life of Brian – a crucifixion! And the victims are singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”! A song so strong that it made its way into the musical Spamalot. So I think the eye-gouging of the Three Stooges or Wile E. Coyote’s Acme bomb blowing up before he gets the Road Runner (meep meep) definitely have its fans.

As to the Elmo and Patsy song itself, I’ll admit that I actually purchased the single. (For you youngsters, a single, for about a half century starting in the 1950s, was a seven-inch piece of musical vinyl with a large hole in the middle, to be played at 45 revolutions per minute on something called a “record player”.) And I liked it because it was, to my mind, a lovely little deconstruction of all the cloying sentimentality of the season. I never thought it would turn out to be a perennial favorite, and I don’t listen to it much any more, mostly because I’ve become bored with it. (And the remake that you hear on the radio is not, to my mind, as good as the less-polished version that I purchased.) In any event, Gordon, it may please you to know that others share your sentiment.
Confidential to GP: I’m not sure that I’ve had a breakup as devastating as yours with Liar Ex (who told many lies). But the cumulative effect on me of “love gone bad” (title of a Chris Clark song, not bad grammar) has had its impact. Were you ever dumped by an e-mail so circuitous that it took you three reads to get the message? I have. I’m just sayin’. But if I went through the litany, we’d both be way too depressed.


Cos 70

Final JEOPARDY! for June 11, 2007:
Answer: He won 3 straight Emmys for dramatic acting & a record 6 straight Grammys for comedy albums.
No, not William Shatner or Jackie Gleason, or even Bob Newhart.

I think I’ve given it away.

Yes, it was Bill Cosby. It’s hard to write about him, not because I can’t think of things to say, but because I could write forever about him.

I can’t recall whether it was in the TV show “I Spy” or listening to one of his comedy albums when I first became aware of him. It was a Big Deal when I Spy was on. Here was a black man on TV, a star of the show, not playing a servant or a buffoon. Every black person I knew was watching.

Then there were the albums. I own three of his Grammy-winning LPs, I Started Out As A Child, Why Is There Air? and Wonderfulness, awardees in 1964-1966. They were funny, but as the liner notes on one of them explained, it wasn’t just the content, it was the delivery that became so noteworthy that it was imitated by everyone from Richard Pryor to Jamie Foxx.

Beyond the humor, though, is that I learned a lot. That’s where I found out about Lombard Street, the curvy road in San Francisco, where they put flowers to note where “they bury the people who’ve killed themselves” traversing down it; it was funny the way he said it. I’ve had four wisdom teeth removed, so I know he was right that “Novocaine doesn’t deaden pain, it postpones it. Allows the little pain buddies to get together. ‘We’re going to hit that hole at five o’clock.'” He could make a line like: “And the pain…was tremendous” hysterically funny. “All the ice cream you can eat!” “900 cop cars.” “Smearing Jell-O all over the floor” so that the chicken heart on the radio wouldn’t get him. (I wonder if that routine led to him later being the spokesman for Jell-O pudding.)

The most important lesson, though was about The American Way of Death. Long before I had read Jessica Mitford, I heard Bill Cosby say, about people looking at people in open caskets, “He looks so natural,” to which Cosby retorted, “He looks dead.” He then suggested that a tape recorder could be hooked up. That way the deceased could “reply” to people as they went by. “Don’t I look like myself? It’s good to see you.” And for an additional fee, it could be personalized: “Hello, Bob. How’s the wife and kids? Don’t I look like myself?” This has had a profound impact on how I view burials, which is, at least on this mortal coil, once you’re dead, you’re dead.

I also have a couple of Cosby’s “music” albums. The first, “Silver Throat”, even had a #4 hit in 1967, “Little Old Man,” a musical swipe of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight.”
And I have a double album on Tetragrammation Records, 8:15/12:15, where he does the same comedy routine twice, with the latter a bit “bluer”. It’s a lesser album, but it DID address the issue of taking the Lord’s name in vain, which Cos said you shouldn’t do because He’s busy “stopping war and things, trying to make it not look like a miracle.” He notes, “I have a friend named Rudy. He ain’t doin’ nothin’. Call on him.” So when you’re hammering, you might hit your “Rudy-damned thumb.”

I watched that show when Cosby played a gym teacher. I watched both the Electric Company and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, though I was in college at the time. And, of course, I watched The Cosby Show, religiously for at least the first six seasons of its eight seasons. I related to those parents. I KNEW those parents; not so much mine, as parents of friends. And the infusion of the music, art and other aspects of black culture in a matter-of-fact way was phenomenal. Also, I loved how, in the first several seasons, that there were variations on the opening theme song. And yes, I probably owned one or two Cosby sweaters.

I felt awful when his son Ennis was murdered 10 years ago. I struggled to understand what he was saying about poor urban youth. No, I didn’t eat JELLO pudding pops. But Bill Cosby is a figure that has been huge in my life.

Happy three score and ten, Cos.