Thursday, December 14, 2006

In Which I Discourse Upon Several Forgotten Comedy Teams

Although the early years of vaudeville spawned numerous popular comedy teams, such as The Marx Brothers, Gallagher and Sheen, Abbot and Costello, and the Three Stooges, the work of many other teams has been lost to the sands of time. Whether it was because their particular schtick couldn't make the transition to the mass media of radio, the moving pictures, or television; or because their material was simply ill-concieved from the start, these unsung funnymen from a bygone age have since been forgotten. But as relics of a theatrical comedy tradition that is no longer with us, they deserve a closer look.

Drinky McIrishman and the Tuneful Lush

Capitalizing on America's hatred and fear of the Irishman in the early part of the century, this team seemed destined for stardom. Drinky would tell a series of of off-color jokes, primarily regarding the insertion of potatoes into various parts of a woman's anatomy, while the Tuneful Lush accompanied him with sentimental Irish ballads on the musical saw. Although booked on all the largest vaudeville circuits, two factors eventually spelled their demise: the first being McIrishman's "method" approach to his role, wherin to convincingly portray an Irishman he felt the need to imbibe a fifth of whiskey every time he took the stage. This theatrical affectation eventually grew into a real-life case of crippling alcoholism, causing him to slur his punchlines-- never more so than during the vocally challenging final moments of the "Catholic Delivery Room" sketch. Secondly, the team failed to adjust their routine for heavily Irish venues, such as New York's Shamrock Music Hall. It was at this venue that a team of pugalistic young Irish lads forceably took the stage, and administered a severe beating, which collapsed the Tuneful Lush's trachea, and ruptured McIrishman's booze-swollen liver.

Asa "Shecky" Jablomowitz & Eli "Shecky" Lindt AKA "The Two Sheckys"

Fast friends from their youth, when they were forced to share a bathroom and three fifths of a radiator, in a tenament in Brooklyn, The Two Sheckys decided to form a comedy team soley on the basis of having a shared nickname (also a condition of their lease). Despite this remarkable confluence of circumstances, the one thing TheTwo Sheckys did not share was a coherent comic outlook. Shecky J. engaged in madcap slapstick, especially in an elaborate routine in which he repeatedly milked a goat onstage, every time accidentally spilling the fresh, unpasteurized liquid down the blouse of their chorus girl assistant ("The Mammarian Milkmaid"). Whereas Shecky L. preferred to make wry political comments about William Jennings Bryan, often while embroidering. Perhaps this disjunction in their styles might still have worked, if either one had been willing to cede the spotlight. Instead, both would perform their act seperately, but simultaneously. The effect was more cacophonous and confusing, than it was comical. Shecky J. died in 1931, followed by Shecky L. who, in an amazing effort to upstage him, managed to die in 1930.

Baron Von Highbottom and The Accountant

Although thrilling conceptually, Baron Von Highbottom and The Accountant was a disappointment comically, as its central conceit (a comedy duo made up of two straight men) added up to few larfs. A typical scene unravelled thusly:

I am leaving this priceless ming vase here on this awfully rickety shelf. Please do not attempt to dust it or to use it as a spittoon.

Don't worry. I shall be over here going over your reciepts at length. I doubt I'll have the time or desire to molest said vase.

Well that's settled then.

By the way, whom was that lady I saw you with?

I assume it was the Baroness. Good day.

(The Baron EXITS. The accountant goes over his reciepts at length.)

Despite being a colossal failure as entertainment, Baron Von Highbottom and The Accountant's act had the distinction of being extremely long, which theater owners liked, as it gave them the means to pad an evening's program of entertainment. They
performed regularly until 1928, when the Accountant died onstage. No-one noticed.

Nutsy and the Rabbi

Although Hitler's facial hair didn't harm Charlie Chaplin's career, it did destroy that of the similarly mustacheoed "Nutsy" of Nutsy and the Rabbi fame. His name, lip-tickler, and famously comical "Duck Walk" all took on a sinister edge with the advent of WWII. Soon thereafter, "The Rabbi" decided to leave the team for personal reasons. After that, Nutsy took on a series of ill-chosen sidekicks including the imposing "Joey the Aryan." In a comical mix-up worthy of one of his routines, Nutsy ended up being accidentally tried at Nuremberg during a theatrical tour of Europe. He was swiftly put to death in 1949, but his legacy lives on!

The Hatfield Cousin-Brothers

This Appalachian comedy team's family tree was so tangled and incestuous, that in the interest of accuracy, their name required a hyphen. Audiences at the time were put off by their pale skin and birth defects, such that their astute social satire was completely ignored (although much of it found its way, via shameless plagiarism, into the New Yorker columns of James Thurber).

1 comment:

fusenumber8 said...

How nice that someone has given full credit where credit's due to The Lush. I've been searching for years for information on this sadly forgotten yet undoubtedly brilliant lost performer. They say he could bring an audience to tears with his rendition of "My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean", while using only 2 of his remaining 3 fingers. He will be missed.