Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair with Comedy Teams from Burns and Allen to Belushi and AykroydHardback
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- Publisher: PublicAffairs,U.S.
- Format: Hardback | 304 pages
- Dimensions: 163mm x 239mm x 33mm | 635g
- Publication date: 12 October 2004
- Publication City/Country: New York
- ISBN 10: 1586481908
- ISBN 13: 9781586481902
- Illustrations note: 8pp b&w photographs
From nineteenth-century vaudeville to contemporary sitcoms, comedy teams have made people laugh. Those teams were masters of the comic craft and gave to the world a particularly American art form. And, more than that, they were funny. Lawrence J. Epstein has written a joyful, celebratory history of America's finest comedy teams from Burns and Allen and Laurel and Hardy through the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to the Smothers Brothers and beyond. It's a story of the classics of comedy and, at the moment of the apparent eclipse of comedy teams, of their unexpected rebirth. Although for comedians success is fickle and failure brutal, comedy teams couldn't resist the lure of celebrity and the remarkable explosion of the popular media of radio, film, and television. These were platforms from which to speak to an emerging nation in often troubled times; and when the times were hardest, the nation looked to its most cherished comic teams to cheer it up. Filled with telling anecdotes and hilarious routines, Mixed Nuts is the story of how America created comedy teams and how successive teams reflected America back to its people, meeting its deepest needs, tackling its most sensitive issues and mocking its pomposities. And always for laughs.
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Lawrence J. Epstein is an English professor and the author of "The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America." He frequently lectures on American popular culture and lives with his wife and family on Long Island, New York.
Entertainment enthusiast Epstein (The Haunted Smile, not reviewed) plays straight man to the comics who didn't work alone. Like the best straight men, he has a ready knowledge of what gets laughs. Since the first tambourine was slapped in a minstrel show, comedy has been delivered by teams. In vaudeville and burlesque a century ago, new Americans had the "Dutch" (German dialect) pairing of Weber and Fields, the baggy-pants repartee of Gallagher and Shean, the shtick of Smith and Dale, and the schoolroom sketches that nurtured, among others, the anarchic Brothers Marx. Rising from among the acrobats, dog, seal, and dance acts to headline at the Palace was a boy-girl act that became emblematic of the best, hardest-working, and most enduring teams: Burns and Allen. They conquered radio along with Lum and Abner, Fibber and Molly, Amos and Andy. The movies boasted Laurel and Hardy (of whose contribution Epstein offers a tidy analysis), Abbott and Costello (with the full text of "Who's on First"), and the overwhelming Stooges. Postwar favorites included Martin and Lewis and the pick-up team of Hope and Crosby. Television brought pseudo teams like the Kramdens, Lucy and Ethel, and the Smothers Brothers. We are left, in the twilight of funny teamwork, with SNL and little more. The tradition seems displaced by stand-up and troupes that certainly aren't inclined to spend their professional lives together. Where are Bob and Ray when we need them? Where is Harry Ritz yelling "don't holler" at his brothers? Alas, they are gone. Not even the echo of a rim shot remains, though Epstein recalls enough hoary stories, burnished to a vaudeville shine, to satisfy most assiduous buffs. More importantly, he offers sharp appreciation of the work, the timing, the language, and the carefully created characters: the actual craft of those who practiced comedy in tandem. Seriously, folks, here's a kindly appraisal of the slapstick, sight gags, and banter-in short, the artistry-of some lively two- and three-acts of yesteryear. (b&w illustrations) (Kirkus Reviews)