Saturday, June 27, 2009

RIP Ed McMahan

My Fellow Comedists,

This week we mourn the passing of Ed McMahan whose number finally came up in the great Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes in the sky. For the viewing, he has been hermetically sealed in a mayonaisse jar on Funk and Wagnall's porch since twelve o'clock this afternoon. He may not have been the funiiest of people, but Ed McMahan is in comedy heaven now, my friends, for there is a special place there reserved for straightmen (of course, one need be neither straight nor a man to be a straightman).

The rise of observational humor has all but done away with what used to be common -- comedy teams: Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Tom and Ray, the Smothers Brothers, Lewis and Martin, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. To set up and be willing to be the butt of jokes is to lay oneself out for the good of the comedy itself. The straightman does the heavylifting, keeping the audience's attention while setting up the joke in a way that does not telegraph the punchline, and for all this labor the straightman gets none of the glory of the clown who brings it home, collecting the laughs, being seen as the funny one while the straightman is left looking dour at best, foolish at worst. No one watches Marx Brothers movies for Margaret Dumont, but without her they would not have been what they are.

The straightman is the unsung hero of comedy and Ed McMahan was the ironman of straightmen sitting beside Johnny Carson night after night for decades, never stealing the spotlight, always with that laugh.

Thanks Ed, and one last hiyo for us all.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve