The Dark Side of Comedy
While laughing and coming up with a wide selection of old time shows
that were either variety and/or talk shows, we came upon a somber
moment. My coworkers and I had listed The Jackie Gleason Show, which
included a funny character named, “Crazy Guggenheim.” We had also talked
about how many of the talk show ‘hosts’ or ‘hostesses’ held cigarettes
in their fingers or had a amber colored beverage in their glasses.
Who doesn’t remember Dean Martin, for example, having a drink in
By the way, Frank Fontaine portrayed Crazy Guggenheim on both the
Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny shows. He died of 58 years old, about
to donate a check for heart disease studies. His heart attack was
a shock to those who loved him. He knew how to sing well, having
filled a whole album of the songs he sang, while Jackie G. portrayed
his famous alter ego, “Joe the Bartender.” Frank F. was famous for
his slurred speeches, his drunken behavior and his bug-eyed look
and facial expressions.
We thought that it was interesting how times ‘had changed’ and
decided there were “pro’s” and “con’s” to the past.
Let me insert a famous line from the movie, “A Night at the Opera,”
“Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and
necking in the parlor.”
This line was spoken by Groucho Marx, in his portrayal of the film’s
character, Otis B. Driftwood.
We know now that famous people are just like us, in many ways.
We also realize that, although there were “Time” and “Newsweek”
magazines trying to bring to the forefront of the population,
the downfalls of alcohol, drugs, gambling and smoking, there were
many disregarding the after effects, side effects and we did not
have such a stigma attached to these ‘bad’ habits. Two of us at my
lunch table on Thursday, became rather sad and quiet. They were
reflecting on recalled deaths of family members due to smoking and
cancer. One of us had experienced abusive, “mean drunks” for parents.
We decided that addictions, such as these, are still not considered
as ‘big of a deal.’ Society, in some ways, continues to ‘brush them
under the table.’
Even the subject of rehabilitation has had its lighter comedic film
moments. People either laugh, due to the antics and situations that
don’t seem real or out of being uncomfortable. It is hard to explain
why we laugh when someone runs into a wall, falls off a roof, or
trips and does a pratfall.
Treatment for the addictions, in the form of actually facing that
these ARE diseases, is important. Still, we felt a little sad
about the fun we had, when young and felt ‘invincible’ and our
lives, for the most part, had been impermeable to the aging
results of sometimes almost impossible challenges.
Slurred speech, in the ways a person sometimes cannot help it,
while in persons who have had a stroke, live with the challenge
of disabilities and speech delays are NOT FUNNY! We would not
laugh, hopefully, when someone has a speech ‘impediment!’
We still felt a little ambiguous, as we thought back upon the
variety of comedy skits that made us roar with uncontrollable
laughter. Melvin admitted to sometimes, while in the armed
forces, being drunk and thinking it was funny when his buddies
and he pulled pranks while drunk. It is considered a serious
offense, and if caught, these days, you could be court-martialed!
Melvin remarked, that in the ‘old war stories’ of the past, often
there would be stories of men ‘letting off steam.’ We also agreed
that the Viet Nam war movies, seemed to include a prevalent use
Who can forget Crazy Guggenheim’s humorous lines, his leaning
into a person, while breathing out his alcoholic breath? Who
cannot forget when there have been famous movies, with drunken
scenes, sometimes with innocent types of sloppy behaviors?
Who can forget the drunken orgies in “Animal House?”
Who has seen and enjoyed some teenaged or college-aged
movies (or personal memories) where it was very funny being
drunk or being around people who were high?
Who did not laugh (if they are above 40 years old) at Cheech
and Chong’s movie, “Up in Smoke?”
Adding, “Arthur,” with Dudley Moore and The Benny Hill Show,
to the mix, we had international connections of drinking in
movies and television shows.
I have seen Doris Day, Sandra Dee, Humphrey Bogard, Elizabeth
Taylor, Richard Burton and other classic actors and actresses
who have done scenes where they portrayed alcoholics. Some
were quite dramatic and serious roles with “mean” and “sloppy”
drunken roles as their focus. Yet, some were fun ‘romp’ movies
where the drunks were silly.
A lot of comedies include either drugs, alcohol or addictions,
going over the top in their portrayals.
There are also famous movies with the dark and angry side of
“Days of Wine and Roses” and “Leaving Las Vegas” come to mind.
We have moved forward in some ways, then stepped back, too.
After all, we still have three “Hangover” movies…
I still will watch comedy sketches with the Saturday Night
Live crew, some who are great at making me laugh, acting
silly while stumbling around and falling down drunk.