Saturday 8 September 2007

Slapstick - A Family Affair

An examination of the slapstick sense of humour in my family...This post is part of the Slapstick-Blog-a-thon happening down at Film Of The Year.

To really enjoy physical comedy, I think you need to have a bit of a silliness in you. My house has silly in spades.

Me? I love Buster Keaton. There's a single scene that sums him up for me...I don't even know what film it's from (it may not even be his own), but when I was a teenager I saw this clip during a documentary called "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow". He's a janitor of some variety and while cleaning up the floor he gets his foot stuck on something. He pulls and pulls, but it won't budge. Finally he pulls using both arms and manages to get it off the floor and he rests it on a counter. He then realizes that his other foot is now stuck. So he uses both arms to pull it off the floor and put it on the counter - WHILE THE OTHER LEG IS STILL THERE.

Of course he drops like a stone at that point, but he seemed to hang in the air for a brief moment - his butt perfectly in line with the top of the counter and his legs a straight line between them. I replayed the moment many times (I had it on tape but lost it years ago) and thought "I have to try this". I placed padding all around on the floor, used what would've been a really short counter and tried and tried. I couldn't even get close.

And Keaton adds even more humour to an already silly situation by keeping his dead pan face throughout and acting slightly surprised by the outcome of falling on his behind. And it's these amazing feats that Keaton does so effortlessly and naturally that always kill me. Here's two great montage clips (I think the second was actually the opening titles to the show I saw on video years ago):

But I'm not the only fan of physical humour in my household...My wife loves pratfalls. Fits of giggles emerge when someone on screen suddenly drops from view because they tripped on a rock. Peals of laughter occur when someone walks into a wall. Did someone just fall down a hole? Sorry, she can't help, she's doubled over on the couch.

Years ago before we were married, we were walking from the car in an underground garage. As we approached the exit, we were engaged in some sort of in depth conversation that distracted me from where I was going. At the last second, I just barely avoided walking right into a huge concrete post and it scared the crap out of me. My wife laughed for hours. Actually, I can still bring her to tears now by recalling the event. Good thing I didn't actually hit that post - it might've killed her.

I love you too dear...

Actually her sense of humour ranges from witty repartee to subtle parody to visual jokes. But if you want the hardy guffaws, Mike Myers' behind the couch elevator/escalator gag in "Austin Powers" (yes, I know he didn't invent it) is a good place to start.

She seems to have passed on this rather curious trait to our offspring. Our son is now seven and he too can be driven to full out belly laughs by people falling down. Mel Brooks' famous quote "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall in an open manhole and die" is tailor made for him.

One example of the height of comedy for him:

Well, it's hard to disagree with that one.

Should I worry that my family seems to revel in the misery of others? Well, no...It's of course not that they think people getting hurt is funny, but more that you can laugh at the silliness of the situation with the confidence that no one was injured. My son immediately tries to recreate these slapstick situations himself after viewing them.

So I've been slowly showing him some classic slapstick clips. The Mirror bit from "Duck Soup" (clip below) was a big hit and I used the boulder dodging scene in Keaton's "Seven Chances" to show him what inspired a similar sequence in "Phantom Menace" (when Jar-Jar runs away from those rolling blue orbs).

My parents can't be overlooked here...My Mom also loves the physical slapstick humour. You know those short montage clips in those Funniest Home Video shows of people one after another walking into, tripping over and otherwise almost impaling themselves on things? Comedy gold. Now it's always accompanied with the hand over the mouth "Oh, that must've hurt them, I hope they're OK" gesture, so again there's no malice. But, you know, better them...

And my Dad? Well, all us kids have fond memories of watching Looney Tunes and laughing even harder because our Dad enjoyed it so much he shook the whole couch. I think I saw "Monkey Business" and "Animal Crackers" for the first time with him during a PBS double feature way back in my formative years as well. And I know he has plenty of silly in him.

So if you ever find yourself walking down the street with me and you almost decapitate yourself on a low hanging sign, please forgive the gale of laughter that will follow. I can't be blamed...It's my genes and my environment. Can't be helped.


Anonymous said...

How dessspicable...:D This is in contention for the funniest post of the blog-a-thon, Bob. Well done. I love the clips, and the descriptive recollections, and I'm right there with your litttle one still laughing at Robin Hood Daffy even after all these years!

Thanks for bringing to whole clan to the blog-a-thon! (And watch where you're going next time, will ya?)

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Thom...I greatly appreciate the kind words.

Robin Hood Daffy is timeless. My favourite remains Duck Amuck though ("This is a Close-up?! A CLOSE-UP!!!").

I'm still ploughing through the other great links from the Blog-a-thon. I think Lloyd's article on the Slapstick Encyclopedia (which was on my "consider buying" list) has convinced me to get it.

So I blame you for the credit card bill I'll be getting next month.

Anonymous said...

LOL! Okay, I'll take the blame (well Lloyd deserves a little since it was his post) as long as you pay the bill ;)

Joe Thompson said...

Bob: This was a good one. It's nice to hear you are raising your properly. I'm very happy my daughter enjoys the classics. Thanks for the clips to illustrate your points.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

This was a great post with some terrific clips, my favorites. And I love Mel Brooks' quote about tragedy and the cut finger and comedy being death by open manhole. Your family's real-life slapstick experiences are great, and so true. I can recall once years and years ago my brother and I going to a parade that had giant inflatable balloons. After the parade was over, we stood, unwittingly, in the area where they were deflating the balloons. A dark shadow passed over us and we looked up to see Felix the Cat, or at least his great big bottom, careening down towards us like a bag of wet cement. The situation was so absurd, we collapsed, weeping with laughter, and were nearly killed by Felix. We dragged ourselves to safety just in time, as Felix assumed a recumbant position. It was absurdly delightful to be almost killed that way.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Joe...I have no idea whether we are raising our son properly or not, but it is kind of cool having your own little scientific experiment to play with - "Hmmm, let's see what happens when we adjust the inputs. Add some sugar, pizza, reduce sleep...Look out! It's gonna blow!"

Jacqueline, that's a great story! Imagine the headlines:

"Kitty Kat Karkass Kills Kids!"

"Felix's Fanny Finishes Off Family!"

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Now I wish it had crushed us if only for those great headlines.