Friday, May 30, 2014

DVD Laffs: Whoopi Goldberg Presents, Moms Mabley: The Original Queen Of Comedy

Well, the wait is over. Moms finally has a feature length, documentary devoted to her life and laffs. For GFG readers, this has been a long time coming. This documentary, as in life, has a little bit of the good, and a little bit of the bad. It could have been better, but let's not point fingers.

Whoopi Goldberg Presents, Moms Mabley: The Original Queen of Comedy, has to have been a labor of love. It's subject matter has limited appeal, Moms has been dead for nearly forty years, and she was a bit of a cult figure to begin with. She performed primarily for black audiences until she was "discovered" by white Hollywood late in her career.

Like the best of comedy, she was at her funniest when she was at her most subversive. There is no doubt that she had a tough life, a rough life, before she was making 10,000 a week for her routine. Despite this inevitable conclusion, not much is known about her early life. The question is raised, by Arsenio Hall, if she was raped, twice. Did she really put her kids up for adoption? It's ghoulish to ponder, but crucial to her life story. There is no documented evidence presented that these things happened.

These types of things did happen to black women of her generation though, and worse. So Moms becomes a type of figurehead, a survivor, someone who has overcome, and through laffs, she inspires. And this is where my discomfort sets in. The documentary is too reverential to it's subject matter.

Comedy fans who are worth their salt already know the importance of Moms. We need something more from a documentary than something that simply says "here's Moms, this is what she did, this is what she meant to us, wasn't she great"?

It's cool that this happened, it's good, and it's amazing that someone would put their money behind it. It couldn't have been easy. The documentary could have used a little more "bite" though. Where was Paul Mooney when this was being produced? We really could have used someone like him to take the piss out of the sanctity of the proceedings, and offer up some levity as well.

Overall, it's a decent documentary. It's probably the only documentary we'll ever get on Moms Mabley, and it's a miracle that it exists at all. So buy it, and appreciate it. Just don't get your hopes up.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Streaming Laffs: Borgnine! Korman! Fields! Bruce!

Streaming Laffs returns with a bushel of gut busters guaranteed to bring mirth and merriment to all but the most acute cases of the humor impaired! As usual, all of these films are currently streaming on Netflix.

Dir: E.W. Swackhamer
Starring: Harvey Korman, Peter Scolari, T.K. Carter, Stephanie Faracy, Ernest Borgnine

A cash strapped carload come across nearly a million dollars worth of accidental loot during their commute home. As they debate over how to do the right thing, ne'er-do-wells focus on getting their money back. It's a fun, light-hearted TV movie, with a surprising amount of character depth.

The Telephone Book
Dir: Nelson Lyon
Starring: Sarah Kennedy, Norman Rose

An obscene caller gets more than he bargained for, when one of his supposed victims falls in love with the poor fucker. No obstacle is insurmountable as she focuses on tracking him down. Despite the nudity, and less than savory subject matter, The Telephone Book retains a surprising amount of charm and innocence. This is a cult classic that I'm seeing mentioned more and more in movie discussions. Don't be the last to see it.
Sally Of The Sawdust
Dir: D.W. Griffith
Starring: W.C. Fields, Carol Dempster

Sally grew up never having known her real family, her only father figure being head Carny Professor McGargle. McGargle knows who her family is, but after getting to know them, isn't so sure it's in her best interest to let her know. A gag filled romp full of heart, Sally of the Sawdust is a great way to pass a lazy Sunday afternoon.
...And God Spoke
Dir: Arthur Borman
Starring: Michael Riley, Stephen Rappaport

High brow know-nothings attempt to make an epic bible feature on a budget, and in the process unwittingly become the Tommy Wiseau's of the nineties. ...And God Spoke is to independent film making what This Is Spinal Tap is to heavy metal. It features genuinely laugh out loud moments, including the bit where Andy Dick, attempts to take down Lou Ferrigno, in a Cain and Abel scene. Fun times!
The Square Peg
Dir: John Paddy Carstairs
Starring: Norman Wisdom

Okay, admittedly, a black and white British filmed wartime comedy featuring the UK's version of Gomer Pyle isn't for everyone. But then, what is? Loudmouth but earnest Norman, nearly singlehandedly dismantles the Nazi war machine, but not before being dragged into the army first. The movie hinges on whether or not you like Norman Wisdom's brand of clowning around. Give it a shot.
The Three Stooges
Dir: James Frawley
Starring; Paul Ben-Victor, Evan Handler, John Kassir, Michael Chiklis

This televised biopic isn't funny, but it will give you an abbreviated look at the career of The Three Stooges. It's full of little details that flesh out the characters, but at the same time, it could have been a lot better. Despite the fact that there is no childhood trauma, or addiction to focus on, the film makers still managed to make their lives somehow seem so depressing. Also, seeing Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis of The Shield) as a subpar Curly is jarring. It eventually falls into a maudlin morass from which it never manages to recover. On second thought, don't watch it. Read a book on them instead.

