Tag Archives: comedy

Thank you, Mr. Wilder

Gene Wilder, Gilda Radnor, and Dom DeLuise on the poster for Haunted Honeymoon. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Orion Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.
Gene Wilder, Gilda Radnor, and Dom DeLuise on the poster for Haunted Honeymoon. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Orion Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. (Click to embiggen)
For many years, Haunted Honeymoon has been my go-to movie for fixing a bad mood. Written, directed, and starring Gene Wilder (along with Gilda Radner, Dom DeLuise, and Jonathan Pryce), it is a silly thrilling tale set in the 1930s. Radio actors Larry Abbott and Vicky Pearle are the stars of the wildly successful Manhattan Mystery Theatre and are engaged to be married, but Larry’s recent erratic behavior has their sponsor ready to cancel the show. Larry’s uncle, Paul Abbott is a “famous psychiatrist” who claims that Larry’s recent engagement had opened a crack in Larry’s mind which can only be cured by forcing Larry to confront his worst fears—to scare him “to death.” Which he’s going to attempt to do while the entire Abbott family is gathered at the country estate of their Great-aunt Katherine.

Aunt Kate (played hilariously by Dom DeLuise in drag), meanwhile, has recently changed her will so that Larry inherits everything. Unless Larry predeceases her, at which point the inheritance goes to all the other Abbotts equally. And someone is stalking Kate’s home in a cheesey werewolf mask, and has already killed one person…

I can’t explain why the show works so well for me. Is it the banter and onscreen chemistry between Gilda and Gene (this was the last movie they made together; mysterious pain she kept feeling during filming was later diagnosed as the ovarian cancer that eventually killed her)? Is it Dom’s hysterical performance as Aunt Kate? Especially the song and dance number Kate and Vicky perform in the music room after dinner? Is it Jonathan Pryce’s delicious performance as the slightly sleazy cousin Charlie? Or Eve Ferret’s vampy turn as Charlie’s girlfriend (and Larry’s ex-) Sylvia?

I don’t know. But I love the movie. My husband always makes certain that we have a copy on more than one of our computers when we go on long trips, in case I wind up in a dismal or vicious mood because things go awry.

Last night I watched it, and I enjoyed it as always. But for the first time I was crying at the end. Because yesterday the world learned that Gene Wilder had died the night before.

I love other movies Gene made. I was ten years old when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came out. The town we lived in at that time didn’t have a movie theatre. But a mere thirty miles away, just over the border in neighboring Colorado, my grandparents lived in a town that did have a theatre. And I and my sister and Mom all went to see the movie along with my paternal grandmother one summer evening. I loved it, of course. I had read book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a couple of years previously. I remember early on in the movie thinking that they weren’t following the book very faithfully. But once Wilder came out and started playing the mad, bewildering Willy Wonka, I decided that the movie got it right.

I don’t watch this movie as often. Although many people love Wilders’ Willy Wonka even more than I do, my husband had a very different reaction to the film as a child. It gave him nightmares—severe enough that he just can’t watch the show even now as an adult.

And of course I re-watch Young Frankenstein at least once a year. Quoting along and laughing throughout. It’s a brilliant comedy and parody.

The only other of his films I currently own is Blazing Saddles which I hadn’t watched in a long while, so I watched it as well, last night. Gene was good in that, though with not nearly as much screen time as I’d have liked.

Gilda and Gene from a scene early in Haunted Honeymoon. Gene is literally "awoo"-ing in this one.
Gilda and Gene from a scene early in Haunted Honeymoon. Gene is literally “awoo”-ing in this one.
I love Gene isn so many of his roles: Willy, Dr. FRON-ken-STEEN, Larry, the Waco Kid… We have his movies to enjoy again and again. And we need to remember the sentiment his family expressed in their official announcement, along with the explanation for why Gene didn’t publicly reveal his health problem: he couldn’t stand the thought of even one less smile in the world. He put many smiles into the world. And yes, many of us shed some tears yesterday, but I know re-watching his movies will bring smiles and laughs instead of tears again. Just not today.

Bustin’ ghosts and laughing it up

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.18.59 AMI’m used to being disappointed in members of my own gender. Growing up a queer boy in very redneck communities in the 60s and 70s, I learned to be very careful around other guys, since you never knew which ones would turn into bullies the moment you accidentally expressed the wrong opinion, or pronounced something weird, or walked wrong, or… well, you get the picture. So I wasn’t completely surprised when a lot of a certain type of fanboy started spewing hate and rage at the fact that someone was rebooting Ghostbusters with one twist: our four ghost-hunting nerds would be played by women.

