[5-Minute Dance Party] Peter Sellers’ A Hard Day’s Night

 

 

 

Oh, verily, it’s a hard day’s night.

 

And I’ve been working like a dog.

 

 


 

 

HEY!  KINDA IMPORTANT!  I have switched to a more functional RSS feed because the native WordPress version was waaay too glitchy.  The new feed is from Feedburner, which will be our mainstay unless it becomes glitchy, or Google shuts it down.  Before I chose Feedburner, I tested five other RSS management systems, some paid, some free, and wouldn’t you know it, Feedburner still worked the best out of all of them.    Enjoy the NEW BLUEBIRD BLVD. RSS FEED — embedded videos!  Links!  All the bells and whistles we all know and love!

ALSO IMPORTANT!  We will be doing DUNE in JUNE in JULY  (and a little bit of August) this year.  Yeah, I know it doesn’t rhyme.  But it took me all this time to get Bluebird Blvd. mostly functional.  On Friday, I will be posting the schedule for Dune this year.  Two special things—  ONE, we have our own Bluebird Blvd. Google Group!  So, c’mon over and we can talk about DUNE IN REAL TIME!  (WOOT!)  TWO, I am going to be throwing out some open pitches for writers who might want to do something thematic on Dune this year.  Interested?  Email me:  bluebirdblvd (at) att (dot) net.

Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party— Whose Line Is It Anyway? The Best of Wayne Brady

 
 
 
 
 
 

The sound quality isn’t perfect. The video is a little shaky.

Still, I’m pretty sure you’re going to love this compilation of Wayne Brady clips from the original American version “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”!

I am officially geeking out because “Whose Line” is officially returning to television.

EEEEEEE! Aren’t you excited? Yes, you heard correctly!

Check out Variety’s April 1st story (no joke) about one of my favorite show-of-all-time’s return with an all new host, AISHA TYLER!: Variety: CW Sets Late-Summer Lineup, Including ‘Whose Line’ Return in July.

Oh my gosh, I don’t think they couldn’t have found someone more fitting to host this show. Aisha Tyler is an amazing stand-up comedian and voice actress. Love her work. If you can’t remember who she is, go to the official Aisha Tyler website.

(Lots of thanks to 12MedBe on YouTube for making this compilation. It’s exactly what y’all needed tonight, don’t you think?)
 
 
 

5-Minute Dance Party [Mary Poppins Screen Tests with Judy and Pals]

 
 
 
 
 
 

Which one is your favorite?

 
 
 
 

The Punchy Players are two multi-talented performers who have created thirteen wonderful videos using your favorite characters.

All the voice impressions are their own!

 
 

Mash Note Dept.: The Dick Van Dyke Show

 

All noises become a single hum at the center of summer, and, should you squint at the center of the center of that local hum, you will see me bent into the shape of an s with one dog crooked under an arm and the other dog crooked behind my legs, watching The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I’m not looking for escapism. I am trying to keep hold of my sense of humor with both of my sweaty strong little hands. To do that with alacrity, I need to reach into my secret arsenal of books and movies and stories told with the curtains closed and the fans going strong and the dogs panting.

In short, I need everything I’ve have to give everything I’ve got.
 
 
 

The Dick Van Dyke Show makes me so ridiculously happy that it’s the first thing I consider when I am trying to keep my sense of humor intact.

It’s funny because it’s a show I never had any interest in watching. As far as classic television goes, The Dick Van Dyke Show remains overlooked in the most obvious places.

Syndicated television programmers tended to pass this show over in the 1970s in favor of other, quirkier offerings from the same period. I would have been too young to experience any early syndication, and I never did catch The Dick Van Dyke Show on current cable revival channels.

I’ve only had cable television twice in my life for brief instances because I just don’t like cable TV. I have no valuable qualifiers to offer. It’s preference at work here.

Know also that I didn’t watch TV much at all until I was an adult.

When I finally did watch TV (on DVD, from the video store, and, later, Netflix), I tried a little bit of everything at least once.

It was only a matter of time before I worked my way into the early 1960s world of Dick Van Dyke.
 
 
 

The show itself is a simple situation comedy based on the ensemble-comedy model that had started to come into vogue in the early 1960s. (No single character dominates the plot lines in an ensemble sitcom.)

The ensemble of The Dick Van Dyke Show proved to be a great mix of people who knew how to play well with one another and play off of one another, beautifully.

Dick Van Dyke plays Rob Petrie, head writer of The Alan Brady Show (vaudevillian-type variety comedy based around a single star— very popular in the 1950s), who splits time between home and the office.

