Monday, May 16, 2005

Comic influences

Ever wonder who or what shaped your sense of humor? Not counting family and friends - who would no doubt top the list of everyone’s comic influences - who are the people who most influenced what you find funny today? Everyone has a slightly different sense of humor that is almost as distinct as a fingerprint. What makes some people guffaw at pie-in-the-face slapstick while others quietly smirk at highbrow satire?

I’ve compiled a list of the 35 top comic influences on my sense of humor. They are in no particular order other than how quickly they came to mind, which in itself may be some indication.

Steve Martin - Before the movies and books and plays and New Yorker essays, I was a big Steve Martin fan having practically memorized his Wild and Crazy Guy comedy album in junior high school.

Robin Williams - First there was Mork. Then there was the “Reality... What a Concept” comedy album. He could have stopped there and earned his spot on the list.

Richard Pryor - His double album “Wanted - Richard Pryor” was the other comedy record along with the above two that dominated my high school years.

Groucho Marx and the Marx Brothers - The Rosetta Stone of comedy in America influencing everyone from Bugs Bunny to Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce character on MASH.

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby - The Road pictures established the kind of wry, wink-at-the-camera type of comedy that continues to influence comedy films to this day.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - Classic slapstick by two of the masters of the genre.

Woody Allen - I like his early movies best - “Take the Money and Run”, “Bananas”, “Sleeper” but also appreciate his later work.

Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck - My two favorites of the Warner Brothers stable.

Donald Duck and Goofy - Ditto with Disney.

Charlie Chaplin - I saw “The Gold Rush” as part of a film appreciation class in college and have apprecidated Chaplin ever since.

Buster Keaton - The same with “The General”.

The Three Stooges - They took slapstick humor to a new level that has never been equalled.

Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner - The core of the original Saturday Night Live team.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis - I haven’t seen all of their movies yet but I intend to.

Eddie Murphy - Dominant comedian of the 1980s with “48 Hours” and “Beverly Hills Cop”

George Burns and Gracie Allen - I snag copies of their TV and radio shows at every opportunity.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello - The “Who’s On First” routine would have been enough to merit entry.

Jack Benny - Armed Robber: “You’re money or you’re life!” (long pause) Benny: “I’m thinking it over.”

Danny Kaye - “The Court Jester” is one of my all time favorite movies along with “The Inspector General”

Bill Cosby - From Fat Albert to the Cosby Show he never stopped being wise and funny.

George Carlin - I don’t usually find foul language funny, but when George Carlin compiles a list of the Things You Can’t Say on Television you can’t help but laugh.

Johnny Carson and Jay Leno - Their topical late-night routines have defined what is funny for most Americans these past several decades.

Billy Crystal - “Running Scared” “When Harry Met Sally” “City Slickers” and his Academy Award hosting all helped cement his place on the list.

Jim Carrey - Not always my style of humor, but no denying his vast influence on comedy today.

Weird Al Yankovic - The thing I miss most about MTV music videos are his parodies of current hits. In fact, in many cases I enjoy his parody version of songs better than the original.

Lucille Ball - I grew up watching her in re-runs.

Carol Burnett - The Carol Burnett Show was a staple of my life growing up.

Monty Python - See, the British really do have a sense of humor.

Benny Hill - And a risque one, at that.

Tim Conway and Don Knotts - I wish they had done more Apple Dumpling Gang-type movies together.

Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong - Comic geniuses of the stoned age.

Peter Sellers - Pink Panther and Dr. Strangelove - quite a career span.

Red Skelton - Set the standard for comedy shows on television.

The Smothers Brothers - Yo-Yo Man!

Mel Brooks - “Blazing Saddles” is one of the funniest films of all-time.


Mark Harden suggests I consider adding Andy Kaufman. I do not disagree. Although I was not a regular viewer of Taxi in its hey day, I have seen enough to know that Kaufman was a major talent behind the scenes.

Some further additions. I should not overlook the funny pages as a constant source of my sense of humor and some of the folks who made it so:

Charles Schulz - Peanuts
Berke Breathed - Bloom County, Opus
Scott Adams - Dilbert
Gary Larson - The Far Side
Bill Watterson - Calvin and Hobbes
Bill Amend - Fox Trot

Also, it would have been difficult for anyone from my generation to have avoided being influenced for good or bad by

Mad Magazine
Cracked Mazagine

And let’s not forget Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the creators of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

D’Oh! I almost forgot The Simpsons!

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