Half Hearted Hand Shake
I have to come right out and say that I have been off my game with writing so far this year. It isn’t that I have run out of things to say, or music to listen to, or photographs to take. I just…have not been myself lately and feel a lack of focus or desire to sit down and write. But awhile back I had an idea that I have decided to pursue in this post, and while fresh air, exercise, or a good night’s sleep are all good cures for getting yourself out of a funk, there is one other key-laughter. I am aware that this blog might sometimes come off a little heavy handed as I recount the emotional lure that photography and music have for me. But laughter does too, so I wanted to write something that shared my bent over in stitches, shrieking with laughter side as well.
Comedy is a subjective thing of course. There are many types and styles to choose from. Everyone from the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare incorporated comical elements in their stories to loosen the audience up and maybe add a few seats to the arena. Writers like P.G. Wodehouse mastered the art of comic stories with the lovable but bumbling Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. The early days of cinema were comedy heavy with the greats of silent film like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Television got in on the act almost immediately and some of the most successful early TV shows were comedies such as I Love Lucy. Later it became even more absurdist with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and other shows of pure silliness. At some point stand up comedy became both ground breaking and lucrative for the best performers. In the last 30 years or so, animated shows like The Simpsons exploded in popularity. With all of the above you can certainly find something to match your style-everything from slapstick to raunchy humor and everything else in between.
One aspect of comedy I have always enjoyed and appreciate however are sketches that combine music and comedy. Though there are countless plays and musicals that accomplish this, I especially enjoy the more modern form. I could cite dozens of examples, but the videos here represent some of my favorites. I wanted to focus on some moments of pure humor. Perhaps I should say humour because I have long had a particular devotion to British humour. Here are just a few of my musical favorites to watch.
First up is an absolute classic from Monty Python-The Lumberjack Song. What I came to realize over the years watching the original series is an admiration for how ridiculous the sketches must have been when conceived and discussed before filming. How on earth do you come up with ideas like the Fish Slapping Dance, or mountaineers scaling the sidewalks of a city street? How does one sell the idea of The Ministry Of Silly Walks, Dead Parrots, ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’ or men named Raymond Luxury Yacht (pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove), to name but a few memorable sketches to TV executives? The same holds true for the Lumberjack Song, as you sing…Sing…SING……
Next up is a classic from the sketch show A Bit Of Fry & Laurie with Stephen Laurie and Hugh Fry. No wait…Fry Stephen and Laurie Hugh. Blast it…I mean of course, Stephen Fry, and Hugh Laurie. When you get annoyed with life just remember to kick some ass!
Now we go to a scene from the show Black Books. Credit to my wife for turning me on to this show with the worst shop keeper (with the best bookstore!) ever-Bernard Black. This scene features Bill Bailey as the much maligned and overworked assistant Manny, figuring out that despite being forbidden to learn piano as a child he has long hidden talents on the instrument (showcasing the very real talent Bill Bailey has on the instrument).
Next is a clip from the wonderful Lenny Henry, featuring some very real tasty guitar work by Jeff Beck. There is a huge body of Lenny’s work I have not seen, but you don’t need to see much to know that he is both a gifted comedian and not too bad of a singer either. His role as the master of the verbal put down Gareth Blackstock in the series Chef! (who you must never, ever ask for salt on one of his dishes, or worse still, incur his wrath which might lead to a request to see your blood outside the body) will probably always be my favorite. Lenny fully takes on the persona of the characters in his sketches. Just like he does so convincingly here as a blues singer, replete with a ‘great’ harmonica solo.
Finally, having just seen the recent David Brent-Life On The Road mockumentary, I had to include the classic song Free Love Freeway, first performed on one of my favorite shows ever-The Office. The show has many cringe worthy moments between the employees of the office, but none more so than Ricky Gervais’ portrayal as David Brent.
The thing I realized in putting this post together is that the best musical comedy songs make one laugh at their ridiculousness, while still conveying a sense of being a real song. This is actually the crucial element. The Lumberjack song would not work without the Canadian Mounties choir. The Fry & Laurie sketch would not have the same impact if Hugh Laurie had not decked himself out in shades and slicked back hair. The Black Books scene is so great because Bill Bailey is actually a really gifted musician, while the Lenny Henry sketch had much greater impact with the talent of Jeff Beck. Lastly, Ricky Gervais shows how difficult a skill all of this really is. He had to believe in the song, and pull it off as David Brent performing it, not as Ricky Gervais the actor. Not at all easy to do when you really think about it.
I’d love to hear some of your favorite comedy moments of all time-be it from a TV show, stand up, or movies in the comments below.
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle