Hey, slapstick fans! Learn how to pratfall in three easy steps! Practice several times on this very stage until you can do it without breaking any bones, just like a professional Hollywood stuntman or classic entertainer!
One of my favorite stops on our 2020 vacation was the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy in his hometown of Vincennes. The exhibits cover his seventy years in the entertainment business from early theater to post-retirement art, provide context for visitors with little to no knowledge of The Way Things Used to Be in Hollywood mass media, and, if you string enough leftover photos in just the right sequence, build your own template to a successful comedy career. All you need is patience, talent, and/or an idol to copycat. That’s not how Skelton did it, but he isn’t around to stop you, now is he?
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Then came 2020 A.D.
Even in an ordinary average year, sometimes you really need to get away from it all. In a year like this, escape is more important than ever if you can find yourself one — no matter how short it lasts, no matter how limited your boundaries are. Anne and I had two choices: either skip our tradition for 2020 and resign ourselves to a week-long staycation that looks and feels exactly like our typical weekend quarantines; or see how much we could accomplish within my prescribed limitations. We decided to expand on that and check out points of interest in multiple Indiana towns in assorted directions. We’d visited many towns over the years, but not all of them yet.
In addition to our usual personal rules, we had two simple additions in light of All This: don’t get killed, and don’t get others killed…
A good comedian needs jokes. Sure, you could just spout random sentences with lots of F-bombs added, but Skelton went with jokes, of which there are numerous types. Longtime MCC readers may have noticed my soft spot for puns.
Modern audiences often misuse “pun” to mean “any joke that sounds annoyingly old-fashioned”. Not every joke cast in a time-honored mold is a pun. Other kinds of jokes float freely all around us like stinging insects.
Skelton was more than just the forefather of Dad Jokes. He was also a skilled practitioner of physical comedy. He was performing silly walks long before Monty Python suggested the British government ought to regulate them.
Jim Carrey once taught us distorted, unnatural expressions are an awesome way to amuse and baffle others. The museum has mirrors to encourage funny-face practice. It’s hard to tell in the Age of Coronavirus, but trust me: my doppelganger and I are crushing it here.
Before audiences could see performers, wacky comedy noisemakers were a critical communication tool to convey YOU ARE LISTENING TO WACKINESS. Alas, some would argue the comedy noise industry jumped the shark with the Police Academy guy and never truly recovered.
Once you’ve done good comedy hundreds of times in a row, producers may stop treating you like chattel and begin doling out perks, such as your own furniture on set.
Wherever you perform, know your audience and your medium. Puns and wacky noises went over like gangbusters with the millions of Americans who tuned in nightly to their old-time radios, back in yesteryear when everyday America looked exactly like A Christmas Story.
Exaggerated expressions and goofy gaits and smiling self-harm were useful tools in Skelton’s toolkit whenever he performed on the vaudeville circuit, in burlesque clubs, and across visual media. It’s a proud moment when your name is plastered across the top of a marquee in giant letters, as opposed to being plastered across the bottom in tiny letters because you’re the opening act for Geechy Guy.
Stick with comedy long enough and maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll be commended for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence, as when Skelton received this Governors Award during the 1986 Emmys telecast from presenter Lucille Ball.
Amass enough of a viewing catalog throughout the course of your career, and future generations will spend enormous time and resources trying to retrieve your oldest gigs from decaying storage media such as tapes and films before they turn to dust and evidence of your talents disintegrates with them. At least you’ll have your memories, for as long as those last.
Best-case scenario: someone builds a museum just to tell paying customers how and why you were hilarious and your works deserve to be remembered. Worst-case scenario: you say something deeply tasteless on the internet exactly once and people dwell on that for all eternity instead. And we hate to see it: just like that, a wacky crackerjack who yaks smack gets sacked as a tacky hack.
To be continued!
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[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]
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