Frequently, it’s confounding and confusing to get terms and descriptions separated by generation, particularly if you’re passing the threequarters of a century mark.
For instance, what’s hilarious to me is not necessarily funny to my 32-year-old son.
My late mother, a farm girl, liked the old-fashioned, mostly country comedians, particularly if they’d been on the Grand Ole Opry. Her sort of left-handed compliment to a comedian in those days: “He just stood up there and made a fool of himself. He’s good at making a fool of himself.” The connotation in that time was that telling jokes and portraying funny characters was making a “fool” of oneself, stemming, I suppose, from the days when court jesters were known as “fools.”
Someone recently published a list of the 10 best stand-up comedians of the last decade (2000-2009), then gave the world the benefit of their taste and judgement by naming the 10 best for all-time. Of course, that is all totally subjective.
On the last decade list, I recognized three names — Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais.
It has been said many times that fame is fleeting. Some of my favorite comedians didn’t make either list. Plus, one of my early favorites of the late 1950s, early 1960s, Brother Dave Gardner, succumbed to drugs and racism and lost everyone except the KKK.
Perhaps you’re more with it and you know all the “new, young” (my description) comedians of the last decade. Ten years is short term to someone approaching 80. In addition to the three previously listed above, the 2000- 2009 group includes Zach Galianakis, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Eugene Mirman, Mitch Hedberg and Aziz Ansari.
Naturally, I recognized more names from the “All- Time Top 10 Stand-up Comedians,” on a list compiled by something known as “Guyism,” which is apparently supposed to be an online “magazine.” Numbers 2 through 8, I had considerable exposure to and knowledge of. The top of Guyism’s list, Bill Hicks, I’ve never heard of, nor their number 9, C.K. Louis, and number 10, Dennis Leary.
Numbers 2-8 include, in order, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Lenny Bruce, Steve Martin, Robin Williams and Rodney Daingerfield.
Of course, almost all of my exposure to these newer comedians is on television. Their TV performances, I’m sure, are quite different from their night club and/or concert appearances. Lenny Bruce, for instance, was banned in many parts of the country in the 1950s and early 1960s because he used a lot of profanity in his act.
The late Richard Pryor was hilariously funny except when he mixed some drugs with a liquid substance that was flammable. It almost killed him and did drastically scar his head and face.
Some of my all-time favorite stand-up comedians didn’t make either list — Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Jonathan Winters. I understand Hope and Skelton are old school comedians and have been gone long enough that there probably isn’t sufficient collective memory to vault them into the ratings.
But, Winters was such a different kind of comedian. Plus, Robin Williams has always said Winters was his hero and the comedian he patterned himself after.
Winters’ comedic performances were always off the cuff. If you saw him perform and your memory is that he was off-the-wall, you are right on. He was so different he was extraordinary.
Winters was schizophrenic, so much so that he spent some time on (as he so appropriately put it) “the funny farm.” He was actually committed to an institution for the mentally ill a couple of times.
Reportedly, the first time he was committed, he was stark naked and climbing the mast of a schooner in San Francisco harbor, saying as he looked skyward, “Wait! Wait! I’m coming!”
It takes someone who’s about half a bubble off plumb to do always-funny comedy.
He’s close to a full bubble and that’s probably why he’s a successful comedian. Matter of fact, all comedians are at least half a bubble off.
WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org