Michael Richards was having trouble doing anything with his career other than Seinfeld even before his moment of extreme public racism, but we'll always have Kramer; I love the balance of the character - he's a lunatic clown, but somehow he feels like a real person. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his frequent moments of slapstick - preposterous twitches, judders, jumps and pratfalls, but always strangely logical and justified by events. One of the best examples of this is when he puts on hand cream, then tries to open a door. In real life, this would be unlikely to leave you lying on the floor, but he makes it happen and makes it make sense. Glorious.
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The Naked Gun
There's nothing I like more than when someone has fun with the concept of a stand-in doing the stunts; an acrobat in a grey wig flik-flaks into a back somersault, and the moment he lands we cut to some old guy puffing his cheeks and mopping his brow. Morecambe and Wise did this amazingly with their South Pacific newsreaders skit, but I think the best ever is Frank Drebin 'sneaking' around his apartment in the Naked Gun. It goes on for so long. I came across it on telly late one night recently and laughed and laughed and laughed.
There's Something About Mary
'Are you the cute lil' fella that's making all that big noise?' - There's Something About Mary has so much good physical comedy in it - Mary's 'hair gel', 'frank 'n' beans', the angry cop smacking Ben Stiller's head on the table - but the scene where he fights the dog on speed caps them all; again, it goes on and on, starting with Magda - also speeding - lifting up the sofa to hoover underneath, and getting to the dog going out of the window via so many great moments of Three Stooges-style violence. This time the knowing stand-in fun is all about us knowing that they're cutting between a rubber dog and a real one. I hope.
A lot of the best slapstick on film plays with levels of reality in this way, something people who think slapstick is cheap or crass fail to notice; the moment from the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business where Harpo disrupts an aria by hijacking the harp is a case in point. The girl who screams and runs away couldn't possibly not know her right hand was actually his; wonderfully surreal logic. The Marx Brothers were amazing at that kind of 'look what we did' business, probably because of their background in music hall.
But for me the greatest slapstician from the early days of Hollywood is of course Buster Keaton. One Week, where he builds his new wife a house from a kit, is one amazing-stunt-which-is-also-a-hilarious gag after another. I love the way he could get laughs on any scale, from shuffling a pack of wet cards to driving a full-sized train off a bridge, and my favourite moment from One Week is one of these latter, bigger ones. Plot spoiler alert: at the end, the young couple are trying to move the house off the train track as a speeding locomotive bears down on them... and goes another way at the last minute. Phew! As they breathe a sigh of relief, another train suddenly comes into shot from the opposite direction and smashes the house to smithereens. Great jokes, with real trains!
Over Falling Over
As I say, slapstick can be seen as crass and cheap, and no slapstick is cheaper than just falling over. Having said that, falling over is where comedy began for me, and due to a shonky leg and the general creakiness of age I can't really do it any more - so indulge me and look at my video, Over Falling Over, in memory of the good times. The good, if painful times.