Unfunny Business

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Over at The Chiseler, a consideration of three questionable comics, including the man pictured above, a sort of Nigel Farrage of his day, but with a more robust grasp of economic theory. I’m pretty pleased with this one. Here.

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7 Responses to “Unfunny Business”

  1. I think you underestimate Joe E. Brown just a tad. His schtick was limited but he delivered it with great force. It’s not just the last line that makes his performance in Some Like It Hot so indelible. My favorite bit from it is his ship-to-shore call to Jack Lemmon’s “Daphne” from his yacht The New Caledonia. “The OLD Caledonia went down in a wild party off Cape Hadderas.” The way he comes on to Lemmon when they first meet clearly indicates his character has had experience with transvestites. Brown lunges right in head-first. And that not to mention the tango!

    The less set about El Brendel the better.

    As for Steppin Fetchit, the late great Taylor Mead declared that he was “a Black Revolutionary!” I recommend watching closely Fetchit’s appearance with the young Cassius Clay in William Klein’s Cassius le Grand. Most revealing.

  2. I’ve been meaning to look at the Klein film/s anyway…

    Brown is the most obviously able and quasi-appealing of the three, yes. Interesting reading of Some Like It Hot: I’d always assumed the ending was a piece of explosive nonsense designed to get us out of the movie laughing, but the idea that it’s been prepared for and that Brown is wise to the whole scam is fascinating.

  3. The “tell” is when Brown put’s Lemmon’s shoe back on and praises his “shapely ankle.”

  4. TCM seems to runs a Joe E. Brown festival at least once a year. Every time I plan to breakdown and finally watch, and every time I change my mind at the last minute. I think it’s his mouth that puts me off.

    No strong feelings on Stepin Fetchit, but he’s certainly not as awful as Willie Best. I’m glad Willie could make a living…but what a way to make a living.

    For some reason I always conflate El Brendel with Ukelele Ike.

  5. Ah, but Ukelele Ike sings beautifully. His acting is inoffensive, but his music is dreamy.

    I’m going to watch Some Like it Hot with fresh eyes next time.

  6. El Brendel deserves some immortality for “What, No Men?”, a gloriously bizarre two-reeler from Warner. Can’t locate it on YouTube, but it’s a shade less lavish but stranger than this:

    Warner Archive included it in a worthwhile set, “Vitaphone Cavalcade of Musical Comedy Shorts”.

  7. Like anything with El Brendel in it, What, No Men? would be immeasurably improved by the absence of El Brendel. It’s akin to Just Imagine, in a way, since its fantastical premise needs anchored by an everyman, not an already-outre fake Swede.

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