Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Unrepentant Peanut Butter Thief

I took a stress management course in college.  The point was made by the instructor that people can reduce most of their stress by learning conflict resolution.

On the first day of class, we looked at the first of many case studies in which conflict arose between college roommates.  I remember the case study well.  A student always makes sure to keep a jar of peanut butter in her pantry.  This is important to her because, some days, she will not have time between classes to stop for a sit-down lunch.  The one thing that she can eat quickly on the way to class, providing her body with sufficient energy to carry her through until dinner, is a peanut butter sandwich.  One morning, the student reaches into the pantry and finds that her roommate has been dipping into the jar of peanut butter.  She doesn't have enough peanut butter to make a sandwich, which means that she has to make it through the afternoon on an empty stomach. 

The student is justified to get angry at her inconsiderate roommate.  But the author of the case study insists that the student arrange a meeting with the roommate and engage in a thoughtful negotiation.  It was recommended by the author that the student follow a number of specific steps in the negotiation.  I remember the author suggesting that the student tell the roommate, "If you like my peanut butter, I can buy you your own jar the next time I go to the store."  The author didn't say if the roommate would need to repay the student for furnishing her with her own jar of peanut butter.  The burden of resolving the situation is put squarely on the student who had food stolen from her.  The effort to lay out an effective negotiation strategy remains the sole responsibility of the student.  How is that right?  The roommate, who is clearly the wrongdoer in the situation, is treated with kindness and patience and is not required to be repentant or make amends.  Shouldn't the roommate be the one who has to run out to the store to buy a new jar of peanut butter?

The point of this lesson was that people must avoid getting aggressive in conflict situations.  They must, instead, be assertive.  The word assertive needs clarification in this context.  The idea of an assertive person has been redefined in modern days.  Throughout history, assertive men were bold and confident.  Assertive men were aggressive.  But, now, being assertive simply means stating one's needs and opinions clearly to others.  It doesn't matter that you shouldn't have to make it clear to a roommate not to eat your food.  If their mama didn't teach them that, they have an ignorance of basic manners that no one can possibly alter at this late date. 

Being assertive, as defined by today's therapists, means being a wimp.  Your ancestors didn't preserve your family line for the last 200,000 years by letting dumbasses eat their food.  Standing up for yourself doesn't involve negotiation.  Negotiation only has value if two parties have a valid interest and either compromise or concession is possible.  A person has no valid interest to capriciously devour a roommate's food.  None.  Zero.  Do I even need to discuss the possibility of compromise?  Compromise is not an option because the first party wants to eat the second party's food and the second party wants the first party to leave their food alone.  The only compromise that I can imagine would be to allow the first party to eat the second party's food on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.   

I once believed in negotiating with bad actors, but it is an exhausting process that only serves the bad actor.  A person will continue to be disrespectful and behave poorly unless they know that their misbehavior will have consequences.  The roommate in this case study was an adult.  An adult makes choices and they must be held responsible for their choices.

The Day the Oyster Slept

Curly Howard gamely endures in Dutiful But Dumb (1941)
I have enjoyed many iterations of the oyster stew routine.  Here is a funny version of the routine performed by Clyde Cook in Thundering Taxis (1933). 

The routine is carefully sustained while Cook expresses a variety of reactions and his rival, a prop oyster, performs a variety of tricks.

But, now, I have come across a version of the routine that is not funny at all. 

This time, in The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble (1933), a feisty crab invades a bowl of oyster stew served to George Sidney and Charles Murray.  The scene, with its sluggish pacing, conventional staging and bland acting, drains the material of its humor at every juncture.  Sidney and Murray's low-energy antics compare abysmally to the manic, surreal turmoil that Curly Howard gamely endures in Dutiful But Dumb (1941).

The Thinning: Characters Remove Pounds on their Way from Novel to Screen

This is a transcript of a video that I posted to my YouTube channel in February.  

Fat outsiders have been the central characters in a number of classic horror novels.  Norman Bates was a fat outsider.  Robert Bloch introduced Norman in a scene in which a young woman registers for a room at The Bates Motel.  Bloch wrote:
Mary made up her mind very quickly, once she saw the fat, bespectacled face and heard the soft, hesitant voice.  There wouldn’t be any trouble.
But this is Norman Bates in the film version.

Carrie White was a fat outsider in Stephen King's novel "Carrie."  This is the way that King describes Carrie:
She was a slightly chunky girl with pimples on her neck and back and buttocks, no one would call her attractive.  Her wet, mousey hair, dirty blonde yet completely without colour.
 This is Carrie in the film.

