Most of the people who come here are aware that I was a production assistant on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show while aspiring to write for television myself.
Of course you know that, because I never stop reminding folks, lest you all think I've always been the 50-Something suburban gymnastics mom you see today. I really was a capable and accomplished young person once, and I may even have been borderline cool.
I think that's why I had SO MUCH FUN at last week's PBS showcase for television critics. For one thing, I ALWAYS enjoy it when my silly little blog is treated with the same respect shown for "real" (traditional) media. But TWO of the presentations dealt with comedy and comedians... and once a comedy geek, always a comedy geek. So I hung on every word spoken by veteran stand-ups Lewis Black and Richard Belzer as they talked about George Carlin and what made his work so extraordinary.
Carlin's daughter Kelly was also on hand to help promote the network's broadcast of the Kennedy Center's tribute to him as recipient of this year's Mark Twain Award (set to air February 4th).
The discussion reminded me of my days on the Carson show (I was the writers' assistant), when the guys would parse jokes and sometimes get into heated (and somewhat academic) discussions about what constitutes "funny."
I became even more nostalgic later that afternoon, when Amy Sedaris took the stage to talk about "Make 'Em Laugh," a six-part series tracing the history of comedy in America, from the turn of the 20th Century. Amy narrates the series, which debuts tonight and is hosted by Billy Crystal. Each episode deals with a different aspect of funny business.
I've seen five of the six episodes already (thanks to the DVD review copy the PBS folks gave all in attendance - like I said, "treated with respect"!) - and the entire series is comedy geek heaven.
Tonight's program consists of two episodes:
1: "Would Ya Hit a Guy with Glasses?"
Subtitled "Nerds, Jerks & Oddballs," the hour features clips from silent comic Harold Lloyd to Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, Jonathan Winters to Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Cheech & Chong and Andy Kaufman through to stars of today, like Steve Carell and Seth Rogen. But it's the commentary from admirers like Judd Apatow, Michael McKean, Richard Lewis, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock that put it all into context.
I love that they went to Bob Hope's comedy writers (Harold Kanter and Larry Gelbart) to talk about the evolution of Hope's material. Of course, the man isn't around to do new interviews, so all that's left are his writers! Still, it's always nice when someone reminds the public that while comics are naturally funny and witty people, most are usually supported by an army of writers.
Most illuminating for me is the focus on how difficult it was in the 50's and 60's for females who aspired to be comics: Jean Carroll, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Lily Tomlin are all represented, and they talk frankly about how difficult it was for women to step out of the accepted role of housewife and mother.
Back then, it helped to be unattractive, which Phyllis Diller says was part of her initial success. People (men) had a hard time surrendering to a female commanding the stage.
I think a documentary on female comedians would be a fabulous follow-up to this series.
The second hour of tonight's program is "Honey, I'm Home!" (Subtitled "Breadwinners and Homemakers"). This is an excellent history of the American situation comedy - from The Goldbergs (which is so old even I'd never seen it before!) to the Simpsons. It's got as many clips, interviews and analyses as the first episode -- and is just as interesting. And funny.
The entire series is wonderful relief from the reruns and reality dreck the commercial networks are feeding us this month -- not to mention the fact that the world seems to be crumbling down around us. I don't know about you, but I don't think I will get through the next two years without my fix of The Daily Show and SNL. (Alas, you will have to wait a couple of weeks to see those shows covered in the final episode on satire and parody. It's called "Sock it to ME?" - and if you're as old as I am, that phrase will mean something to you.)
As the old saying goes, "Laughter is Medicine."
And if you're a comedy geek like me, you'll love it.
Hey! I'm giving away a Superbowl Party pack (valued at $250) over at SoCal Stuff. Find out what's in the pack and how to win it here.