I was very shocked when a few male friends, specifically a few gay male friends, joined in. Particularly one who got angry and seething on line after the first trailer was released absolutely insisting it was a bad trailer and this was going to be an awful movie. Because I watched the trailer and couldn’t stop laughing.

One of the differences between me and a lot of the men hating on the movie before they ever saw it was that the original Ghostbusters movie was not part of my childhood. Because I was 23 years old when the movie was released in theatres. I saw it in a theatre with a bunch of my friends. And we laughed, and cheered, and howled with more laughter while watching it. For weeks afterward we kept quoting lines to each other and laughing more. Decades later, I still find ways to slip allusions to that movie into tabletop roleplaying scenarios I create and stories I write. I liked the movie a lot.

But I didn’t love every single moment of the original. I cringed at a lot of Bill Murray’s scenes. I kept wanting him to stop being a sleaze toward Sigourney Weaver’s character. It didn’t matter that most movies at the time featured men behaving in that slimey, sexually-harassing way. I didn’t like it when it happened in the other movies, either. But a lot of movies, especially comedies, have moments that make me feel like I need to apologize on behalf of my gender. While I laughed and cheered when the heroes beat the big bad at the end of the movie, I was always a little bit disappointed that there was no hint that Dr. Venkman had become less of a sexist sleaze ball. I had wanted him to have a redeeming moment with Dana Barrett, but it didn’t happen.

There were other moments, jokes that weren’t quite perfect. It was a good movie. It was a great way to spend some time laughing with friends. But it wasn’t perfect. And when I went back and watched the trailer for the original, I can’t exactly call it a masterpiece, either. It was funny, but actually it struck me as less engaging than the trailer for the new movie. So I figured that at least some of the guys who otherwise weren’t misogynist manbabies but were still reacting so negatively to the trailers, were doing so because they were remembering the first movie through the distortion of it being literally part of their childhood.

My husband and I saw the new Ghostbusters on Friday night. We laughed. We cheered. We applauded. We howled with more laughter.

And so did everyone else in the theatre with us.

It’s a good movie. It’s a funny movie. It is not a retread. It’s telling a similar story in a similar universe, but not the same story. The opening sequence is very creepy. Some of the jokes are in-jokes and allusions to the previous films, but not such in-jokes that they aren’t funny is you don’t know them. Don’t believe me, then read this review: A Ghostbusters Review From Someone Who’s Never Seen the Original Ghostbusters.

There’s also this review that compares the reactions to the Ghostbusters reboot to another sequel to another beloved-by-fanboys movie: What Are You Fighting for When You Fight the New Ghostbusters?. And then there’s this: Sorry Haters – Ghostbusters Might Actually Be Good although this latter reviewer is a lot more mealy-mouthed than he ought to be (I mean, come on, guy, you just watched the movie; you know whether or not you enjoyed it; stop writing this like an insecure person who isn’t sure of your own opinion unless it is validated by other guys!).

And don’t miss this one: Real Men Confirm the New Ghostbusters Didn’t Ruin Their Childhoods After All.

It’s a funny movie. Period. It’s a good movie. Period.

I’m not saying that only misognyist manbabies won’t like this movie… I’m just saying that every single negative review I have seen has demonstrated more than a little bit of a gender-based double standard. Every one.

So, I’m hoping this movie does well. Not just to prove the trolls and manbabies wrong, but because I really enjoyed laughing for two hours without one moment of cringing that made me embarrassed to be a guy. Because that’s an extremely rare thing in movies—but it’s something we need more of.


ETA: Sunday night I went to see the movie a second time with two friends (my husband wasn’t feeling well). I still liked it my second time. The theatre was packed, again. People laughed and cheered and clapped a many points in the movie. It’s a goofy comedy, yes. So was the original. I had a blast the second time, and still recommend it.

Farewell to Camden County

MV5BMTc2MzQxNDIxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk1MDU1MQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR111,0,630,1200_AL_So years ago I was a faithful viewer of the comedy series “My Name Is Earl,” the story of a not terribly bright petty criminal who became convinced that because of all of the awful things he’d done in his life, he was destined to try to make up for them or karma was going to keep punishing him. So he made a list of all the bad things he’d done, and with the assistance of his brother, Randy, and Randy’s sometimes girlfriend Catalina set out to make amends. Earl and Randy are also frequently both helped and hindered in their quest by Earl’s ex-wife, Joy. Everyone is frequently helped and oddly rescued from various situations by Joy’s current husband, Darnell aka “the Crabman.”

