These guys were artists! | Sam Lloyd chooses his comedy favourites

These guys were artists!

Sam Lloyd chooses his comedy favourites

Laurel & Hardy

My dad got my siblings and me a silent super 8 projector when I was in grade school. Among the first films we had was the classic Laurel and Hardy short The Music Box. I became a huge fan of their character and physical comedy.

I love this bit from Men O’ War; it’s one of their early short talkies, but they’ve already well established their characters and relationship. (Hardy could have avoided all the trouble if he had just been the one to ‘refuse!’) And the mugging soda jerk behind the counter is James Finlayson – the man who inspired Dan Castellaneta to give Homer Simpson his famous ‘D’oh!’

Buster Keaton

I discovered Buster Keaton in my college years at a screening at a museum in NYC and became obsessed. Keaton was a silent comic who made his living by not cracking a smile EVER on screen. While others were shamelessly mugging and overacting he was known as ‘The Great Stone Face’.

He was also an incredible physical comic, doing all of his own stunts with maybe one or two exceptions in all his dozens of films. While shooting one film he actually broke his neck falling from a train water tower (he didn’t know it at the time) so he took a day off and then continued filming.

His short films are so clever and much funnier than Chaplin’s, whose Little Tramp was just kicking people in the pants and throwing pies at that point. This is a clip from one of his best features, Sherlock Jr. That is actually him on the motorcycle handlebars in all the long shots (selfish viewing tip - I find it’s better to watch without the added soundtrack…)

Charlie Chaplin

My pet peeve with silent films mass-produced for viewing on TV or DVD is they are absolutely misrepresented with the usual horrible music tracks on them. The people that make them are talented musicians, but rarely have the right comic or narrative sense. They think goofy sounding instruments and arrangements, and funny sounding bells and whistles for sound effects are a prerequisite for a silent comedy.

This clip is an example as to why that’s not true. One of the great things about Charlie Chaplin’s silent features is that later in life he went back to them and added his own soundtrack, so we get to see what the original artist actually intended. If you ever see a live screening of a good silent film with an accompanist that has comic sense as well as musical ability you’ll be amazed at how well it holds up.

This boxing routine from City Lights is so creative and funny. And watch how long the takes are – it must’ve taken a great amount of rehearsal, and all the performers are completely in synch. They didn’t cheat with quick cuts of inserts, close-ups, different angles and stunt men like most of today’s comedies – these guys were artists!

The Return of the Pink Panther

I remember watching The Return of the Pink Panther with my father when it was first released (I was in diapers, OK?!) and the both of us absolutely doubled over cackling. For some reason the rights for this Pink Panther film are separate from the other ones so it’s never seen on TV (at least in the states) and is not available with the DVD sets of the other ones.

I think it’s the best of them all - Sellers had grown into the part by this point and the film is strong from beginning to end. This is part of my favorite sequence of the film – unfortunately I couldn’t find the bit before that sets up the light bulb that inexplicably pops up (it’s why his hair is so funny – he stuck his finger in the socket and was electrocuted…)

Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein is my favorite comedy film. It combines two of my favorite things – comedy and old horror films (and also music - three!). But even without my love of horror films it would still be my favorite.

The cast is incredible with memorable hysterical quotes from every leading and supporting actor. (Even Peter Boyle who doesn’t speak for most of the film – ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz!’) I would submit the whole film if I could, but this clip of the monster meeting the blind hermit (Gene Hackman) will have to do…

The Beatles

The Beatles were really witty, funny guys, a fact that was at least partly responsible for them getting their break. At the audition for their future producer George Martin, they didn’t exactly overwhelm with the quality of the songs they recorded, but when Martin asked them if there was anything they didn’t like, George Harrison responded, ‘Well, for a start, I don’t like your tie…’ That broke the ice and they spent the next few minutes joking around and Martin loved it.

They were also big fans of the Goon Show recordings, which Martin had actually worked on, so it’s not surprising they eventually made comedy records. The Christmas records they made for their fan club are really funny, and this tasty selection – You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) – was actually released on the B-side of the Let It Be single!

&bull Sam Lloyd: Fully Committed, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 17:45

Published: 16 Aug 2013

What do you think?

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.