Oskar, the little boy in the novel "Let the Right One In," was a fat outsider.    John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote:
[His classmates] could give a number of reasons for why they had to torment him; he was too fat, too ugly, too disgusting.
The classmates call him "Piggy." 

This is Oskar in the film.

The lead character in the novel version of "The Girl on the Train" is overweight.  Dellany Peace of "Ms. in the Biz" blog wrote, "In the best-selling novel, 'The Girl' on the train is Rachel Watson. She is the lead character and has clearly been written by the author as overweight. With descriptors such as 'heavyset', 'fat' and 'fat arsed' (among others), Rachel is without a doubt a plus-size woman. . .'"

This is Rachel in the film.

Strangely, Hollywood producers think that a fat protagonist is more repulsive to a horror fan than a bloody severed head. 


Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy  play a unique game of golf in Great Guns (1941)
The comedy team of Bennett and Williams appeared in Romford, Essex, for a charity golf match to aid the Romford Victoria Hospital.  Bennett stands in the background while radio star Tommy Handley takes his place in a well-established golf routine with Williams.  Williams instructs Handley to address the ball.  Handley says to the ball, "Hello darling, how are you this afternoon?"  Williams tells a joke about a dentist playing golf and asking the hole to "open wider."  Williams takes his first swing at the ball only to lose his balance and fall to the ground.

Charity Golf Tournament in Romford, 1938

Golf routines were popular in vaudeville and the English music hall.

In the United States, W. C. Fields developed a popular golf routine that he performed many times on stage and screen.

I wrote before on this blog about the famous golf routine from The Honeymooners ("The Golfer," 1955).

Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in MASH (1970)
 A funny round of golf has been enacted by a wide range of comic characters, from Goofy. . .

 . . . to Bill Murray.

Chevy Chase and Bill Murray in Caddyshack (1980)

Even in the modern century, in which so much of the world has changed, a comedian can always muster a few laughs by taking a detour to a golf course.

Stuck on You (2003)

Who's Your Caddy? (2007)

Old Dogs (2009)

I Love You, Man (2009)

Hall Pass (2011)

Dirty Grandpa (2016)

Let me end today's article with a couple of golf-themed gag photos.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Outsourcing Comedy Teams

 Paolo Villaggio and Renato Pozzetto
The United States was the leading producer of comedy teams for decades.  Their stellar product included Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, and Martin and Lewis.  But the United States has experienced a severe decline in comedy teams during the last twenty-five years.  It may have to do with the vanity of the modern Hollywood comedian, who finds it distasteful to share the spotlight with a partner.  Regardless of the reason, it is a great loss to American entertainment. 

Fortunately, the comedy team remains part of a thriving industry in other places in the world. 

England remains a place where a comedy team can flourish.  In its day, the British music hall manufactured comedy teams at a vigorous rate.  Here are a few of the lesser known comedy teams of the British music hall.

Murgatroyd and Winterbottom, 1935

Clapham and Dwyer, 1931

Norman and Arnold, 1931

The Four Jokers, 1936

Bennett and Williams, 1936


Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss in Rhythm Serenade (1943)

To this day, comedy teams thrive on British television.

David Walliams and Matt Lucas

David Mitchell and Robert Webb

Today, no country sponsors more comedy teams than Italy.

Renato Pozzetto and Cochi Ponzoni became popular on television variety shows.

They made appearances in several feature films between 1976 and 1978.  Their films included Telefoni bianchi (1976), Luna di miele in tre (1976), Sturmtruppen (1976), Io tigro, tu tigri, egli tigra (1978), and Saxofone (1978).

Renato Pozzetto and Cochi Ponzoni in Sturmtruppen (1976)

Pozzetto tended to dominate the act with his comic man-child character.

Pozzetto in Io tigro, tu tigri, egli tigra (1978)
Pozzetto went off on his own in 1975.

Here are a few of his films.  You will notice that, though he made a point to pursue a solo career, he often worked in close collaboration with another actor.   

