Dr. Rich Edwards

Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 5: Playing Games

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Sports in general have never really been entertaining to me, neither as any sports-related film (with the exception of Horsefeathers, for reasons which I have already explained).  The Lloyd/Ruth taxicab gag resonates, however, having met and interviewed several well-known people (Bob Woolf  came to mind as I watched the clip).  Trying to retain a sense of professionalism, going about one's business, appreciating the celeb's attention and time, hoping the next words one says will nto be disrespectful--the distractions are everywhere. 

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As Vince Cellini and Dr. Edwards explained in this Breakdown of a Gag 5, Slapstick likes to take aim at any institution and baseball is no exception. The Harold Lloyd/ Babe Ruth match-up is timeless. It appeals even today to fans of both comedy and baseball. One can only imagine the Babe Ruth fans who were just blown away to see their hero in a comedy film cameo and doing a great job of joining in. Another aspect of Baseball  is the idea of the shoestring finish, that rally in the bottom of the ninth or that  game winning Grand Slam Home run.. nothing is impossible so seeing Joe E.Brown in "Elmer The Great" scooping around in the mud to finally throw out the last out at home played right into this aspect of baseball with a slapstick twist.  Looking at the modern error we see real players the victims of Leslie Nielson's umpire!

Historically many burlesque and vaudevile routines centered on baseball. Some early players even did their own baseball skits on the stage. To bring these into comedy films seemed a natural progression.

Even Buster Keaton who loved baseball as a sport (and enjoyed playing it on the set between takes) starred in a little seen short entitled "One Run Elmer" (1935) in which he plays in an  extravagant baseball game to best his competitor and win the girl.

Baseball and comedy... what a winning combination!

As I read your last line, "Baseball and comedy...what a winning combination!", I couldn't help thinking about Abbott and Costello's hilarious routine, "Who's on First."

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I have to say that I love...LOVE the baseball scenes in the Naked Gun movie. It's perfect. Lt. Drebin's reactions to each pitch, even later in the scenes when we see him uncorking a bat or cleaning the home plate with a vacuum cleaner, it's great. Actually, my old college roommate and I will randomly say movie lines when we hang out (yeah, we're weird) and probably the top one is "Yeahhhhhh strikeeee!"

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I loved the fact Vince Cellini and Dr. Edwards incorporated three clips, each from a different decade, to explore a direct linkage of slapstick comedy. It's always interesting to witness how a gag involving different comedic performers evolves over a duration of time. The three clips utilize Lloyd, Brown and Nielsen in a variety of differentiations, which allows each comedic actor to tweak the baseball gag in accordance to their specific type of comedic tone. And this individualistic approach grants each outcome to perfection.

 

Lloyd, Brown, and Nielsen milk their own gags to maximum effect, revealing their own interpretations of vital comedic execution. As viewers, we are treated to the wonders of three very different artistic expressions.

 

Personally, I favored Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun. I haven't the slightest clue as to how or why Nielsen's character finds himself in the role of an umpire. But, I enjoyed the "think on your feet" approach he implemented into his acting in this clip.

 

With no knowledge of baseball, Nielsen's character is in a possibly embarrassing predicament. Upon his time to make the call of "strike" or "ball," we witness the silly transformative direction in which he takes his character. The second pitch, Nielsen heightens his performance further, and the outcome is sublime.

 

I appreciated each clip presented as a means of comparison. Slapstick evolved over the years, but it's always rooted in a certain type of ridiculousness. And I mean this in the utmost complementary manner possible. Comedy is very difficult, regardless of the type; exaggerated, dry, impressionistic, etc. To generate a laugh out of even one person is a feat in and of itself.

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Sports in movies can be funny. I enjoy sports and seeing Babe in Speedy was funny. That was the first time I'd seen that clip. The Marx Brothers made it funny with football and trying to get the best football players for their team. Leslie Nielson's clip was hilarious. I haven't seen that one either. Joe E. Brown was good too. A&C's "Who's on First?" has always been my favorite. I still get a kick out of it.

