The Usual Suspects

I love acting troupes—the small bands of “regulars” that perform skits and movies together and make the world smile. From my early childhood, I wanted to be a part of that family.

I watched The Carol Burnett Show every week. If I want a quick laugh, all I have to do is think about Tim Conway interrogating Lyle Waggoner with an Adolf Hitler hand puppet singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I imagine Carol Burnett dressed up in curtains with the rods still attached and a tassel hanging in her face. “I saw it hanging in the window and just…  had to have it.” I loved when she spoofed the classic movies! I adored the Momma’s Family skits, and still crack up when I think about the Siamese Elephant improvisation that had multiple cast members in stitches.

I enjoy watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes, too. Most of the skits they strung together had no definitive end, but instead just changed direction and carried on with silliness. “And now for something completely different.” Seeing John Cleese as a cowboy in “Rogue Cheddar” or Terry Jones competing in the World Hide-and-Seek finals gives me the giggles. My whole family tosses Flying Circus quotes around on a daily basis. It’s funny how other people react.

Another favorite growing up was SCTV. Rick Moranis, John Candy, Andrea Martin, Harold Ramis, Gene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and others kept me completely tickled. I recall one late night when I had a friend over, and we were preparing for an End-of-School luau, making paper leis and watching SCTV. The premise of this particular episode was “Preteen Telethon for Preteen World.” All of the actors dressed as eleven and twelve year-olds complete with bad complexions and retainers/ head gear. Their “preteen” band played Chilliwack’s hit “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone).” We laughed so hard that couldn’t string our leis. How many people can say that?

Saturday Night Live has had some amazing talent in their casts as well. Chevy Chase’s President Ford, Steve Martin’s King Tut, Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, Eddie Murphy’s Mr. Robinson, and Dennis Miller’s anchorman make frequent appearances in my home. “That’s the news, and I am outta here.” My boys’ favorites are the “More Cowbell” skit and “I Wish it was Christmas Today.” They watch for Jimmy Fallon’s giggles in every skit he’s in.

Another acting troupe that thrilled me was the constant cast of A&E’s A Nero Wolfe Mystery series. Rex Stout is one of my favorite authors, and Timothy Hutton, Maury Chaykin, Colin Fox, Bill Smitrovich and Kari Matchett did a wonderful job of staying true to Stout’s characters. They charmed me with every novel they adapted.

If you love sketch comedies and seeing the same great actors playing a variety of characters, skip over to and search for Tales from the Pub videos. Larry Blamire has assembled a fantastic troupe of players that spoof  Twilight Zone-type stories hilariously. Blamire leads Jennifer Blaire, Andrew Parks, Alison Martin, Brian Howe, Fay Masterson, Dan Conroy, Trish Geiger, and Kevin Quinn to create a world of silly spookiness that will bring a smile to your face. Since laughter is the best medicine, just think of it as a prescription for a joyful, healthy week!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

Can We Be Silly for Just a Moment?

This morning I’m having a difficult time being serious. Last night our family watched Ladyhawke from 1985, starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. Now when this film came out, nobody considered it a comedy—at all. It’s a tragic love story, a fable perhaps, about a couple cursed by an evil bishop. It’s set in medieval France, and features sweeping vistas and castles and monasteries in ruins.

Why did I giggle nearly all the way through the movie?

I watched it with my husband (we were married the same year this film was released), my two sons, and my older son’s fiancé. The “kids” had never seen the movie, but they love Broderick from Ferris Bueller and Pfeiffer from Stardust.

Sam (son #1) says something like this: “This is one of those eighties movies that’s set in the dark ages but the music is still done with electric guitars.” Sean (son #2) leaned against my shoulder and he and I whispered silly comments throughout the show. He’s seventeen years old, and I really love that he still leans on my shoulder.

We appreciated that though the names were very French—Etienne, Isabeau, and Phillipe—the accents were all over the place. The boys especially liked that in the end credits, under “Titles and Visual Effects,” there was only a list of three people. Though credits a total of twenty-two people in that category, it’s still certainly a far cry from the hundreds of technicians listed in today’s movies. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that this is a film in which two of the main characters transform from humans to animals multiple times in the story.

This movie isn’t silly. We made it silly, with our “enlightened sophistication” and goofy mood, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. The point is that sometimes, despite the way things actually are, we need silliness. It’s good for us. Laughter is healthy exercise. Smiling keeps us young.

My family has a nice collection of silly movies and TV series. We enjoy the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, and especially the Bing, Bob and Dorothy ensembles. These are the masters of the classic madcap comedies. The one-liners and physicality of their shtick keep us giggling.

The same goes for Monty Python productions. They introduced the “Ministry of Silly Walks.” They understand and embrace the ridiculous. In the same way, Mel Brooks has assembled casts of comic geniuses for films like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Producers, and Spaceballs. Every one of these movies showcases the recommended daily allowance of stupid.

Larry Blamire’s casts of characters pay homage to the best of the B Movies, and provide us with memorable lines that embroider even the most serious situations with smiles. “Ranger Brad, I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in anything.”

Saturday Night Live (SNL), SCTV (Second City), MADtv, and In Living Color have also graduated celebrated idiots like Steve Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Gene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Jim Carey, Michael McDonald, the Wayans and many others.

This morning I asked Sean about his favorite silly movies, and I must say that my husband and I have raised our boys well. His favorites—in his own words—are “all of the Larry Blamire movies, The Three Amigos, and Princess Bride.” Good boy.

Comedy helps us deal with situations. It diffuses tension. It provides common ground with others. Highbrow comedy tests us, dark comedy reveals us, but slapstick comedy just allows us to be, and to enjoy it. Hooray for hilarity!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.