“All humor is rooted in pain.”
Commedian Richard Pryor
“I think humour does save one’s sanity. We can go overboard with too much tragedy. Tragedy is, of course, a part of life, but we’re also given an equipment to offset anything, a defence against it. I think tragedy is very essential in life. And we are given humour as a defence against it. Humour is a universal thing, which I think is derived from more or less pity… Cruelty is a basic element in comedy. What appears to be sane is really insane, and if you can make that poignant enough they love it.
Interview with Richard Meryman
(via Diary of a Screnwriter and Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema by Jeffrey Vance)
If we slide the Internet of today back 100 years I think Charlie Chaplin would have been the first social media superstar. No question Chaplin would be all over Facebook, the first to have 1 million Twitter followers, and the first You Tube celebrity. His career producing, writing, directing, acting, editing, and composing music (and I think even shooting at times) began in 1914 with the short film Kid Auto Races At Venice, California.
Chaplin would sometimes get an idea in the morning and shoot it in the afternoon and edit it as soon as the film was developed. You can rack up some credits—and experience—making short films in a day or two. It was the popularity of his short films that opened the door for his comedic masterpiece features; The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940).
“The best ideas grow out of the situation. If you get a good comedy situation it goes on and on and has many radiations. Like the skating rink sequence [in The Rink]. I found a pair of skates and I went on, with everybody in the audience certain that I was going to fall, and instead I came on and just skated around on one foot gracefully. The audience didn’t expect it from the Tramp. Or the lamppost gag [in Easy Street]. It came out of a situation where I am a policeman, and am trying to subdue a bully. I hit him on the head with a truncheon, and hit him and hit him. It is like a bad dream. He keeps rolling his sleeves up with no reaction to being hit at all. Then he lifts me up and puts me down. Then I thought, well, he has enormous strength, so he can pull the lamppost down, and while he was doing that I would jump on his back, push his head in the light and gas him. I did some funny things that were all made off the cuff that got a tremendous laugh.”
Interview with Richard Meryman
The lamppost gag on Easy Street begins at the 4:45 mark of the link below. (Also notice that both Chaplin’s skating and lamppost examples build on key elements that also work for Hitchcock’s thrillers—anticipation, fear, irony and danger):
P.S. I don’t know what year that Chaplin interview was done but if it occurred in the last year of his life—1977—it’s possible when he said “I think humour does save one’s sanity,” he was referencing Jimmy Buffett’s song Changes in Latitudes , Changes in Attitudes—“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”— which got a lot of air time on the radio when it was released in 1977. Maybe not the case, but gives me a smile to think that’s the way it went down. The bottom line is if Jimmy Buffett and Charlie Chaplin agree on something it must be true. (Though it doesn’t quite explain why so many comedians/ court jesters have walked down the path of destruction . Could it be that while delivering the cure the messenger is killed?)
Telling the Truth=Humor
Tasting & Smelling Comedy (Tip #61)
The “Stuckinna” Plot (Tip #63)
The Bomb Under the Table (A Hitchcock phrase and something all classic movies are said to contain.)
Jerry Seinfeld (Part 2)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (part 1)