Saturday, April 12, 2014

Who's the Best... Physical Comedian?



david_b said...

John Ritter was TOPS, also nominate Bob Denver.or John Belushi..

William Preston said...

Though Michael Richards got noticed a lot for his physical humor during the Seinfeld run, Julia Louis-Dreyfus often pulled off great physical moments, and always threw her body into the role in hilarious and unexpected ways.

I remember when Téa Leoni was in the sitcom The Naked Truth that she was often compared to Lucille Ball for her talent with physical humor. She had a great sense of how to throw her body around.

But: Can anybody top Buster Keaton?

Humanbelly said...

I'm very, very old-school/traditionalist along these lines. Well-done, schticky, broad physical comedy has loooong been a subject dear to my heart (and I've been guilty of more than a little bit of it in my life. . . ).

I daresay it's not been in vogue in movies or on television (that I know of) for a long time. At least, not where it relies on the skills and timing of the actor themself. In a way, I'd almost bring up Jackie Chan again from yesterday, as he has long attributed Charlie Chaplain and Laurel & Hardy as some of his earliest influences. Hmm-- y'know who else is quite good (albeit slightly underused)? Dule Hill from PSYCHE. That man absolutely GETS IT when it comes to the development and execution of great schtick. It's never a matter of "acting funny" (which is forced, obvious, and decidedly un-funny), but is always generated organically by a) the circumstances the character is in, b) the needs of the character in that situation, and c) the character's sense of himself in the situation and his surrender to (or avoidance of) it. And then adding JUST ENOUGH exaggeration to enhance the physicality w/out pushing it into the realm of forced obviousness (I'm afraid I'm lookin' at you, Chevy Chase. . . ). So, for the current folks we see, I'm goin' w/ possible underdog, Dule Hill ("Gus").

And then there are the ZILLION old-timers: Red Skelton, Charlie Chaplain (a likely winner in a Bracketology event for this?), Dick Van Dyke, Lou Costello, The Three Stooges (not a personal favorite, really), Lucille Ball, Penny Marshall/Cindy Williams (brilliant in Laverne & Shirley), sometimes Jerry Lewis (and sometimes dreadfully not)-- but. . . I'm gonna go with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy for the historical win. Stan's comedy brilliantly adhered to the outline I mentioned above, and he brought Ollie's own natural gifts right along to the point where the Straight Man became a second comic force all his own. It's always organic, honest and developes naturally within the context of the piece. (Some definite issues w/ pace of dialog, perhaps-- but that was a long-standing problem w/ the directors they had--).

HB-- (probably not for the last time. . .)

Humanbelly said...

D'oh- how could I have forgotten to list Buster Keaton??

(see? told you I'd be back. . . )

And Bob Denver certainly deserves an honorary mention-- but I feel like he never quite reached the height of his potential. He was hi-flippin'-larious, yes, but I think he tended to rely totally on instinct and inherent ability-- he never really grew past a certain level as a comedian, and didn't compensate well even as he approached middle age (well, and there were was the drinking and such, I'm afraid. . . ). But he and Alan Hale at the top of their game STILL make me laugh out loud at bits I've seen a zillion times.


Paul said...

William and HB, Buster Keaton was the first name that came to mind when I read this. He set the bar so high that I believe it would be impossible for anyone to ever top him in my mind.
That being said, there are three more that are pretty darn close:
Harold Lloyd was also an incredible physical comedian, and even did much work after losing part of his right hand in an on-set explosion.
Charlie Chaplin, of course, is another one.
And, I will second HB's nomination(?) (You did say you'd "almost" bring him up.) Jackie Chan, from our discussion yesterday. There has certainly been no other star to have risked life and limb for his work in the way that Jackie has.

Edo Bosnar said...

Paul, the first name that actually came to my mind is Harold Lloyd. That guy was brilliant! Although I agree, Keaton was really the Jedi master in this field.

William, totally agree with you about Julia Lous-Dreyfus. And HB, Dule Hill would have never occurred to me, but thinking about it I have to say I totally agree.

Another really strong contender here is John Cleese - not just for stuff like the Ministry of Funny Walks (or whatever it was called) and countless other Monty Python bits, but also pretty much the entirety of Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, etc. And it's not just when he's doing weird and funny things, contortions, etc. with his body; often when he's delivering lines, his posture and facial expressions are so much a part of what makes him so hilarious.