At home are his wife and his son. At work, Rob Petrie interacts with his two writers, Buddy Sorrel (played by “The Human Joke Machine,” Morey Amsterdam, veteran vaudevillian and TV pioneer) and Sally Rodgers (the aptly casted Rose Marie, another veteran vaudevillian and multi-talent).
 
 
 

 
 
 

After watching one or two episodes five years ago, I realized three things:

First, The Dick Van Dyke Show is shockingly modern. You had women in the workplace like Sally Rodgers and the various professional performers who provided color to bigger stories.

You have two married adults, Rob and Laurie Petrie (the ingenue Mary Tyler Moore) who defer to each other over large matters. The Petries have one son, Ritchie (Larry Matthews), who, while not dumb, is not some cute, wisecracking adult-in-miniature.
 
 

Second, to understand comedy’s evolution from vaudeville to contemporary TV offerings, you need to watch the places where vaudeville transitioned from the stage to the small screen, which was vaudeville’s natural jumping-off point. The Dick Van Dyke Show is a great example of the second wave of television (after, say, the late, great Ernie Kovacs).

While less broad experimentation in the medium happened in the early 1960s, more refined offerings, like The Dick Van Dyke Show, started to emerge in unexpected places.
 
 

Third, my friend Phillip pointed out recently that the vocabulary of comedy is as closely guarded as the techniques of stage magic. And he’s right. Like stage magic, there are tricks and techniques and these all have names— but we, the audience, don’t know them. Unless you’ve delved deep into that world, you won’t know what goes into the making of a joke.

In both stage magic and comedy, knowing how it’s done tends to kill the sustained illusion of effortlessness.
 
 
 

However, should you want to learn the techniques of comedy— the set-up/knock-down joke; the triple; the straight man; the pratfall— you don’t need to go any farther than The Dick Van Dyke Show. Van Dyke himself was a self-taught wunderkind who could do everything from tap dancing, to playing the piano, to playing the straight man, to pratfalls and pantomimes so open and expressive the genius of it is stunning.

Then you have Mary Tyler Moore, a dancer with excellent comic timing, great at a set-em-up/knock-em-down joke, and capable of playing the straight man or the comic. Rose Marie, who played Sally Rodgers, was a former baby vaudevillian who was known for her gorgeous, throaty voice, but she also danced, played the piano, did imitations, and could also play the straight man or the comic.

She, along with Morey Amsterdam, who played Buddy Sorrel, perfected TV’s first experience of “the triple”— where the straight man sets up a joke, the comedian gives a funny unexpected answers, the straight man gives another funny unexpected answer, and then the comedian completes the triple by giving the one answer you’d never expect.
 
 
 

Back to the couch, the hum, the dogs, the s-shaped me and the summer heat— should ever I forget my sense of humor, The Dick Van Dyke Show is there to urge me to sit up a little straighter, to take my overheated state a little more lightly, and to consider all the possibilities that are in front of me, right on this magical TV screen.

While I’m not looking forward to the brutal temperatures of South Texas summers, I am leaning into what I have learned— humor is powerful, my friends. It can turn the crankiest overheated Bluebird into the grand imaginer of pratfalls, of perfectly-executed jokes, of song and dance routines, of ordinary, everyday, interpersonal magic.
 
 
 

Morey Amsterdam 1952

 
 
 

***

 
 
Why did I not watch TV most of my life? Mash Note Dept.: My Friend Phillip will answer this odd question once and for all time!
 
 
Should you want to read more on The Dick Van Dyke Show— because there is SO much I haven’t discussed here about its progressive politics and its techniques, you can go to the Museum of Broadcast Television. For more tidbits and factoids, IMDB has done a great job of putting together the fundamentals of this seminal sitcom.

 
 
 

[Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party] Do You Have A ‘Reum’?

 
 
 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnXtuktNdlM
 
 
 

…and THAT cracks me up every single time!

 


Happy Friday!
 

And welcome to the Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party!
 

(This clip is a perfect lead-in to tomorrow’s discussion of writing sonnets! Because the poem will not bite you!)
 

Really! I promise!

 
 
 

Mash Note Dept. | Jacques Tati

 
 
 

 
 
 

The universe holds a special place in its starry heart for comedians.

And at the core of its deepest heart, you will find Jacques Tati.

Jacques Tati was a filmmaker and a comedic actor— at least that’s how his biography is phrased.

His real vocation was pointing a stylized lens at the baffling post-World War II world, then inserting his own stork-tall, childlike visage at the center of it.
 
