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Saturday, April 4, 2015

April 4-5, 2015: Crowd-sourced April Fools

[A few years ago, I had a lot of fun writing an April Fools series. Foolishly, I hadn’t done so since, but this year I decided I won’t get fooled again. So this week I’ve highlighted and AmericanStudied a series of funny figures and texts, leading up to this crowd-sourced post drawn from the funny responses and favorites shared by fellow AmericanFools (in the best sense, natch). I pity the fool who doesn’t add his or her own in comments!]
First, I wanted to add one more topic to the week’s mix: Comedy Central announcement this week of their choice to replace Jon Stewart as host of the satirical Daily Show: comedian Trevor Noah. Noah has become a controversial choice, in large part because of some of his more edgy (if not offensive) past comic choices. But I would also argue that he is edgy on issues of race and culture/identity in ways that could take The Daily Show in new and interesting directions. In any case, a breaking American comedy story this week to be sure!
Responding to Monday’s Stooges and Marxes post, self-proclaimed “huge Stooge fan” Rob Gosselin writes, “Curly's real name was Jerome Howard. He was part of Howard, Fine, and Howard during the Stooges vaudeville days. He was a raging alcoholic and he loved dogs. He was also a huge womanizer. A lot of the young women actors showed up in The Stooges shorts because Jerome wanted them there or promised them during a date that he would put them in a movie. He limped because when he was a child he shot himself in the foot with a rifle. He also spent his early twenties teaching ballroom dancing, and he was very light on his feet. He hated Lou Costello, claiming that he stole most of his material from him. Apparently, Lou would hang around off stage when the stooges performed in Vaudeville.  Moe Howard's parents dressed him like a girl for the first few years of his life. They even curled his hair to make it look like a young girl's hair. Apparently, they wanted a daughter. Shemp came into the act (movies) after Jerome had a stroke. Shemp originally struck out on his own to star in the ‘Joe Palooka’ series of short films. He was billed as ‘the ugliest man in Hollywood.’ He died of a heart attack after telling a joke while lighting a cigar in a taxi cab, on the way home from a boxing match.  During an appearance in Florida, Moe also had his life threatened after insisting on better treatment for the African American actors who occasionally showed up in their short films. Lucille Ball had her first screen appearance during a stooge short called ‘Three Little Pigskins.’ People also claim that Charlie Chaplin was the first actor to lampoon Hitler, when in fact Moe Howard appeared as the dictator Hailstone months before Chaplin's movie hit the screen. Worth noting that Curly wears a large metal star on his uniform throughout the short. I find this quite moving since all of the stooges were Jewish. I would recommend the book Moe Howard and the Three Stooges by Moe Howard. It's a fascinating look at the life of these men, and the world they lived in. It's much better than I expected. Oh and one more thing, the Howard brothers last name was originally Horowitz. They changed it for Hollywood.”
Rob also follows up Thursday’s post on comedy that’s not funny any more, highlighting, “from the 1970s, Jake Tripper (John Ritter) on Three’s Company pretending to be gay so he could live with two straight women.”
Jaime Lynn Longo responds to the same post, adding, “In the same vein, I would add Bosom Buddies. I loved that show as a kid, but I cringe every time I think of the premise now.”
Responding to the series as a whole, Sam Southworth writes, “I would always want to highlight American humorists who can be overlooked by a less-than-hyper-literary culture such as ours, and point out the wealth of good writing and funny thoughts contained in Mark Twain, Robert Benchley, James Thurber and Walt Kelly. Humor is indeed evergreen, and always recombining ancient concepts with modern tropes, but sometimes I think ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ Also, the humor contained in American folklore (as can be seen in any large collection, particularly the ones from the 1930s and '40s) remains shocking and funny, and as ‘edgy’ as any modern person could want, as exemplified in the Nantucket joke related to the sinking of the whaleship Essex and subsequent awkward dining plans while adrift (to include cannibalism) that results in the punchline ‘Know him? Hell, I et him!’ There is a certain gentility combined with lacerating rhetorical thrust that is as transgressive as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin or lesser wits who attempt to substitute vulgarity for actual comedy. We're a serious people, and a funny people, and at our best we are a seriously funny people, through war and privation and disaster.” And Sam adds, “Hunter Thompson—I persist in thinking Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail is a pretty remarkable achievement, as well as his other better known works. His Kentucky Derby and America's Cup coverage is fairly singular as well”; “I've also been frequently beguiled by WC Fields and the Marx Brothers--wonderful old stuff, right out of Vaudeville”; and “My personal strategy for when I think I'll sit down and write a comedic short piece is to just read a few Benchley articles, and my reluctance to go head-to-head with such a genius then reliably saves me from producing less-than-stellar Ha!-Ha! works. That cat was smooth and could write an amusing article about literarily nothing.
Tim McCaffrey highlights, “How about Carl Reiner? From Your Show of Shows and The Dick Van Dyke Show and the 2000 year old man bit with Mel Brooks. Plus I think he directed The Jerk (and had a small role in it). He has written some memoirs lately that are a bit rambling but have poignant scenes from WWII, the Red Scare, and growing up Jewish.” For more from both Sam and Tim, see this Facebook thread.
Next series starts Monday,

PS. What do you think? Other funny favorites you’d share?

1 comment:

  1. Two more shared after I posted this:

    My colleague Ben Lieberman highlights Lucretia Hale's *Peterkin Papers* (

    and former student Michael Giannasca writes, "*A Confederacy of Dunces* killed me when I first read it in high school."