Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vintage Comedy Part 1

I try to keep my interests compartmentalized - on the internet, at least - and for that reason have separate blogs dedicated to my love for vintage images and fashion, comic books, and literature. Another of my passions is comedy, especially (for now, as my areas of interests are fleeting, transient at best) midcentury revolutionaries Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, and Nichols and May. Among their modern progeny, I'd include Marc Maron, Hari Kondabolu, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Mike Lawrence, Kyle Kinane, Sean O'Connor, Sean Patton, Todd Hanson, James Fritz, Beth Stelling, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, and Lucas Molandes.

That list is by no means exhaustive, but those are the comedians that I love. They're dark, personal, a bit depressed and misanthropic, intelligent, and most importantly of all, they're hilarious.

Instead of creating a new blog to neglect (sorry I've been away for so long!), I figured I'd share my seemingly disparate passions with the readers of b.vikki vintage.

I've just begun to collect vintage comedy albums and my budding collection has grown - over the past month or so - to include the early work of Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, W.C. Fields, Steve Martin, George Carlin, The Smothers Brothers, Lily Tomlin, Allan Sherman, and Bob Newhart.

Of course, I can never leave a hobby at collection alone. My tendency toward exhaustive research has permeated my love for comedy, as well. I'd highly recommend, to anyone even peripherally interested in comedy, reading Gerald Nachman's Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Its attitudes toward modern comedy are a bit dismissive and blanketed, but Nachman's depth of passion and interest in what made the comedy of the 50s and 60s so controversial, irreverent, and pioneering are invaluable.

To tie things back to the theme of b.vikki vintage, I found a handful of articles from Ebony and Jet magazine chronicling the evolution of black comedy in the 1950s and 1960s that piqued my interest; profiled alongside the comics I mentioned enjoying above are their black contemporaries, to whom, before finding these articles, I'd unfortunately been all but oblivious. The 1960 Ebony article below names Nipsey Russell, who I loved as the Tin Man in The Wiz, but of whose stand up career I'd never heard, as Mort Sahl's black equivalent.

There are at least three dangling b.vikki vintage features I've been promising to resolve (weddings, voters, menswear), but I've never been one to complete anything the way I'd planned it. So, I'm introducing this feature for you all to enjoy...

Click images to enlarge.

The above article highlights the difficulties facing the emerging class of black comics in 1960, many of whom (Dick Gregory, Red Foxx) we now know went on to fantastic careers, setting the precedent for just the kind of political and social satire the article claims black comics of the day were largely incapable of successfully executing. What I found most interesting was that the controversial work of Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl is established as the standard to be achieved, this quote from Steve Allen being particularly telling: "Just imagine a Negro comic getting up on stage and saying some of the things that Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl are getting away with." What no one could have known at the time this article was written was that Bruce would presently be destroyed by censorship and litigation for saying just such things; the heartbreaking story of his rise and fall is documented in Without Tears (which, despite its name, made me cry like a baby!).

If you're interested in hearing some midcentury comedy, here are a couple of bits I really enjoy:

Bach to Bach - Nichols and May: the completely improvised comedy sketch involving two pretentious lovers engaged in hilarious one-uppery. Pillowtalk has never been more unbearable.

Lenny Bruce's subversive Black woman or White woman bit. It challenges people's prejudices even today!

On my YouTube channel, I have tons of comedy videos I love favorited - modern and vintage. Be forewarned, the subject matter is often indelicate and untoward! I guess I talk a good game here on b.vikki vintage, but my tastes are basically as crude as anyone's.

Going back a bit further, I'd also recommend checking out humorists Robert Benchley (whose short essay "Inherent Vice: Express Paid" [no Pynchon] I've just finished and it cracked me up. Some of the other essays in Benchley lost and found are so dated they confound my sense of humor, but the ones that still work are hilarious and timeless.) and S.J. Perelman.

And here's a quick 1961 review and collection of Dick Gregory quotes from Jet Magazine:

Thanks for reading.

1 comment: