Sunday, September 30, 2012

Classic Comedy Routines that Live On

I have commented in the past about the creative efforts of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time to introduce classic comedy routines to a younger audience.  A recent episode of Adventure Time, "Ignition Point," featured variations of two popular Commedia dell'arte routines - “Lazzi of the Statue” and “Lazzi of the Sack.”  The "Lazzi of the Statue" routine involves a man pretending to be a statue.  This routine was performed in countless silent films.  It is not known for certain when the routine was first recorded on film, but it is very possible that the routine made its screen debut with Alice Guy Blache's The Statue (1905).  

Excerpt from The Statue

Adventure Time updates this routine with an imaginative flair. Jake's fantastic stretching powers comes into use as Finn and Jake pretend to be a painting.


The “Lazzi of the Sack” routine involves a man who conceals himself in a cloth sack without realizing that he is taking the place of a pig due to be slaughtered.  As it turns out, the man must struggle to free himself from the sack before he is set upon by a cleaver-wielding butcher.  Adventure Time presents a pork-free version of the routine.  Finn and Jake, who have a blue hue due to a flame-proofing spell, blend in well when they fall into a crate of blueberries.  Unfortunately, though, a baker assumes that the pair are oversized blueberries and promptly chases after them with a handy cleaver. 


As can be seen in the next screen capture, Finn wears one of the Commedia dell'arte's "zanni" masks at one point in the episode.

The final routine of the episode has its origins in a different source than the Commedia dell'arte.  Finn and Jake learn of a plot to kill the Flame King and are determined to root out the conspirators before they can execute their evil plan.  Our heroes join a theatrical troupe so that they can dramatize the murder plot on stage and thereby provoke a reaction from the would-be king-killers.  This idea was borrowed directly from Hamlet, but it might also remind comedy fans of a plan to expose a murderous Nazi spy in Abbott & Costello's Who Done It? (1942).  The eternal question "To be or not to be?" meets the eternal question "Who's on First?" 

But, as I watched the climax of "Ignition Point," I didn't think of Hamlet or Who Done It? as much as I thought of Wonder Man (1945), a comedy in which Danny Kaye takes part in an opera to expose a murderer to a district attorney seated in a theater box.  

Wonder Man

Adventure Time

I find it comforting that a number of classic comedy routines have survived into the 21st century.  Another classic routine, this one involving a man struggling clumsily to carry an unconscious woman, was recently revived by Two and a Half Men.  This is Buster Keaton performing the routine in Spite Marriage (1929). 

Now comes the new version, which essentially substitutes gracefulness with smuttiness.  I feel compelled to note that, despite his "tiger blood," Charlie Sheen needed help from Jon Cryer to carry his unconscious woman (Diora Baird).  I thank my brother, Francis, for bringing this episode of Two and a Half Men to my attention.

In the last hundred years, a variety of ferocious beasts and deadly monsters have been on the prowl to bring ruin and chaos to film and television weddings.  The origins of this silly business are detailed in The Funny Parts.  Recent examples of this trope include a wedding sent into disarray by prehistoric wolves in a 2011 episode of Primeval and a wedding brought to a bloody end by zombies in REC 3: Genesis (2012).  Here is a clip from Primeval.  

It is hard to fully understand the psychology of a popular routine and the reason that people feel compelled to come back to the routine again and again.  What would Bruno Bettelheim say was the hidden meaning of this comic fairy tale?  He might say that a great deal of fear and anxiety lies beneath the order and formality of a wedding and these monsters and beasts represent this undercurrent of dark emotions suddenly breaking loose.  In any case, I doubt we have seen the last of these wedding disasters.

Let me end this article by letting you know that I have added film clips to a few of my previous articles.

That's it for today. I thank you all for coming by.

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