The series was a silly look at life in the fictitious Camden County, which was inhabited by a strange assortment of characters. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though I was always amused by the fact that the one person I knew who most disliked it said he hated it because it was completely unbelievable, yet he himself is always telling stories about his ridiculous in-laws and the unbelievably stupid problems they got themselves into. Which made me decide that either a) he had a really big blind spot, or b) all those stories he liked to regale people with of his supposed true family misadventures might have been more than slightly exaggerated.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the not-cynical way that “My Name Is Earl” demonstrated in its storylines again and again that most humans are muddling along as best as they can, seldom realizing just how much our lives are interconnected, and how much we contribute (in both good and bad ways) to the lives of others.

Then one spring we learned that it wasn’t going to be renewed for a fifth seasonContinue reading Farewell to Camden County

Comedy reveals the truth

It’s less than a minute and a half, and well worth your time. A reminder of the real relationship between politicians, business, and the people—and also how good one particular show was sometimes capable of being.

Roseanne owns state rep on fair wages, taxes, labor rights, and plight of the middle class:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Mirror, mirror…

Can with a TV remote.
Obviously not actually me, as there is only one remote in the picture…
Several years ago I was reading about the new shows coming out the next season, and one, The Big Bang Theory, sounded like exactly the sort of show that I would hate. So I didn’t make any attempt to watch any episodes. Not very long after the season started, I heard from a few different acquaintances that it was not a good show. The specific comments were that it made fun of nerds by portraying them in completely exaggerated, stereotypical, and unrealistic ways. So I continued to ignore it for all of the first season.

And then another nerdy/geek/fannish friend happened to mention, midway through the second season, that he was strangely addicted to the show. I mentioned the reasons I had assumed I wouldn’t like it, and he said, “Oh, me too!” Then he explained how his wife (a person who has been even more immersed in fannish culture than either her hubby or me) had watched the first season on Netflix. “I tried to ignore, and work on stuff on my computer. But it kept making me laugh… and it usually made me laugh because the characters acted exactly like some of our friends.”

Continue reading Mirror, mirror…

A real pink-neck sensibility

It happens to the best of us: trying to write is a complete bust, and when you try to read your brain just can’t seem to hold the thought from the beginning of a paragraph to the end. You can’t concentrate, but you’re not sleepy, and so you wind up either surfing the internet or surfing channels.

A few years ago I was doing that one late weekend night and I came across a comedian doing standup. He was a big guy with a shaved head and wearing a football jersey telling a joke about why he loves the series, Cops. Cops happens to be one of my least favorite shows, for exactly the reasons he was joking about it, but he made me laugh, so I kept watching.

A few minutes later he mentions that he’s gay, and then makes a bunch of self-depracating jokes about how difficult it is for a gay guy who looks like him to get a date. Which made me laugh a bit more—and not just because my equally non-stereotypical look had made dating unpleasant back in the day. He made some more jokes about growing up in Texas in a Baptist family, then summed up the routine with a comment, “Folks look at me and think I’m a real redneck, but I’m really a pinkneck, which isn’t all that different.”

I had to do a little on-line sleuthing to find out who he was, since I had missed his introduction, and the show went to a commercial break and moved on to the next comedian without repeating his name. Scott Kennedy, it was a name I hoped I would remember.

Sometime after that I read a story online somewhere about how Scott had formed a group to entertain troops. He had worked with the USO a few times, being the son of a veteran and a military school graduate himself, he felt strongly about supporting the men and women serving their country. He called it, “Giving them a piece of home.”

But the USO organizers didn’t like to take the entertainers into dangerous places. Scott thought those were the troops that needed it most, so working with some officers he’d met during his USO tours and some comedians back home, he formed Comics Ready to Entertain (CR2E) in 2007, and started doing tours.

The last time I’d heard anything about CR2E was a short video interview after his (I think it was) 47th tour, talking about how he’d gotten his father to go along with him on the tour, which included some comments from his 70-some-year-old dad talking about what it was like to see his son entertaining troops from the same unit he had served in (back in the 50s), now somewhere deep in Afghanistan.

I’ve caught Scott’s act a few times since on cable. It wasn’t that he made me laugh so hard my sides hurt—maybe I watch too many comedians, because that seldom happens any more—but his act reassured me that it was okay that I was a gay man who occasionally watches football, likes some country music (in between the glam pop, dance, musicals, and all my other weird music tastes), doesn’t like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and will never, ever look like a gym bunny.

Scott Kennedy died a bit over a week ago. I’d seen no mention of it on any of the many gay-related news blogs I read before one blog post today. I would have rather been reading tributes to him than some of the news I did read (and amplified and ranted about on my own blog).

Scott was a funny man who did what he could to make people laugh. We need more laughter. And we need to spend more time recognizing heroes such as Scott: