I love comedy and good comedians. It is a terribly difficult profession, and those who succeed usually have years of struggle under their belt. The funniest man of my lifetime, and it is always subjective, was Mel Brooks. He was famous in years before I came of age for being the 2000 year old man, interviewed by Carl Reiner. Comedy is subjective, as I said, and I never found that bit funny. But Blazing Saddles? Hilarious! Brooks seemed to thrive in visual medium, as with Space Balls where, when teleported from one room to another, looked down and found his ass was on the front instead of the back. He chided his staff for not telling him how big it was.
Brooks is now 95 years old, a widower, and soon to go. But I would bet he is still funny.
I am slowly realizing, watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, that the real creative force behind Seinfeld was Larry David. The character George Constanza was based on David. This show, which has run for ten seasons now on HBO, hints at every bit ever done on Seinfeld, from the contest to annoyance at close talkers. David, playing himself, is annoyed at all of us. He even chides his mailman for wearing shorts, saying no one doing that can be taken seriously. A mailman annoys him? Seinfeld, who appears in CYE in a fake reunion, even says that he was the visible on stage talent while David was behind the scenes. Jerry is funny, but I am thinking that without David, Seinfeld, the TV show, would not make it.
Norm MacDonald died at a young age, 61. I loved his work, and I am not sure why. He had a straight-face delivery, and the lines were not that funny. Still, I laughed out loud. He sat opposite Letterman talking about the fictional image of Joe Camel, used to sell cigarettes to kids, and stated the obvious: “It’s a penis.” Anyone else saying that gets credit for insight, but from Norm, it brought the house down. He was a deadpan comic, one of the best I’ve seen, and yes, I loved Jack Benny too.
I was shocked yesterday to learn that he had died. The obit says cancer, but we really don’t know. I know he made and lost several fortunes gambling, and addictions like that often manifest in other ways. He did not drink, or was an ex-drinker. He did not smoke. Living so clean, it is hard to imagine that cancer, a byproduct of modern pollution and vaccines and all that rot, got him. I lost an older brother to cancer at age 68, a clean-living marathon runner who over-trusted doctors. I can only speculate about Norm, living so clean, that something about the way we live got him, maybe something about the way he lived that he hid from us.
Nonetheless, as comedians go, he was in my top five, along with Benny, Brooks, Conan and John Mulaney. (I do not understand how Colin Quinn even has a career.) In naming my top five, I am leaving out 195 really good and great ones, but we all have our lists.
PS: If ever you get a chance and have not seen it, get hold of a video of a SNL skit written by MadDonald, a parody on West Side Story.