By the way, sorry David, I just can't agree about John Ritter. I never, ever understood why people found him funny (and by extention, why Three's Company was so popular). I found all of his attempts at being funny just the opposite...

Humanbelly said...

Y'know, Edo, considering that we're pretty much separated by most of the diameter of planet Earth, I'm perpetually surprised at how often we're on the same page. I was starting to type John Cleese's name into a response via my phone-- but then HBGirl comes poppin' out of dance, and it was time to go. He's a perfect example of what I was talking about above. The physicality exists as an extension of the character, not necessarily as external comic "bits"-- although lord knows he was dead-solid in the stock bit realm, as well. I'd actually put him pretty high on an over-all list, I think-- certainly above Jerry Lewis and the Stooges.

And both you and Paul make a deserved nod to Harold Lloyd. Geeze, that guy was some stuntman-- and remade at least a couple of silent films as talkies several years later (THE FRESHMAN comes to mind), when you'd think age would have held him back. I think, though, that Chaplain had the advantage over him in artistry, and Keaton had the edge as recognizable comic "type". Even w/ the trademark glasses Lloyd always came off as a rather hapless straight man to me-- good lookin' fella, too.

I'm still sticking with Stan Laurel, though. FAR subtler than his peers in many ways, and you often don't realize how physically brilliant he is because the physicality "happens" to his character a lot. Quick clue-- in the (rather dreadful)MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS, Stan has this ongoing bit where he whacks flipped "peewees" out of the air with a little stick. I have no idea what that's even supposed to be about, but--- he never misses a swing. Never. There's no editing, no tricks. He hits every stupid one, simply because it's a requirement of the action. Just. . . just try it yourself, you'll see why I admire him so much.


Anonymous said...

Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan are undoubtedly the upper pantheon of the genre. Dule Hill John Cleese Michael Palin are guys that, once I found them, found them to be funny. But pound for pound, day in and day out, the guy who truly delivers every single time.....

Gonzo. What ever he is, he's funny.

The Prowler (if chickens get you, you're the master).

Humanbelly said...

I was going to do a shout-out to Daffy Duck on the strength of the "Duck,Rabbit,Duck!" trilogy alone.

(Doug, feel free to remove my inadvertently doubled post up there. . . )


Dr. Oyola said...

Harpo and Chico (and Lucille Ball)

Like this

Anonymous said...

I love John Ritter in Three's Company but I gotta give my vote to Mr. Harold Lloyd - that image of him hanging from that clock tower is so iconic! This was before the era of stuntmen/body doubles!

- Mike 'physically comedic - but not by design!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

William said...

I'll give a big shout out to Curly Howard.

Along with Moe Howard, Larry Fine, (and later Shemp Howard and others), The Three Stooges definitely rank among the all-time kings of physical comedy.

Anonymous said...

I love the classics, but there is a modern genius out there right now....and he's appearing in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

John C. Reilly can do it all, his excellence as an actor is magnified as the bumbling Dr Steve Brule on Adult Swim's CHECK IT OUT!. I think episodes are free to view on Adult Swim's site.
Not for all tastes, but is you like the humor of Tim and Eric, this show is hilarious.


Anonymous said...

(SNORT)John Cleese and "the Ministry of Silly Walks."

Garett said...

Harold Lloyd was great--saw The Freshman a few years ago, and it made me want to see more by him. Harpo Marx probably wins it for me though. He had a great range of comedy and expression without ever speaking, from the tender musical moments to zany action to surreal.

For modern guys, Jim Carrey is right up there. Check out his karate instructor skit from In Living Color. Mr. Bean Rowan Atkinson also.

Humanbelly said...

So many good shout-outs up above, yes.

I'm going to toss one last under-the-radar nomination for consideration, at least:

Hugh Laurie-- primarily for his delightful Bertie Wooster in "Jeeves & Wooster" w/ Stephen Fry. . . but also seen a bit in their earlier sketch series "A Bit of Fry & Laurie". There's a moment in a J&W episode where, while engaged in dialog, he unconsciously does a little kick/flip/catch move w/ a badminton racket that's easily missed even as it reveals an unguessed level of physical adeptness. . .


Unknown said...

I like comedy of Michael Richards, his timing of comedy is really good. You know he got award for his best performance in a comedy series. Ohh, how can I forget name of comedian Buster Keaton. He is also a great actor. But do you guys have some more lists of british comedian actors who are very popular or got award for any show?

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