Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Feast of Saint Jackie

My Fellow Comedists,

A quick note to those who didn't see this item in the bulletin, but I will be appearing at Magooby's Joke House in Baltimore on Sunday. Show starts at 8 and I've got a new set, so would be great to see people there.

This week is the birthday of the Great One, Jackie Gleason, actor, band leader, radio, tv, and movie star, but best known for his role as Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners.

Comedy on television in the early days was dominated by folks like Ernie Kovacs and Sid Caesar, both of which gave us very heady sketch comedy. In the earliest days of television, the only people who could afford them were professionals, doctors, lawyers, and like, folks with more education than the average person in the 50s and so tv catered towards a particular socio-economic class where radio was a much more populist medium. Once the price started to come down and television became a more standard part of the post-war home across the board, radio stars crossed over and the content of television comedy started to aim at a different audience.

The Honeymooners came from a series of sketches Gleason had done on his variety show, Cavalcade of Stars, which featured singers, the June Taylor dancers, and comedy skits from his regulars which included the magnificent Art Carney (and of course, always opened with Gleason's tagline "and away we go..."). Gleason based the skits on his life growing up in tenements in Brooklyn. The characters were so real, so human, so flawed, that everyone could identify with their hopes, their failures, their insecurities. It became so popular that it was picked up by CBS as a stand alone show, although the original Alice, Pert Kelton, was not allowed to make the move because CBS would not pick up her contract because she was named in the red scare McCarthyist garbage of the era. And so Audrey Meadows was named for the role.

The Honeymooners stands as a monument to honesty in comedy. Don't try to be funny, try to be real. The reality is unsettling enough that seeing ourselves in the mirror forces us to laugh. This calls for a clip. And away we go...Happy birthday, Jackie Gleason.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve