One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenfeffer incorporated
Laverne & Shirley theme song
schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt
schlimazel: a chronically unlucky person
Words flow from Yiddish/Hebrew/German words
Jerry Lewis is a one-man hero with 1,000 faces.
Some people first think of Jerry Lewis as the actor, director and co-writer of The Nutty Professor (1963)—where he played three characters in one movie. Others think fondly of his 45-year run as the host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day telethon, some think of him as the side kick of Dean Martin, and yet others recall his role in the Martin Scorsese directed film The King of Comedy (1982) which he co-starred with Robert De Niro.
But few think of Lewis as a real life college professor—so real that one of his students was George Lucas. From 1967 to 1977 he was an Adjunct Professor at the USC film school.
In 1971 Professor Lewis published a book called The Total Filmmaker which has long been out of print and copies are on sale at Amazon go for as high as $999.99. But since earlier this year the excellent website Cinephilia and Beyond has a PDF of the book available for free.
Today I’ll start a run of posts taken from that book. Here’s lesson one:
“I do not know that I have a carefully thought-out theory on exactly what makes people laugh, but the premise of all comedy is a man in trouble, the little guy against the big guy. Snowballs are thrown at the man in the black top hat. They aren’t thrown at the battered old fedora. The top-hat owner is always the bank president who holds the mort gage on the house, or he’s a representation of the under taker.
In the early days, working night clubs, I learned that taking a pratfall in a gray suit might get a few laughs. But I had to get up quickly and start another routine. Take the same fall dressed in a $400 tuxedo and I could stay on the floor for a minute. They would howl when the rich guy took the tumble.
Or it is the tramp, the underdog, causing the rich guy, or big guy, to fall on his ass. In this respect the sources of comedy are a simple matter of who’s doing what to whom. They include, of course, what the comedian does to himself.
Chaplin was both the shlemiel and the shlimazel. He was the guy who spilled the drinks-the shlemiel-and the guy who had the drinks spilled on him-the shlimazel. In his shadings of comedy, and they were like a rainbow, he also played a combination of shlemiel-shlimazel. In Modern Times, diving into six inches of water when he opens the back door, which is one of the great sight jokes in comedy-film history, he does it to himself.”
P.S. In an interview earlier this year on The Talk the 88-year-old Lewis said he began writing at the age of eight and that the idea for The Nutty Professor was to do a comedic version of Jekyll and Hyde. (Either the Robert Lewis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or one of the many movies based on that book.)