 
 

His magic knows no boundaries of date or age or time.

I first saw Jacques Tati in M. Hulot’s debut film, “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” (Les Vacances de M. Hulot — 1953), which I watched with my husband.  (He saw the film as a child in a revival movie theater and loved it.)
 
 
 

Tati is most famous for his silent character, Mr. Hulot. 

What amazed me then, and now, is the clean cut of Tati’s movie, combined with the frivolous gestures that moves the action along.

Nothing in particular happens during Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but there’s no fat, no self-indulgent noodling around by Tati as Hulot. 

Considering he also directed this film, it stuns me how tightly wrought the movie was, and is.
 
 
 

 
 
 

The undergarments of comedy are built of daily tragedies

Hidden details of Jacques Tati’s life invoked new speculation in the last two years, due to the posthumous animated film “The Illusionist” (L’Illusionniste).

The recent film is based on a buried script penned by Tati, but made by animator/cinematographer, Sylvain Chomet (known for The Triplets of Belleville).

The release of “The Illusionist” brought up a lot of unsavory questions about Tati and his first romance— which resulted in a child he never saw.  

Those old, resurfaced rumors intimate that this script was Tati’s apology to his first daughter, but it is, as many things are, utterly unverifiable.
 
 
 

I watched twenty minutes of The Illusionist and had to stop. 

While Tati’s original films put a baffled man at the center of a baffling world, “The Illusionist” takes a darker turn. This animated feature puts an unnamed performer in a world that does not need him any more.

These days, I am not interested in the story of someone who no longer belongs to this world.

And if I am going to read, watch, or listen to the story of a man displaced by modernity, please show me the comedic moment— take me deeper into the truth inside the truth.
 
 
 

Laughter is keyed to open those hard locks.  Give me laughter.

Give me Tati’s Mr. Hulot, trying and failing to understand the nuances of the fresh and unfamiliar.

Let me see his wide eyes once more, blinking wonderfully at a future filled with the bright gadgetry of distraction, and then, I will laugh.

And I think you will laugh too.

Mr. Hulot is familiar. Mr. Hulot? He is us.

 
 
 

 
 
 

I thought you might enjoy Roger Ebert’s original review of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.

5-Minute Dance Party | Putting On The Ritz— Young Frankenstein

 

 

Um. . .  I don’t have an explanation for today’s 5-Minute Dance Party.

 

Except for this one thing—I can do the Peter Boyle Frankenstein voice from this number. (“PUUUUTTIN’ EENNNN THEEEE REEEEEEIIIIIIITTTZZZZZ!”) I realize this is a dubious talent, but there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I am not ashamed of what I know. <3

 

Have you ever seen “Young Frankenstein”? It’s comedic gold. Amazon has it, if you’re interested. <3

Mash Note Dept. | Ernie Kovacs

 
 
 


 

Ernie Kovacs and his equally talented wife Edie Adams played off of one another beautifully on television.

 
 

I have the dubious distinction of being two types of person in one goofy package:  I am both an early adopter and a late adopter of trends, technology and general goods. 

Never at the same time, of course.

It’s equivalent to being the annoying friend who shows up an hour early to your party when your still in the shower, which is one type of person, and also being the friend who cancels at the last minute, with lots of apologies and a real, actual emergency, which is another type of person all together.

So, I fall on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to discovering trends, technology, and artists of all stripes.  I’m either early or late, but never quite on time.
 
 
 

This bowlegged extended metaphor is my hackneyed way of saying, “I’m so very sorry Ernie Kovacs, that I never knew you existed until four months ago when your rare footage was released on Netflix Instant via Roku.”

(And here is a great case of The Husband and I accidentally being early adopters by accident. My mother got The Husband a first generation Roku for his birthday.  Four years ago.  No one knew what Roku was then.  Even though I kept explaining how fantastic it was, everyone said: “Uh-huh?” and went on TiVoing everything for a few more years. I’m not exactly persuasive, even though I am ebullient. Oh well.)
 
 
 

Back to my apologies in fake beat-poet form:  “Ernie Kovacs!  You are the king!  Of modern television, both comedy and technology!  We owe!  A great debt!  To your freewheeling genius! And I’m sorry!  That!  I just! Found out!  About youuuuuu!”

On a whim one day, I added The Ernie Kovacs collection to our Netflix Instant Queue and let it sit there for a few months.  Right before Thanksgiving, when everything gains the gloss of pre-Christmas stress, I turned on this show after dinner because we both needed to not be additionally freaked out by our TV entertainment choices on top of looming holiday fun-time.

