24 August 2004
If you're of a certain age, you hear Jackie Gleason as Joe the Bartender, calling offstage to Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim, and then going through some of the oldest shtick in the vaudevillian's trunk.
And very likely, you loved it. I did. Larry Miller did. And you were always amazed at how that ancient lush was able to turn off the tics and the popping eyes and the slurred speech just long enough to sing one of the Old Songs exactly the way it was supposed to be sung, only better.
He may have been a lush, perhaps, but he wasn't ancient: in 1962, when Gleason signed him up for his variety show, Frank Fontaine was only forty-two. He sang because he'd always sung; he'd fronted Vaughn Monroe's big band in the Forties before discovering that he could also be funny.
Today, it takes two parts snark, one part misplaced irony, and two parts loudness, blended not especially well, to produce a unit of Standard Comedy Product. Sometimes it's even amusing. But more often than not, I'm wondering just where the change came, and just who it was who decided that the proper place for comedy was right in the audience's face.
Probably the same guy who decided that the Old Songs should be warehoused at the museum, I guess.
(Courtesy of Dawn Eden, who wasn't there, but who understands just the same.)