Paolo Barca, maestro elementare, praticamente nudista (1975)
(English-language version: Paolo Barca, Schoolteacher and Weekend Nudist)


Due cuori, una cappella (1975)
 (English-language version: Two hearts, a chapel)

 La patata bollente (1979) (English language version: Hot Potato)


Wikipedia provides the following plot summary:
Bernardo Mambelli alias "Gandhi" (Renato Pozzetto) is a PCI militant and pugilist working at a Milanese paint factory. One night, he sees a bunch of neo-Nazis beating a frail young man (Massimo Ranieri). He saves the man and brings him to his house to learn that he is Claudio, a homosexual. With nowhere to go, Claudio starts staying at Bernardo's house but a series of typical misunderstandings lead his comrades as well as his girlfriend Maria (Edwige Fenech) to believing that he has "turned gay". Bernardo is now seen as a potential lost cause and the ongoings soon reveal a "hot potato" situation for him.
Agenzia Riccardo Finzi. . . praticamente detective (1979)  
(English language version: The Finzi Detective Agency

Giallo napoletano (1979) (English language version: Atrocious Tales of Love and Death

Pozzetto with Marcello Mastroianni
Tesoro mio (1979) (English translation: My treasure

Sono fotogenico (1980) (English language version: I'm Photogenic)

Pozzetto with Vittorio Gassman and Edwige Fenech

Zucchero, miele e peperoncino (1980) (English language version: Sugar, Honey and Pepper)

Mia moglie è una strega (1980)


The Internet Movie Database plot summary for this romantic comedy fantasy: "A witch being condemned to burn to death by the Holy Inquisition makes a contract with the devil to be reborn in our times."

Fico d'India (1980) (English-language version: Prickly Pairs)

Plot summary: The mayor of a small town (Pozzetto) suspects his alluring wife (Gloria Guida) of having an affair with a local playboy.

Uno contro l'altro, praticamente amici (1981) 
(English language version: Against Each Other, Practically Friends)

Nessuno è perfetto (1981) (English language version: Nobody is perfect


Internet Movie Database Plot Summary: "Guerrino, a prematurely widowed businessman, falls in love with Chantal, a former paratrooper in the German army who changed sex a few years earlier."  Pozzetto got to work with some of the most beautiful actresses in Italy, but few were as beautiful as his Nessuno è perfetto co-star Ornella Muti.  Muti is best known to American audiences for her performance as Princess Aura in Flash Gordon (1980).

Culo e camicia (1981)



Ricchi, ricchissimi. . . praticamente in mutande (1982) 
(English language version: Don't Play with Tigers)

Porca vacca (1982) (English translation: Holy Cow

Testa o croce  (1982) (English-language version: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose)

La casa stregata (1982) (English-language version: The Haunted House)


Mani di fata (1983) (English-language version: Fairy hands)

Mani di fata preceded a similarly themed Mr. Mom (1983).

Questo e quello (1983) (English language version: This and That)


Un povero ricco (1983) (English language version: Rich and Poor)

Plot summary: A rich man tries to overcome his fear of poverty by living as a poor man for a month.

Il ragazzo di campagna (1984) (English-language version: The country boy)



È arrivato mio fratello (1985) (English language version: Here's My Brother)


Plot summary: A depressed teacher impersonates his flamboyant, fun-loving twin, who works in nightclubs as a pianist.

 Lui è peggio di me (1985) (English language version: He's Worse Than Me)

Plot summary: Old friends become rivals for a woman.

Grandi magazzini (1986) (English translation: Department Stores

 7 Chili In 7 Giorni (1986) (English language version: 7 kilos in 7 days)  


Plot summary: A pair of dim-witted doctors open a fitness center to help people to lose weight.

Da grande (1987)  
(English-language version: The Big)  


Plot summary: A boy's wish to be an adult causes him to magically transform into a middle-aged man.  The film, which was a big success for Pozzetto, was a likely inspiration for Big (1988).

Noi uomini duri (1987) (English translation: We hard men
Plot summary: A tram driver (Enrico Montesano) and a banker (Pozzetto) become friends during a survival training course.

Roba da ricchi (1987) (English translation: Stuff of rich

Casa mia, casa mia... (1988) (English translation: My house, my house


Burro (1989) 


Non più di uno (1990) (English translation: No more than one

Le comiche (1990) (English language version: The comic


Pozzetto joined with fellow comedian Paolo Villaggio for three films.

Le comiche 2 (1991) 


Piedipiatti (1991) (English language version: Flat Feet

Infelici e contenti (1992) 


Plot summary: A crippled man (Pozzetto) and a blind man (Ezio Greggio) strike up a friendship and go on an impromptu vacation to a beach resort.

Ricky & Barabba (1992) 


Plot summary: A homeless man (Christian De Sica) saves a billionaire (Pozzetto) from hanging himself. 

Le nuove comiche (1994)


Anche i commercialisti hanno un'anima (1994) 

Mollo tutto (1995) (English language version: I'll Leave It All Behind Me


Internet Movie Database Summary: "Franco is tired of his life as a shopkeeper in Rome and decides to leave his wife and daughter to begin a new life in Tunisia. Things don't work out as planned and he's forced to go back to Italy after a few years.  Completely destitute, he is hired to work as a waiter in his old shop by his wife, who fails to recognize him."