Within minutes of watching Kovacs glide his way through some great deadpan jokes on a grainy copy of a then-local morning show, I had fallen in love with him.
 
 
 

He was funny and lovely on television, a new medium at that time for Americans.  When a joke went splat, Kovacs shrugged, and threw another one at the camera.  That one might  fall flat too.  But, the third one, my friends, will hit you with the flaming arrow of spastic laughter.  It’s hard to imagine what I felt like watching this mustachioed grinning man talking to the camera (and the cameraman, an unusual comedic trick, even now) with the playfulness of a professional dancer.

He makes it look easy, this brand-new-at-the-time television comedy, and he makes it look fun to do.

And that, by anyone’s standards, is really, really hard.

When I was learning to dance and started to do solos, I was told, “Your job is to make dance look effortless.  As if it were nothing.  That’s the real trick.  It will take everything you have, and require stuff you don’t even know you have, yet.”

The rest of my artistic life has been in pursuit of this ideal:  the appearance of effortlessness.  And Ernie Kovacs has this quality of effortlessness naturally.  Or he makes it appear effortless.

And, in art, one is the same thing as another.  Because art is gestural playfulness and practiced illusion in a blazing package wrapped in a pretty bow, just for you, you, you.
 
 
 

Did I mention he’s television’s premier pioneer of comedy? 

If you watch SNL from the beginning of its inception, you’ll see the Kovacs influence.  Bringing out all the players at the end to wave at the cameras?  Kovacs.  The trope of talking to the producers and camera people like they do on late night talk shows?  Kovacs.  Playing around with the technical aspects of the medium such as adjusting the horizontal and vertical ratios and doing theme-based shows?  Kovacs.

Go and watch a little of the genius himself, that playful man, and you’ll come away wondering how you ever lived without him before now.

And we almost didn’t have any of his TV work at all. 

His second wife took what little money she had after he passed away unexpectedly in a car accident, and did a smart land grab of every bit of footage of every show she could find because his work was getting erased to make space for other, more contemporary shows.   (Edie Adams was an amazing, amazing singer, comedic artist, and person in her own right. You should look her up when you get a chance.)
 
 
 

    Here are the magical tricks and techniques I took from Kovac’s too-short  life and career:

    You can never hit a moving target.

      If one TV show wasn’t working out, he pitched another.  When that was in hiatus, he wrote a brilliant piece for early Mad Magazine.  Failure was about as normal as his eloquent, comedic shrug at a failed joke.

     

    If you’re going to fail, fail as big as possible.

      And don’t whine about it.   If no one got his jokes or his TV show got yanked off of the air, he moved on and didn’t look back.  His life is a walking example of “Small people talk about each other.  Great people discuss ideas.”  Or something of that sort.

     

    Everything will teach you what you need to know.

      I make it sound as though there was this great mysterious quality about the appearance of naturalness in his work.  Don’t be fooled.  He paid attention to everything was around him, and absorbed it, which leads to:

     

    Play to your strengths and know who you are.

      He described himself and a “sound and sight man.”  And his jokes and gags are based off of sound and sight riffs, piled on top of one another like a delicious arrangement of falling dominoes.  Had he spent all his time trying to make jokes off of something that wasn’t his natural bent, pushing himself in areas that weren’t his native language, he would have gotten bogged down in  the details.

     

    Keep trying new things.

      Although he played to his strengths, Kovacs was always, always trying something that he had not done before.  And he paid close attention to what he was creating behind the scenes.  He was always trying a trick you wouldn’t expect, and sometimes those tricks bombed in his face— which, with his panache, was even funnier than the original idea.

 
 
And Kovacs didn’t take himself too seriously.  He did his thing, which was comedy and early television, and he didn’t make a huge deal of his fame.  Kovacs was bigger than TV and TV comedy, and we know that, and he probably knew that, so there was no reason to mention this foregone conclusion.  And that makes me love Ernie Kovacs all the more.
 
 
 
AN ERNIE KOVACS PRIMER:
 

There are two premier, made-with-love fan website that have been on the Internet for a long, long time.  Ernie Kovacs Dot Net is one of them, and Kovacsland Online is the other.

Ernie Kovacs is the official website. It is very, very nice!

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I actually had seen Ernie Kovacs in old issues and reprints of Mad Magazine from the early days. Here’s a short and sweet essay with pictures on his Mad articles.

You can find The Ernie Kovacs Collection, released in 2011 on Amazon or Netflix. But, here for your pleasure is a little snippet of Kovacs’ special magic: