Comedy Teams – The Penguins of Madagascar

The Dreamworks animated film “Madagascar” was about a group of animals who escape from a metropolitan zoo in an effort to return to the wilderness.  Like many animated films, it included secondary characters who have no purpose beyond  comic relief.  Such characters do not have the complex development arc to follow, so they can just be funny.  Those are the kinds of characters I really like.  In Madagascar, the secondary characters were a team of penguins following their own plan to escape from the same zoo.  As entertaining characters the penguins were successful enough that Dreamworks spun them off into their own television show, which is produced by Nickelodeon.

The four penguins are Rico, Skipper, Private and Kowalski.    Skipper is the leader, and speaks with a speedy patter reminiscent of hardboiled detective movies.   Kolwalski is the smart one.  He’s a genius who reportedly is unable to read.   I like his name because it was also a character in the old TV show “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”.  Tossing a Polish name into the mix used to be standard material in combat related stories.  Rico is a supposedly a “weapons and explosives” expert.  He is a sub verbal character who is able to regurgitate any thing they might need.  Private is the omega in the group, but he provides a simplicity that helps group from becoming too weird.  Why he has an English accent I don’t know.

When the show first aired, I watched an episode.  But I was disappointed.  It just didn’t work then, and I didn’t follow up.  But recently my nine year old was watching it, and I joined him.  I found it much funnier now.  I was continuously entertained, and at a brisk pace too.   It is an excellent cartoon, and the show also got me thinking about comedy teams.

I realized that comedy teams create their own reality.  Such teams are blissfully out of touch with what other people are thinking.  They develop a small society, reinforcing each others beliefs.  They understand each other where outsiders would be confused.  They develop language to suit their purposes, and their verbal stylings become a humor of their own.  The penguins all share the same delusions about their situation.  It’s like an improv comedy group where saying no stops the momentum.  They are a team, in the sense of a sports team who play together to win.   None of them would stop and say their plan is foolish, unless they had an even more foolish plan in mind.

Teams tend to have a leader, or at least a star.  Groucho was the most functional of the Marx Brothers, he could actually catch a woman or become president of a country.  Skipper is the alpha of the penguins, and he is somewhat paranoid.  He tends to get very dramatic about their situation, and the rest of them follow orders.  His over-reaction is often what drives the comedy.   The para-military theme of their operation allows for lots of action.

Another characteristic of great comedy teams is their energy.  Like the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges, the shear speed and determination of the penguins overwhelms the rest of the zoo society.  The “normal” world doesn’t have a chance.  The comedians also have strange talents that allow them to achieve things others can’t.

Also, comedy team members each have distinct and interesting styles.  They can break off individually, or into subgroups, and the dynamic changes and allows for fresh direction.  The variety adds depth to the individual personalities, and broadens the range of comedy.

Even though the penguins are funny, they are serious about what they do.  To balance the energy they are often interacting with the lighthearted disco dancing lemurs who also came from the first movie.   The lemurs form a team of their own, and the two teams in relation form a kind of comedy duo.  Serious team in contrast with silly team.

The Penguins of Madagascar were created by Eric McGrath and Eric Darnell.  The show is directed by Brett Haaland and Nick Filippi.

Floyd the Android – updated


Over the last several years I have spent much of my spare time creating a pair of short animated films. Since I think physical comedians are such good models for animators, I created a character of my own to practice with. His name is Floyd the Android. In February I finished the second of the two, very short films. One is called “Teleporter” and the other is “Dim Bulb” Each is under 2 minutes long.

I completed the films in early February 2011, and have been entering film festivals ever since.  So far he as been accepted into 26 films festivals.  Floyd does very well in children’s film festivals, having shown at the International Children’s film festivals in Chicago and Taiwan, and will be seen next month in New York.  At the Eugene International Film Festival it won “Best Animation Short Short”.  At the KROK International Festival of Animated Films it was awarded “Best TV Series” !  Not sure why they chose that, but I’ll take it.  Recently, the Love Your Shorts Film Festival in Sanford Florida awarded it “Best Animation.”  I was able to attend festivals in Coney Island, N.Y. and Mill Valley, California.  In the coming weeks, it will show at the Savannah International Animation Festival, the Monstra Festival in Portugal, and the Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Children and Youth, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I never considered doing a production blog for the films, since I was sure I wouldn’t have the time.  And I didn’t want to be one of those people who blog about films that never get finished.  But, once I’m done with festivals, I’ll post the films online, and begin a “post mortem” on this blog.  I’ll cover the whole history of Floyd, how he developed and what problems I had to overcome.  I’ll introduce the fine people who helped me.  I’ll discuss everything from my inspiration to the final product, where I succeeded, and where I failed.  All lessons for me that I’ll use in the future.  Thanks for reading!

Avner the Eccentric

Avner the  Eccentric is the stage name of Avner Eisenberg.  He has been performing as a vaudevillian/clown for decades, and runs a notable course in eccentric acting at the Celebration Barn in Maine.  I just ran across some videos on youtube, and wanted to share them.  He has great timing, and a nice rhythm to his acts, the result of years of practice.

Here he is a bit younger.

More Avner info here.

Promising new blog

Through twitter I have found an interesting new blog: NEW SLAPSTICK. Posted by Chris Michael, a UK based performer, it promises to be a source for practical advice on creating fun characters.

From the about page:

New Slapstick is about helping you to make visual comedy.

On this website, you’ll find information about how to write sight gags, analysis of successful performers and reviews of visual comedy shows – all designed to help you make your own shows and films.

I look forward to following what he has to say.

My new Tumblr blog/portfolio

I have put up my portfolio of drawings on Tumbler, and will start adding more in the coming weeks.   HERE IT IS.

Also, please visit my social network widgets to the right to find my twitter and linked in pages, as well as the facebook page for my short film “Floyd the Android.”

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