Tag Archives: Buck Henry

Comically Bad Advice

Thanks to an event that occurred last night, I sought out some words of wisdom and comfort this morning. Along with the obvious and the occasionally inspirational, I decided to go for the absurdly comedic angle as well.

There’s no Chicken Soup for the Funny Bone, but there is this:

You’re A Horrible Person But I Like You

The pretense is a twisted version of the advice column, where someone (often fabricated) writes in with a question so the columnist can dispense some words of wisdom. Over the years these responders have been straightforward helpful types, wiseass sarcastic vipers or pompous amateur psychologists. and almost without exception, the columns were popular, the printed version of a train wreck that can’t be avoided.

In this book, a group of comedians take a whack at the same Q&A task, asking and answering a few apiece. While the results are uneven, each comic usually has at least one good one, with several (Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Todd Barry and Paul F Tompkins) especially strong.

How’s this for a list of advice givers? Aziz Ansari, Judd Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bamford, Todd Barry, Samantha Bee, Michael Ian Black, Andy Borowitz, Michael Cera, Vernon Chatman, Rob Corddry, David Cross, Larry Doyle, Paul Feig, Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, Janeane Garofalo, Daniel Handler, Todd Hanson, Tim Heidecker, Ed Helms, Buck Henry, Mindy Kaling, John Lee, Thomas Lennon, Al Madrigal, Aasif Mandvi, Marc Maron, Adam McKay, Eugene Mirman, Morgan Murphy, Bob Odenkirk, John Oliver, Patton Oswalt, Martha Plimpton, Harold Ramis, Amy Sedaris, Michael Showalter, Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Sarah Vowell, David Wain, Eric Wareheim, Rainn Wilson and Lizz Winstead.

It’s a perfect book for a quick scan; each chapter (organized by comic) is but a few pages long and can be read in a few minutes. And although the chapters themselves can be read out of order, some of the writers have some clever call-backs that would be easily missed if their chapters weren’t read in their entirety.

It’s not gut-busting funny, but it did put a much-needed smile on my face today. As always, your mileage may vary.

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Happy Birthday Don Adams

Don Adams died five years ago today.

Get Smart was one of the funniest television shows of its time, combining puns and double-entendres with great sight gags. Of course, they had a ripe playing field to run around on. Spy movies were big at the time – from the apex of the James Bond films to the more serious (and better scripted) classics like The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Of course, with writers like Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, how could it not be funny? Catchphrases “Would you believe?”, “Missed it by that much!” and “Sorry about that, Chief” became part of the lexicon. It’s no accident that Steve Carell played the Maxwell Smart role in the recent big screen adaptation; both comic actors have a knack for sarcasm and deadpan humor. By more or less playing it straight, their buffoonish characters are that much funnier.

Adams’ distinctive voice was also immediately recognizable as the lead character in a pair of well-known cartoon classics – Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget. Not much acting there – each sounded exactly like Maxwell Smart hiding behind an animated costume, which made watching either of them a surreal experience for me.

But sometimes lightning in a bottle is just that. The Get Smart films Adams made were amusing but paled in comparison to the show, as did the Carell film (which had its moments but completely blew the tone). Adams and Barbara Feldon even tried to re-launch the series  thirty years after the initial program debuted (with Max as chief!) but it  floundered and died. Thankfully, the studios finally released the complete set of the original Get Smart episodes two years ago…it’s amazing how much of it holds up after forty-five years.

Don Adams Wikipedia page

Get Smart on DVD

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R.I.P. Jim Carroll, Larry Gelbart

"Jimmy, I'll miss you more than all the others / and I SALUTE YOU , Brother..."

" I'll miss you more than all the others / and I SALUTE YOU , Brother..."

Poet. Rocker. Punk. Junkie. Jim Carroll, who was all of these,  passed away at his desk while working on new material. He first became famous for his novel The Basketball Diaries, but I didn’t discover that until after his album Catholic Boy blew my doors in. I can still sing “People Who Died” from memory and was fortunate enough to have seen the man himself do the honors. Many people believe he was the poet of our generation, a post-Beat Beat writer. Now he’s gone. Wicked, wicked gravity.

Larry Gelbart is probably best known as the creator of M*A*S*H, an accomplishment which would outshine many people’s career resumes. But his writing spanned generations – he started writing for Fanny Brice and Bob Hope, wrote jokes for Red Buttons and Danny Kaye, hit his stride in the incredible writer’s room for Sid Caesar (a crew that included Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner) and capped it off with M*A*S*H and Tootsie. His work is so good that I forgive him for AfterMASH.

The typewriter is mightier than the sword

The typewriter is mightier than the sword

My comments on these two is certainly no slight by omission on the recent passing of others. I just had more invested in the works of Carroll and Gelbart.  But over the past seven days the Grim Reaper has been working overtime:

  • Pierre Cossette, a TV and Broadway producer I had the pleasure of working with when I was in Artist Management. Total pro, as was his team.
  • Army Archerd, whose news items in Variety predated today’s gossip rags and TV shows…except Army had ethics and didn’t just blast rumors to get attention.
  • George Eckstein, a producer/writer for some great early TV shows.
  • Paul Burke, star of Naked City and 12 O’Clock High
  • William Beck, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, who at least was saved from witnessing Michael Jordan’s embarassing Hall Of Fame speech.
  • Frank Batten, creator of The Weather Channel, saving millions of people from having to rely on that antiquated tool of looking out the window.

This idiot died last night, but only on stage. (I’m no fan of Beyonce’s music, but that was a class move at the VMAs.)

Christopher Kelly– hmmm, not suspicious at all, right?

And if the Universe had a better sense of irony,  this jackass would have died a day earlier.

***

Awww crap11pm update. I knew this was going to happen but not this soon.

And damn, Reaper – Wednesday update – you socked it to him, too?

***

Jim Carroll Wikipedia entry

Larry Gelbart page at IMDB.

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Happy Birthday, Tom Lehrer

Man could tickle those ivories, too.

Man could tickle those ivories, too.

Tom Lehrer is a ripe old 81 today, although that mind is probably still whip-crack smart. One of the first and most popular musical satirists, along with contemporaries like Mort Sahl he was among the new wave of intellectual comedians, although Tom did it best with song rather than story. It would be tough to draw a line back from any satirist, whether a political pundit (i.e. Bill Maher) or ribald songman (Stephen Lynch) without intersecting Lehrer somewhere along the way. Mark Russell might have been more political, Steve Allen more broad; Tom Lehrer was probably your ideal bridge between Mad Magazine and adulthood.

Tom Lehrer’s website.

For those old enough to remember, I’m preaching to the choir, of course. But a generation (or two?) who have grown up laughing at SNL’s Weekend Update (or the latest incarnation, Best Week Ever) might want to check out That Was The Week That Was, featuring a brilliant cast and group of writers (including Monty Python members and even writer Roald Dahl!). As always, an American version was adopted and the names involved are stunners – everyone from Woody Allen and Nichols & May to Gene HackmanBuck Henry and Alan Alda. Lehrer wrote satirical songs for the show, and a collection of them were released after the show left the air. That’s about when I discovered him and realized he was much funnier than the Allan Shermans of the world (no slight on Sherman – Lehrer is sharper than most). Literate and witty – imagine that – a deadly combination.

Happy Birthday, sir!

...and not a bad time to be getting on board, either.

Poisoning Pigeons In The Park

The Masochism Tango

The Vatican Rag

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