Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Some people get bored. I can honestly say that I have never been bored at any time during the past forty-five years. This is because I am a simpleton. It’s true. I’m not stupid (shut up!) but I am easily amused, and very often by things that others might find simple.
I suppose the most obvious example would be The Three Stooges. No matter how many times I've already seen one Stooge episode - and I've seen all of them at least 20 or 25 times - I can watch it again and get a laugh.
I’m not even so complicated as to prefer Curly to Shemp, or Shemp over Joe. Give me any combination of Moe and Larry with a third stooge. I will laugh.
(This piece isn’t about The Three Stooges, per se, but I do need to say something more about them, so hang with me until I get it out of my system, and then we'll move on to other stuff. The main differences between the episodes with Curly, or Shemp, or Joe, or even the mostly-dreadful late-career movies with Curly Joe DeRita, came from outside of the trio. Curly was a comedic savant, no doubt, but the writing in many of the short subjects in which he appeared was far superior, approaching real wit in spots. Shemp, his older brother and his replacement [following a major stroke necessitating Curly’s retirement from the act], was a wonderful comic, but by the end of his run as the third stooge, the effort being put into the productions, behind the cameras, was less than sparkling. Budgets had been cut and some directors – oh, hell, Jules White – tried to direct Shemp in the same manner as Curly had been directed, even going so far as to ask Shemp to replicate his brother’s trademark clownish mannerisms. When he is forced into doing so, it is, if not painful, at least strained. When Shemp was in the hands of a skilled director, such as Edward Bernds, and allowed to showcase his own strengths of verbal improvisation and wonderfully rubber facial contortions, the films were much stronger. And poor Joe Besser, a truly gifted comedian, was saddled with having his efforts compared to the previous two Howard brothers. Taken on his own, he was a very funny fellow. However, his strength was not the sort of knockabout slapstick that The Stooges specialized in. His was a more gentle comedy, almost pixyish, and couldn’t possibly please those who preferred getting their laughs from someone being hit on the head by a sledgehammer. As for Curly Joe DeRita… well, let’s just say he wasn’t given much to do, and I’ll leave it to future stoogephiles to determine if that was because there wasn’t much he COULD do. Maybe, like Besser, his real strengths just didn’t fit the concept. In any case, while it was great that Moe and Larry finally got some due during the twilight of their careers, belly laughs were few and far between during DeRita’s tenure.)
What other simple things amuse me? Gilligan’s Island would be one.
At times, it makes The Three Stooges look like a Noel Coward play by comparison. It makes me laugh, though, and it doesn’t try to do any more than that, so I love it. Alan Hale (The Skipper) is my favorite among the ensemble. MY WIFE could tell you (with, I'm sorry to say, some major embarrassment concerning what she settled for in a husband) that I'll come apart at the seams laughing at his farcical mugging and then replay the same scene four or five times in succession, laughing like a candidate for the cracker factory – again - every time.
(MY WIFE says I have a medical condition known as "comic amnesia". I think she sees it as an affliction, but I consider it a gift from God. I can laugh at the same joke over and over and over, most of the time not even seeing the punch line coming, even if I've heard it many times before. Affliction? No way! How can having a good laugh be an affliction?)
(Oh, wait a minute. I get it now. It's her affliction. Never mind.)
Anyway, it’s not just comedy that amuses me endlessly.
I can watch The Lone Ranger over and over, even though most episodes are laid out in the same way and contain few surprises. More often than not, The Lone Ranger and Tonto stumble upon a wrongdoing being committed, ...
(They were the luckiest damn vigilantes imaginable. Half the episodes begin with them watering their horses, or doing some other mundane task, when they hear gunshots nearby. They take off to investigate, and...)
... there is often a runaway stagecoach that the duo must chase down and stop, ...
(After watching as many Lone Ranger episodes as I have, you couldn’t get me onto a stagecoach if you promised me I’d get a hummer from Angelina Jolie during the trip. I don’t recall a single episode of that show wherein a stagecoach appeared that didn't end up with it either robbed or as a runaway [because the driver had been fatally shot.] It appears to have been the most dangerous conveyance man has ever invented.)
