Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Master of My Domain

During the 90's, I watched and memorized every episode of Seinfeld.  Come to think of it, I've been influenced throughout my entire life by comedians and have emulated them on stage and in my writing. 

Jerry Lewis was probably first.  I loved his slapstick and his funny voice.  I also liked how he always got in the way when Dean Martin was making his moves on pretty girls.  Jerry Lewis made three brilliant films in the early '80's that I highly recommend.  Those were Hardly Working, The King of Comedy (directed by Martin Scorsese), and Cracking Up.  My brothers and I watched those repeatedly. 

There's something special about Jackie Gleason.  Jerry Lewis once said that the best comedians can make you cry just as fast as they can make you laugh, and that's so true of Jackie Gleason.  Watch the lost Christmas episode of The Honeymooners or the episode where he has to give back the baby girl he and Alice adopted.  "How about me?" he yells in his perfect Ralph Kramden voice.  "How about how I feel?"  I never forgot those lines.  Of course, I loved his Buford T. Justice character from the Smokey and the Bandit movies as well.  He truly was The Great One.

Peter Sellers was also there from the beginning.  I could quote every single Pink Panther film by the time I was 10.  I loved them.  I love him.  I spoke like Inspector Clouseau for the better part of my childhood.  It always made my grandmother laugh.  He has famous quotes about not having his own identity.  That suits the theatre student in me just perfectly.  Watch The Party or Being There.

Andy Kaufman was probably the most brilliant of comedians (if for nothing else but his lifelong obsession with Elvis).  Who else could make a career by getting the audience to hate you?  You can find so much of his work on YouTube.  Look for "I Trusted You", any of his wrestling escapades, or his Tony Clifton skits.  They're incredible.  I love making my audience uncomfortable.  I staged a wild west adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that changed into West Side Story halfway through.  I reversed the order of all the scenes in Look Homeward, Angel.  I've directed Frankenstein, Dracula, Night of the Living Dead and plan to do The Haunting of Hill House next winter.  It's what I enjoy most about art. 

Chevy Chase is up there for me as well.  I loved Fletch when I was a kid.  And, of course, the Vacation movies are classics.  I met Chevy Chase at a New York Yankees game in the late 90's and only talked to him about his TV show.  I could tell how happy he was that I watched.  I was one of only three.  My mom and my little brother were the other two.

Currently, Will Ferrell is my favorite comedian.  I've watched every one of his films and just looking at his face makes me laugh (I'm sure he'd be proud of that).  YouTube "Tight Pants" if you need to laugh.  He's also a great dramatic actor, by the way.  Check out Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go if you want to see that side of him, but I'm about to watch the 763 new jokes in Anchorman 2 that just came out on DVD yesterday!

I returned to writing in the late 90's.  I completed a novella called Waiting for Darkness about the hunt for love and a kidnapped girl.  Very Lovecraft in style.  Somewhat Clive Barker.  I submitted it as my Master's thesis, along with an essay about contemporary horror fiction, and cranked out several short stories soon afterwards that found their way into print.  Like George Costanza said, "I'm back, baby, I'm back!"

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