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There are so many elements that pull together in all three of these clips that make gags so funny they can still bring tears to my eyes. The Babe in a car with star-struck Lloyd truly makes it all work by the way he responds to these near death experiences and though we cringe, we laugh too. Joe E.Brown in the torrential rain digging through a seemingly bottomless puddle to find the ball, throw it home and save the day must have brought laughter and cheers to the audience. And what can anyone say about Leslie Nielsen? Starting slowly, tentatively and quickly escalating to total over the top hilarity. And I think the real topper with Lloyd and Nielsen was seeing actual ball players as part of the whole gag. Brilliant! In both situations, audiences probably made comments on their favorite sports figures being seemingly innocent parts of the fun. I only wish a clip of the most famous baseball gag of all, "Who's on first?" had been added.

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An important element in these three clips is familiarity. Even today, Babe Ruth is a common name, and the "crazy driving" routine is a common gag. Baseball is America's pastime, so it is a good backdrop for comedy. The actors in all the gags played their roles to the fullest, and they were amusing.

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I love baseball and slapstick so any zany combination of the two are high on my list. These three clips are perennial favorites and as Dr. Edward's points out show us how comedians continually, "upped the ante" by innovation and improvisation.

 

As always, Lloyd provides us with a snapshot of times gone by. To have one of the greatest all time ball players stuck in his cab as he rockets blindly through Times Square shows us again why Lloyd was known as, "Mr. Consistency." He anticipated what the public wanted to see and offers it all tied up as an old gag with new ribbons.

 

Joe E. Brown is sometimes forgotten in discussions of second generation slapstick comedians even though he was a contemporary of many of the greats. He performed in every venue, starring in the circus, music halls, vaudeville and Broadway. He also starred in dramatic films most notably as Flute in William Dieterle's 1935 film version of Shakespeare's, "Midsummer Night's Dream." He's really good and I recommend it if you ever catch it on TCM. He was a great humanitarian and just a good guy. I'm so happy to see him and his films showcased in this course and on TCM.

 

And Leslie Nielsen was the sleeper comedian. Another talented Canadian he started out as a dramatic actor but Wow! he is one of the best natural comedians. His physicality and facial expressions are pure slapstick but most often it is his perfect timing and dumb guy persona that always has me howling and rooting for him. In "Airplane! " he steals the show..."And don't call me Shirley..."

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Loved Harold Loyd in The Freshman as well. My first screening was poolside on the giant screen. What a treat. I don't think there is an in between when it comes to comedy and sports. It's love or hate. Baseball Bugs is and will always be my favorite. It has all the ingredients of a perfected slapstick gag. Bugs definitely ranks high with the others shown here.

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I loved the Elmer clip. The absurdity of the ball being lost in that "abyss" like Edwards and Cellini describe it  :lol:

 

But fast-forwarding to Frank Drebin and Naked Gun made my day, lol. I love that film, even if I haven't seen it in years. And that bit? Me and my friends would always roll out on the floor, literally, laughing at that. I love the part when he does the Moonwalk on home plate.

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Baseball is still a beloved pastime, and always being near Yankee Stadium just makes these movie bits/gags more enjoyable to watch. If there is one thing I truly love about slapstick is the misdirection, and Harold Lloyd was truly brilliant at it, I can’t get enough of Babe Ruth’s reactions, and as Dr. Edwards pointing out the pun Babe is supposed saying really kicks the charts. Loved watching Joe E Brown, and what’s most entertaining to see is his ability to sort of make fun of himself? It’s remarkable, and the great Nielsen! It’s always a joy to see him, now that I am in this course, I can’t help but think of Charley Chase? They sort of have a similar style? Since from what I remember from Leslie Nielsen’s work, he wasn’t the type to be over silly, was goofy in his own way, and in some movies, would tend to be the serious guy, but still equally funny? My memory most likely is a bit rusty, but that is how I remember Nielson. This course has really been a great treat so far, and I can’t wait to get deeper into it! Looking forward to the next episode of Breakdown of a Gag! Dr. Edwards and Cellini make such a wonderful team!

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All three clips are amazing for its funny construction, and I'd point that the Leslie Nielsen's one is clearly one step higher compared to the other two. Of course, it seems natural to me that new slapstick talents search for higher comic achievements on the field to get notest.