Looking For Lenny
Dir: Elan Gale
Starring: Lenny Bruce, Richard Lewis, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Enrico Banducci,  Jonathan Winters, and many more

Lenny Bruce is one of the seminal figures of stand-up comedy. Looking For Lenny shines a light on his act, his influence, his addictions, and how his behavior affected those who were close to him. It's a good, brief look at his life and legacy. It also features a filmed interview with Laff Legend, Enrico Banducci, who deserves a film in his own right.

That's it for this edition of Streaming Laffs. Now I leave you with a cooking recipe video. Enjoy!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Laff Lit: Larry Wilde: Great Comedians Talk About Comedy

Yesterday on The Movies About Girls Show,  I mentioned on the air that I'd recently read Great Comedians Talk About Comedy. Knowing that a torrent of emails would soon be headed this way, each expressing a primal ache to read my thoughts on the book, I figured I'd head them off at the pass and generate a review asap!

Lenny Bruce is one of the most talented guys that we have today and proved it before he got into the four-letter words. But he don't need 'em because he's too smart, too clever, but this comes out of an illness in himself. - Milton Berle*

First of all, if you're looking for a long lost Patrice O'Neal, interview, you're looking in the wrong place. Great Comedians Talk About Comedy is an old school look into funny business. The most current interview is with Jerry Seinfeld, from back when he was recording Seinfeld.

I smoke as along as they laugh and when they stop laughing I take the cigar out of my mouth and start my next joke. - George Burns

Great Comedians Talk About Comedy is a question and answer formatted look into laffbiz. The comedians simply speak for themselves. And it's an impressive range of comedians that spoke up: Woody Allen, Shelley Berman, Dick Gregory, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and many others get their brain picked.

We were going to make everything else look old fashioned. We needed a whole new approach to comedy and we did it. - Phyllis Diller

As will all good things, there's never enough. One of the shortfalls of Great Comedians Talk About Comedy, is the lack of black comedians. The first edition (I believe) was published in 1967. Where is Moms Mabley? Where is Pigmeat Markham? They were seasoned stars at this point.

To be a comic is another form of being a whore. - Dick Gregory

But the fact of the matter is, that the interview wish list is long, and impossible to fulfill within the scope of one book. What we do  have here are years of insight from men and women who made it to the top of the heap, based on the strength of their wit, tenacity, and bravery.

An audience is nothing more than eight or nine hundred mamas and papas clapping their hands and saying, "Good boy, baby." That's all. You'll find that people who had enough "Good boy, baby," from their actual parents rarely turn to comedy. - Jerry Lewis

Don't let the fact that most of these comedians are dead, or ancient turn you off. Respect your elders, kids. There is such a wealth of information, historical facts, and comedic insight, that Great Comedians Talk About Comedy is well worth the time investment.


*All quotes excerpted from:
 Larry Wilde, Great Comedians Talk About Comedy  (Laugh.Com,  Inc, 2013), Kindle Edition (no page numbers available)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lewd Laffs: Sex To Sexty #1

Today GFG is happy to bring some selections from the very first issue of Sex To Sexty. In some circles, number one issues are collectors items. Feel free print a copy of the blog and stuff it in a Mylar bag if you like. Just don't be gone too long, there's more to come!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ken Idaho Is Back! Hillbilly Laffs! Here's To Yah!

If Giggles For Guzzlers had a hillbilly mascot, Ken Idaho would be it. The man was the William Randolph Hearst of dirty jokes. He toured live, doing double duty as musician, and comedian, for The Jimmy Heap Show. He parlayed his act into a series of albums, under the Sex To Sexty imprint. And lest we forget, he had his own magazine, Sex To Sexty (you'll see more of those here soon). He was multimedia!

