"Take my wife! PLEASE!!!!" – Henny Youngman
Comedy. It is sorely missing in the world today. It was honestly the first reaction I can remember. I remember laughing as a child, laughing as a teenager, laughing as a young adult, but not laughing so much as a senior citizen. Laughing seems to be an art form from the past. It used to be pure and plentiful. Now, it is, at times, rare and even raunchy. So, where are the truly funny people?
When I was a mere lad, there were so many truly funny people that I honestly could not remember the count. My favorite of all time even to this very day is the legendary Soupy Sales. He had an afternoon television show and I faithfully watched it. Between what I saw on his show and what I faithfully read in MAD magazine, my comedy foundation was solid. All I needed to do was tailor it and perfect it. Soupy did all sorts of routines that made youngsters laugh. Quite often, I would get together with my few school chums the next day and talk about what we saw.
One day, however, I nearly cried watching Soupy. Here is a guy who would take the occasional cream pie to the face without hesitation. One day, he answered his guest door. A few seconds later, he returned to the camera-BALD!!! Yes, he had no hair on. Quite traumatic to see! Who would do this to my comic hero? As I got older, though, I figured out that it was a bald cap. How? Well, reason sunk in. When I went to my barber, it took him a good 15 to 20 minutes to hack through tumbleweed on the top of my skull. How could someone shave Soupy in under 30 seconds? I was right. It was a bald cap.
As time went on and I progressed through school, I saw less of Soupy's show because he also gravitated from it and, like me, found solace in the adult talk shows. I didn't see him too often, but I began to watch other comedians. I got into adult humor. Mind you, I am referring to acts which were geared to adults on national television. I am not talking about adult as in rated R. For example, you would not have seen Henny Youngman on Soupy's show at all and, even if you did, he would not have had much success with his signature line, "Take my wife. PLEASE!!!" Children of that age either would have sat there or cried thinking that Mr. Youngman was very mean to this unknown wife of his.
So, I found people like impressionists Frank Gorshin and Rich Little. I saw Milton Berle who I also enjoyed. Joan Rivers was okay, but not really at the top of my list. Moms Mabley was the top female comic on my list. One who did stand out was a guy named Richard Pryor. Pryor truly had a gift for comedy. I think that his humor crossed racial lines even though he was a Black man who catered to Black audiences. Many of my friends mimicked him at school, but I could not tell how they knew so much of his material from just a small segment that I saw on Ed Sullivan's show or the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson who was also a comedian. It turned out that Pryor and other people like Red Foxx put out comedy albums — raunchy comedy albums. For the sake of any child who happens to read this article, I dare not repeat even one joke from those albums. Yes, I did listen to them from time to time.
One of those comedy albums nearly got me grounded for life by my dad. It was a 4th of July occasion. He wanted to have a party that night and he invited a few buddies over to our house. After he prepared the basement-the party zone of the house where the record player was also found — he noticed that he did not have one of his comedy albums there. I believe that it was a Foxx party album called "HOT N---!!" (For the sake of this article, the word I blotted out is NOT a bad word. It can even be said in church. I only blotted it out because, in the context of the given phrase, it comes across as a sexual connotation. Therefore, I chose to leave it out.) Well, nobody back then told me to whisper it and not yell it. I hopped on my bike, rode halfway around the corner to our house and saw the neighbor who was in her backyard while I was on my bike in the front of her house.
"Daddy sent me to pick up his HOT N--- album."
I got the album alright. You would have thought I also started World War III as well. Needless to say, Dad was livid! Maybe rightfully so, but no one told me back then WHY I should not have asked the way I did. All I could picture in my later years was this little Catholic boy riding home on his bike with a raunchy party record safely tucked under his arms. Thank goodness Father O'Malley wasn't making the rounds that day to check up on his parishioners or I would have had an extended time period in his confessional that weekend.
I stuck to my usual dose of TV comedians. Another favorite I found and who still remains as a favorite out of all my favorites was Rodney Dangerfield. Not only was he really funny to me, but he also had another quality to his humor. He utilized self-deprecating humor. He freely poked fun at himself from time to time.
"One day, my tie was on fire. My kid tried to put it out with an ax."
I always looked forward to seeing his stuff on Carson's show. I don't even recall him putting out a raunchy album. If he did, I honestly did not see one. I did get a modern recording of his act set to music. It was well done. As of this writing, I want to buy it from iTunes so that I can listen to it again. It would still be funny.
During my college days in the late 70s, I found that there were comedians who I call the "college" comedians, not just for the fact that they attended college, but because they toured the college campuses as a part of their show circuit. For example, there were comics who had shows at our campus on Friday nights and so on. It was nice. These comedians put their acts together like a grad student put together a research paper. Jokes were thought out and written down and later, filed. They went on stage and you could tell that their humor was well structured and nonetheless, funny. I found guys like Bobby Kelton, Jay Leno (my favorite in this group), Bobby Slayton, David Letterman, George Miller, Gary Shandling, and Jerry Seinfeld to be quite funny.
There was a guy named Sinbad who broke the mold (much like Leno did) by putting on an act which contained NO obscenities. As I got older, I appreciated folks who could get on stage and be funny without a filthy mouth. Sinbad did just that. He kept it funny, but clean. At the time, he cited another comedian as his comedy idol, but we shall stay away from that person's name due to what is in the news about his idol.
Now, we jump to 2018. I am NOT going to name any more comedians. There are others, but I don't really listen to them much. Why? Simple. Many of them show a true lack of talent. For example, I simply could not sit through a Martin Lawrence act because he feels that he has to utilize crude words to improve the humor of his work. It is akin to an actor or actress removing their clothing and claiming that it is art or a part of their performance. Nope. Not for me. Thank you.
We live in a very dangerous world, my friend. We have nothing but bad news everywhere. Terrorists here. Criminals there. Taxes all over the place. Open the newspaper and you'll see nothing but horrid news. Turn on the TV and all you'll hear is bad news. We need comedians who, for the little time that we see them, will take our minds off our problems for a while. Like being fully submerged under water, one wants to come up from time to time for a breath of fresh air. Good comedy brings some sweet relief from our daily drudgeries.