 

I'm Brazilian, so baseball here isn't popular at all. Any way, it is clearly an American institution and to have it on those clips are really delightful.

 

The first clip (Lloyd's) is the type of gag that still works today, in many ways, if you just do it the same way. And I'd say that even action films make use of that tool to enhance its intentions.

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Joe E. Brown is sometimes forgotten in discussions of second generation slapstick comedians even though he was a contemporary of many of the greats. He performed in every venue, starring in the circus, music halls, vaudeville and Broadway. He also starred in dramatic films most notably as Flute in William Dieterle's 1935 film version of Shakespeare's, "Midsummer Night's Dream." He's really good and I recommend it if you ever catch it on TCM. He was a great humanitarian and just a good guy. I'm so happy to see him and his films showcased in this course and on TCM.

 

 

      Well said!  It's about time we paid proper respect to this great comedian.  Even though I am not a big baseball fan, "Elmer the Great" (1933) has long been one of my favorite films.  He had two other baseball-themed movies: "Fireman, Save My Child" (1932) and "Alibi Ike" (1935). Alibi Ike included a young Olivia de Havilland.  Brown's natural athleticism and experience in semi-pro baseball, along with his great comic sense makes these movies convincing and hilarious.

 

      As a football fan, I feel compelled to point out that the gridiron game is also conducive to some great comedy.  An obvious trio of football comedies would be "The Freshman" (1925) with Harold Lloyd, "Horsefeathers" with the Marx Brothers and "Three Little Pigskins" (1934) with the Three Stooges. 

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Joe E Brown was funny!  I think facial features like his are a gift to a comedian.  His face was definitely his trademark.  Whenever I turn the TV on - naturally tuned into TCM already - and I see Joe E Brown, no matter how late it is at night, I can't miss the movie.  If it weren't for Leslie Nielsen's wonderful timing, I wouldn't find his comedy as funny - I would think it was hamming it up, but his timing is an art form.  The brief pause, just right, the sequences building at a perfect pace, makes his physical comedy so successful.  He's a great comedian.

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      Well said!  It's about time we paid proper respect to this great comedian.  Even though I am not a big baseball fan, "Elmer the Great" (1933) has long been one of my favorite films.  He had two other baseball-themed movies: "Fireman, Save My Child" (1932) and "Alibi Ike" (1935). Alibi Ike included a young Olivia de Havilland.  Brown's natural athleticism and experience in semi-pro baseball, along with his great comic sense makes these movies convincing and hilarious.

 

      As a football fan, I feel compelled to point out that the gridiron game is also conducive to some great comedy.  An obvious trio of football comedies would be "The Freshman" (1925) with Harold Lloyd, "Horsefeathers" with the Marx Brothers and "Three Little Pigskins" (1934) with the Three Stooges. 

 

Harold Lloyd's The Freshman may have been made in 1925, but some of its plot is relevant today. Doesn't the story include a university that will do anything for its football team and players? Sounds relevant today, to me!

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I enjoyed the Elmer the great clip, I can't imagine losing the ball in a puddle because now a days they won't play ball in the rain if it rains to hard.

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I loved the Harold Lloyd/Babe Ruth collaboration! Brilliant! The fact that he got America's National Treasure to star in this only added to the suspense of the moment and added to the comedy because what if the Babe gets hurt!? I am loving Harold Lloyd!

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I loved the Elmer clip. The absurdity of the ball being lost in that "abyss" like Edwards and Cellini describe it  :lol:

 

But fast-forwarding to Frank Drebin and Naked Gun made my day, lol. I love that film, even if I haven't seen it in years. And that bit? Me and my friends would always roll out on the floor, literally, laughing at that. I love the part when he does the Moonwalk on home plate.

I was initially surprised to see several different comedians and clips in this episode as the others have been more monofocused but it was really awesome to see all three like that. And they were all wonderful, I loved the driving the wrong way from speedy and I have to agree that the Naked Gun clip sort of made my day lol I dunno why like you guys explained in the video it's a very simple gag but it works so well! I still remember him from Dracula: dead and loving it, he just had that perfect commitment to what he was doing and completely straight faced, like peter sellers often did, where he was making the rest of the world crack up but he kept it so chill on his end, it was amazing! 

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