... then, during the course of trying to track down the evildoer, somebody believes that The Lone Ranger himself is evil because of his mask, but he generally wins him or her over with a manly smile and the display of one of his silver bullets, ...
(How did all of these dunderheads know so much about the damn silver bullets, but never had the faintest notion about The Lone Ranger’s identity before seeing his ammunition? If they heard about silver bullets, wouldn’t they have heard about a guy wearing a mask, riding a great white stallion, and traveling with an Indian companion? Maybe that would ring a bell? Nope. They had to be shown a silver bullet before they put two and two together. The west was full of dopes.)
... and then Tonto usually finds more trouble than he bargained for when The Lone Ranger asks him to ride into town to scout around...
(Well, Bill Cosby mined this claim before me, but it’s so logical I have to mention it. Didn’t Tonto ever get sick of hearing The Lone Ranger asking him to ride into town? After the first two or three times he got ambushed and captured, wouldn’t he have said, "Ugh, Kemo Sabe. You sure me riding into town such a good idea? Tonto like you and all that, but me tired getting head punched in. Why not YOU ride into town? Tonto stay here and do what you usually do while Tonto in town getting head punched in. By the way, just what is it you do while me gone? Silver no speak, but I bet him tell interesting tale.")
... and in the end, there's always either a fistfight or a gunfight - or both - with The Lone Ranger and Tonto prevailing. Then they ride out of town while someone asks, "Who was that masked man?"; the reply comes, "You stupid shit! That was The Lone Ranger!"; then you get a "Hi-Yo Silver!" and some final credits with The William Tell Overture playing in the background. No matter. It entertains the heck out of me every time.
I don’t want to give you the impression that something has to be on TV to amuse me. For instance, I’m tickled to death by softball talk; that is, the things players say to other players, over and over again, on a softball or baseball field. For instance, a pitch can come in a good foot over a batter’s head and odds are somebody on the bench will say, "Good eye!" when the guy doesn’t swing at it. That always blows me away. Or if a pitcher gets two quick strikes on a batter, then runs the count to 3 and 2, some one of his fielders is likely to say something helpful such as, "Don’t lose him now!" Often this happens as the pitcher is beginning his windup. Yeah, that’s just what he needs. He’ll surely throw a strike, now that you’ve reminded him of the situation, instead of one that bounces in the dirt like he was planning to do. Then there are the pure outright lies, such as "Nice cut!" after a batter has taken a totally off-balance lunge at a ball and missed it by half a foot. Priceless.
(I wouldn’t change it for the world. All of those things are said by teammates who are trying to be nice by cheering on their fellow players, and I’d rather be surrounded by loving idiots than intelligent mean-spirited assholes. I’m just saying, though, that stuff is hilarious when you stop and think about it.)
What else makes me smile every time?
When I’m in a crowd at a rock concert, the featured band has finished their set, and I see someone over the age of thirty, who has likely attended more than two or three rock concerts in his life, applauding feverishly because he actually thinks the group won’t come back for an encore of the biggest hit they haven’t yet played unless they are implored to do so via five minutes of insane cheers and manic howling. Does anybody actually believe, while the lights are still down, that the group is packing up their gear and heading out the stage door, but one of them stops and says, “Hold on, lads! Listen to that crowd! Why, I’ve never heard applause like that in my life! What say we go back and give them our most famous song which we inexplicably left out of the original set list?”
Here are some other things I never get tired of:
Reading Mark Twain
Leave It To Beaver
Watching Cats Chase Each Other
Calvin & Hobbes
Filling Up The Internet With This Sort Of Rubbish
Anyway, I’m never bored. There’s always something interesting going on in life, and if I can’t readily find it, I just throw a DVD on and watch the one where Shemp has to be married by 6 o’clock or else he loses his inheritance. As long as I have that to fall back on, I’m good.
Soon, with more better stuff.
[Shemp photo from Like Television... Only Better! The Gilligan's Island cast photo came from BobDenver.com, a wonderful tribute site run by Bob's widow, Dreama Denver.]