It would be great if we knew more about the guy. One thing I would like to know is, are he and "Pierre Davis" one and the same? Pierre Davis did the art for his albums, as well as his magazine. Whatever the case, you're not here for mystery, you're here for laffs! Welp, here you go, I hope you enjoy it! Here's To Yah!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Laff Lit: Paul Mooney: Black Is The New White

Paul Mooney has been a comedian for over forty years. He's still working, touring, and doing interviews to this day. He wrote for Richard Pryor, Saturday Night Live, Sanford and Son, and Dave Chappell. He has a handful of highly regarded comedy albums,  for which he has been Grammy nominated. Also he taught Obama, how to fist bump (for better or worse). So when he wrote his memoirs, the wise perked their ears up.

It's a fascinating read.

The book has two overriding themes. The first is race. Race is everything. Mooney details his struggles with Hollywood executives who don't get (or want to get) his humor. At one point, he's at a meeting and they tell him to his face that they are having trouble "finding black writers".* Paul Mooney, if you didn't know, is black. This is the type of experience that shapes his world view, his comedy, his life.

Paul Mooney has an unerring ability to push us into a new, sometimes uncomfortable perspective, while at the same time making us laugh. And laugh hard. This isn't only because he's funny, but it's also a nervous release. It's ridiculous how easy he makes it look. This is of course coming from the perspective of a white guy, one of the "brave white people" he refers to in his act.

The second theme, is his deep and abiding, personal, and professional, relationship with Richard Pryor. Mooney and Pryor, crossed paths when Pryor, was in a period of transition. He had recently (famously) ditched his Cosby, influenced comedy while onstage in Vegas, with Dean Martin. Now Pryor, was in the process of discovering his authentic comedic voice. It couldn't have been easy.

However, Richard Pryor, and Paul Mooney, had enough in common that when they met, it took no time before they bonded. Before long, Mooney, was in Pryor's employment, and for years thereafter, their careers were intertwined. As for their friendship, it was lifelong. It lasted until Pryor's death, in 2005, of MS.

Paul Mooney shares a lot of poignant insight between him, and Pryor through the decades, as well as  on other aspects of his storied life. The book breezes by. It's an enjoyable read, that doesn't feel like a read. It feels like Mooney, is speaking directly to the reader. Do yourself a favor and check it out.


* Paul Mooney, Black Is The New White, A Memoir (Louis Get's On My Nerves, Inc, 2009), Kindle Edition (no page numbers available)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Laff Lit: The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America

You're doing something right when you can find the humor in a bad situation. You're doing even better if you can help others see the humor too. The journey of Jewish assimilation in America wasn't easy. However, author Lawrence J. Epstein, documents a lot of laff makers among those making this difficult transition, and enriching American culture in the process.

Growing up in small town Alabama, I didn't know any Jewish people, but I watched The Three Stooges most mornings before school. The Three Stooges aren't exactly known for their high brow humor, but Moe Howard was the first American actor to portray Adolph Hitler on film *. The Three Stooges went on to make three anti-Nazi films.* And of course, they were Jewish. Between The Three Stooges, and Mad Magazine (created by Harvey Kurtzman) my worldview has been shaped (some would say warped) by Jewish laff makers.

While Mad Magazine isn't within the scope of the book, it's appropriate to bring it up. As Mr. Epstein explains, questioning authority is part of the Jewish tradition**. Comedy is at it's best when it's used as a form of rebellion. Mad Magazine falls within that realm, as do numerous other Jewish comedians and creations.

The book is written in an almost academic style, very dry. Lawrence Epstein gives a chronological overview of Jewish comedians from the pre-vaudeville days, all the way up to Jeffrey Ross's, roast shenanigans. It's compelling stuff, full of anecdotes, such as the aforementioned groundbreaking act by The Three Stooges, to a throat slicing incident involving comedian Joe E. Lewis that illustrated the hold the mob had on comedy clubs ***.

The Haunted Smile is a treasure trove of comedic history. You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the narrative. It's essential reading for comedy aficionados. But beyond that, if you live your life as an outsider, attempting to strike a balance between maintaining your identity, and giving in just enough to maintain the greater good, you'll find plenty to appreciate about the story of the Jewish laff makers.


* Lawrence J Epstein, The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America (New York: PublicAffairs, 2001), 100-101 
** Epstein, The Haunted Smile, xviii
*** Epstein, The Haunted Smile, 161