Friday, January 18, 2013

The Beatles of Comedy

Monty Python's Flying Circus Complete and Annotated edited by Luke Dempsey

In 1968, a group of young English comedians made a TV special called How to Irritate People. Pitched for the U.S. market, the show was meant to get Americans excited about a new wave of British comedy. It failed in that aim, but one of its sketches retains high interest for the archaeologist of humor. Written by a couple of Cambridge graduates named John Cleese and Graham Chapman, the sketch is set in the workshop of a shady car salesman. A disgruntled customer, played by Chapman, returns his new car and registers a few complaints: The gear lever is loose. The brakes don’t work. Before the sketch is over, the vehicle’s doors have fallen off. 

But the dodgy salesman—played by a promising comedian named Michael Palin—has an answer for everything. “You must expect teething troubles in these new models,” he says. In real life, Palin had been sold a defective car himself, and he had entertained Cleese with impersonations of his stonewalling dealer. The resulting sketch, which can be dug up on YouTube, took a few comic liberties with Palin’s real-life experiences—a few, but not enough. Like a lot of apprentice work, it’s too respectful of convention and literal truth to strike a distinctive note. [Read more]

Forty-four candles

The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy
When it Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

The 1980s were the golden age of almost nothing. But to give the decade its due, it was a good time for teen movies. In the early part of the decade, the actors Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald were giants of the genre. Both were members of the Brat Pack, which also included the likes of Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. But unlike the more trivially good-looking members of that troupe, McCarthy and Ringwald had character. McCarthy was sensitive and exceedingly wide-eyed: he looked like a bush baby with a mullet. Ringwald was famous for her red hair, lush lips, and willowy frame.

Depressingly for those of us who grew up with them, both actors are now irrefutably middle-aged. McCarthy is 50, Ringwald 44 ... [read more]