Saturday, November 4, 2017

Two Routines from Morecambe and Wise

I was recently on YouTube watching a video of a Morecambe and Wise sketch.  I browsed the comments section to find what people had to say about the video and I came across a curious statement.  A YouTube user named All Our Yesterdays complained that Morecambe and Wise's two best known routines were stolen from other comedians.  He referred to the comedy duo as "rip-off merchants."  I was intrigued enough to learn if All Our Yesterdays had a valid complaint.

The first routine in question introduces Morecambe as an orchestra drummer.  A surprise comes when Morecambe brings down his stick on the drumhead and is met by a big splash of milk.  It is a great visual gag.  Comedians often engage in wordplay – puns and double entendres.  This is visual play – a comedian taking advantage of the fact that a smooth white drumhead looks like a pool of milk.

Had anyone else used this gag before Morecambe and Wise?  The identical sketch was produced by Ernie Kovacs for a television special called The Saturday Color Carnival, which was broadcast on NBC on January 19, 1957.

The gag was later used by other comedians.  Chuck McCann strikes a snare drum that turns out to be filled with milk.

The gag was also featured in a video for J. Geils Band's "Centerfold."

Keith Moon of The Who poured water onto his drumhead to create splashes as he drummed in Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus (1968).

Next, we have this musical breakfast scene, which is possibly Morecambe and Wise's most popular routine.

This brings us back to Kovacs.  Kovacs created a musical kitchen routine called "Kitchen Symphony" for an ABC half-hour special broadcast in 1961. 

The same year, Kovacs elaborated on this idea with his full cast performing "Dinner Symphony."

Kovacs also created an "Office Symphony" in 1961.

This routine turned up again on a 1965 episode of The Benny Hill Show

Hill remade the scene in the 1970s. 

Armstrong & Miller performed the Morecambe and Wise Breakfast Sketch.

Gag-sharing is a form of knowledge-sharing.  A comedian determines that an audience will laugh at something he does and he will directly or indirectly pass this knowledge to other comedians.  It doesn't make Morecambe and Wise "rip-off merchants" to recycle old Ernie Kovacs gags, especially when they were able to vastly improve the original material.  There are boundaries that a comedian can cross in copying another comedian's material, which is another subject altogether, but Morecambe and Wise did not cross any of those boundaries.

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