Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Slapstick Judge

The most popular and most frequently staged burlesque sketch was "Irish Justice."  It went by many other names, including "A Day in Court" and "Police Court."  A judge sat atop his bench and listened unhappily to the pleadings of various miscreants.  He invariably delivered his judgment by leaning over the bench and striking the miscreant with an inflated bladder.  Variety approved of the way the skit was staged for Progressive wheel's "Dolly Dimple Girls" revue.  This variation of the sketch, billed as "Trial of the Underworld," debuted in November, 1913.  The critic wrote, "It's J. Theo. Murphy's old stand-by and he went right to it, bladder, hammer, mallet, everything — he missed nothing as the judge.  The nance cop, the district attorney, the lawyer for the defense and the actress who stripped to tights in the court room — well, it was 'Irish Justice,' as rough as it can be made, and the skit got the laughs." 

Many comedians essayed the role of the judge during the decades in which this routine remained popular.  The indefatigable Bobby Clark made an excellent judge, freely dispensing the essential hit-'em-on-the-head comebacks to the unfortunates who approached his bench.  Pigmeat Markham became popular with a variation of the routine known as "Here Comes Da Judge."  Markham claimed to use a real animal bladder in the act.  He said, "I can't tell you where I get them, but someone at the slaughterhouse picks them up for me.  I tried many things, but this is the only thing that gives me that real good sound when it crashes on someone's head."

The trial scene in Warner Brothers' We're in the Money (1935) was identified by a critic as "good old Irish Justice."  The critic added, "It's all done in fast tempo with Hugh Herbert getting most of the laughs as a nit-wit lawyer.  Blondell and Farrell are their usual bright and aggressive selves, adding to the fun and excitement."  But a truly faithful version of "Irish Justice" was not recorded on film until the routine was revived for the Laugh-In show in 1968.

Additional note

"Irish Justice" should not be confused with a comedy sketch called "Virginia Judge," which was performed for many years by Walter Kelly.  The routines had similar elements, but they were for the most part distinct and different acts.

Court adjourned.

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