Papà dice messa (1996)


Pozzetto and Ponzoni reunited in 2000 for a television series, Nebbia in Val Padana.


The duo reunited again for a 2007 feature film, Un amore su misura.

Cochi Ponzoni, Renato Pozzetto and Camilla Sjoberg in Un amore su misura (2007)

Oggi sposi  (2009) (English language version: Just Married


Casa e bottega (2013) (English translation: Home and shop)


Ma che bella sorpresa (2015) (English language version: What a Beautiful Surprise


Pozzetto, now an elder statesman of the local comedy community, continues to be active in feature films.

Gigi Sammarchi and Andrea Roncato starred in ten films between 1982 and 1987.
Acapulco, prima spiaggia... a sinistra (1982)
I camionisti (1982)
Se tutto va bene siamo rovinati (1983)
L'allenatore nel pallone (1984)
I pompieri (1985)
Mezzo destro mezzo sinistro - 2 calciatori senza pallone (1985)
Doppio misto (1986)
Il lupo di mare (1987)
Rimini Rimini (1987)
Tango blu (1987)
Acapulco, prima spiaggia... a sinistra (1982)

Salvatore Ficarra and Valentino Picone have been consistently successful with the ten feature films that they have produced since 2000.

This is the poster for Andiamo a quel paese (2014). 

Andiamo a quel paese (2014)

The plot is not hard to follow.  The duo seek to reduce their expenses by relocating from a big city, Palermo, to a small town.  They create a new income stream by turning their new home into a makeshift hospice.  Hijinks ensue.  

L'ora legale (2017)

Pasquale Petrolo and Claudio Gregori, billed as Lillo and Greg, have starred together in seven feature films:

Blek Giek (2001)

Lillo e Greg - The movie! (2007)

Lightning Strike (2012)

Colpi di fortuna (2013)

Un Natale stupefacente (2014)


Natale col boss (2015)


Natale a Londra - Dio salvi la Regina (2016)

The duo typically struggle to get themselves out of sticky situations.  Take for instance Un Natale stupefacente.  On Christmas Eve, Lillo and Greg find themselves having to take care of an 8-year-old nephew whose parents have been mistakenly arrested for growing marijuana.  The following year, in Natale col boss, the actors play plastic surgeons kidnapped by a crime boss who wants facial surgery to hide his identity.  The crime boss tells them that he wants to look like Leonardo DiCaprio, but the surgeons misunderstand him and make him look like septuagenarian Italian singer Peppino Di Capri.  In Natale a Londra, the comedians play dog groomers who travel to London and get caught up in a plot to kidnap the Queen's dogs.

Italian comedy trio Aldo Baglio, Giovanni Storti and Giacomo Poretti, billed as Aldo, Giovanni e Giacomo, have starred in nine feature films in the last twenty years.

Tre uomini e una gamba (1997) was their debut film.  The Internet Movie Database describes the plot as follows: "Three friends cross Italy by car in order to deliver their boss his dog and a wooden leg."

Così è la vita (1998)

Chiedimi se sono felice (2000)

La leggenda di Al, John e Jack (2002), which is set in New York in 1958, features the comedians as three inept mafiosi who work for the notorious real-life kingpin Sam Genovese.

Tu la conosci Claudia? (2004)

Il cosmo sul comò (2008)

La banda dei Babbi Natale (2010) was released in English-language countries as The Santa Claus Gang.

Il ricco, il povero e il maggiordomo (2014)


Fuga da Reuma Park (2016)

The team also produced three concert films - I corti di Aldo, Giovanni & Giacomo (1996), Anplagghed al cinema (2006) and Ammutta muddica al cinema (2013).

Anplagghed al cinema (2006)
Ammutta muddica al cinema (2013)
Pio D'Antini and Amedeo Grieco were the stars of Amici come noi (2014).

Katia and Valeria (Katia Follesa and Valeria Graci) have been featured on numerous television shows since 2001.

Il Matrimonio

These days, comedy teams can be found almost any place in the Western world except for the United States.

Finnish comedians Antti Holma and Riku Nieminen solicit laughs together in Kanelia Kainaloon, Tatu Ja Patu (2016).


Sami Hedberg, Aku Hirviniemi and Jaajo Linnonmaa have teamed up for the Luokka Kokous franchise, which is essentially a Finnish version of Hangover.

Luokka Kokous 2 (2016)