Where Homer Simpson got his “D’oh”

James Finlayson and Homer Simpson.

Where did Homer Simpson get his “D’oh!”? I have been reading Mixed Nuts by Lawrence J. Epstein. It’s about comedy teams in America. In a section on Laurel and Hardy, he has this little tidbit:

Most comedy teams had an authority figure to balance a rebellious spirit– a straight man to rein in the comic. But not Laurel and Hardy. Ollie thought he was in charge and acted as though he were a parent or older sibling, but, of course, he clearly wasn’t.

Innovating, Laurel and Hardy deployed someone outside the team to play the straightman. Jimmy Finlayson, popularly called fin, was the outsider they most often used. Finlayson inadvertently made a contribution to American culture. Because of censors, Finlayson was not allowed to swear in the movies. He wanted, however to express annoyance, and where he would ordinarily have used the word “damn,” he substituted a sound, ”D’ooooh” one famous scene in which he does this is in Way out West, when he is trying to pass off one woman for another to get a deed to a gold mine. He calls out the woman’s name, expecting the imposter to appear, but the real woman shows up. He is intensely frustrated and lets out his “D’oooohh.” Years later, Dan Castellaneta was hired to be the voice of the animated character Homer Simpson and was reading a script in which he was called upon to make an “annoyed grunt.” He asked Matt Groening, the series creator, what that meant and was told to make whatever sound he wished. Castellaneta imitated Finlayson. Groening told him to speed the sound up and “D’oh” was born.

Jackie Chan: Tips for animators

John Towsen has posted a couple of great videos from Jackie Chan on how he develops his action scenes. The videos are from a hard to find DVD “My Stunts”. But it’s all available on youtube in 10 parts. It’s totally worth watching to better understand what it takes to create exciting entertainment.

The great silent comedians were all first-rate stuntmen. Jackie Chan was a great stunt man who also became a star. Watching him work is probably very similar to the way Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd made movies. It’s great to see a filmmaker who isn’t locked into a screenplay for his work. He’s clearly thinking about the audience and how to be entertaining, on a small budget.

Here is part 1.

In part 2 Listen for the phrase “let the audience know”. He choreographs to make it clear for the audience what he’s doing.

In part 3, we see a lot of falls. There are lots of exciting shots in this part.

Part 4 has examples of on-set gag development.

In Part 5 they use toy cars to develop ideas for how to have cars perform stunts as if the cars were actors. Jackie’s stunt lab is introduced in this part.

Part 6 gets into wire work. It’s interesting how they use small wire effects to build up regular stunts. By making feet fly out from under an actor, they create a much more powerful impact. I wonder if animation needs more glass breaking.

Towards the end of part 7 he displays his research room, where he collects photos and ideas for stunts in future movies.

Part 8 is all about improvisation with whatever objects he finds, as well as adding flourishes and comedy and making it “pretty”. Setting up falls to have visual impact.

Part 9 shows the work that goes into getting good takes that have a natural rhythm, precise timing and good composition.

Part 10 Jackie shows how he demonstrates character in his action. “You have to be yourself, and more creative.”

Conducting Comedy

With his black tie and tails, serious expression, leading classical music, the conductor of an orchestra is the epitome of high culture. That makes him the perfect target for parody. The musicians synchronizing to every motion is why the clown can work so well with the challenge. I have found several entries that show how different comedians take different approaches. One situation, many possibilities.

This could be an animation exercise. Pick a piece of music, and animate a conductor who does his or her job in an unorthodox manner. Does he get carried away? Is she bored? Is he checking his phone while working? Below are some classic examples to broaden your exposure to this common theme.

Here is a classic example form Denis Lacombe.

What prompted this post was my viewing of “One Good Turn” starring Norman Wisdom. He happens to be wearing a tuxedo and gets mistaken for the maestro who is late for the show. He takes a clever turn by having the baton stuck to his hand and not noticing the orchestra is following him. Once he’s thrown off, he continues to milk the situation for comedy.

And here is Weird Al Yankovic with a surprisingly physical turn.

Rowan Atkinson has his version:

Jerry Lewis starts to seem mild in comparison to some of these.

Mickey Mouse in the famous Disney short, “The Band Concert”.

Do opera singers have conductors? Bugs Bunny will make it happen.

And thanks to Matt Moses, I am adding this from the great Victor Borge:

My Little Pony and Commedia dell ‘arte

Youtube user Gimrak created this interesting comparison of My Little Pony characters to those found in the Italian commedia dell ‘arte. The rennaisance theater known as the commedia dell’arte gave the world a cast of characters that is still considered the foundation for archetypes in comedy. It was a robust style of theater worthy of the attention of animators.

While I very much appreciate anyone who takes the time to bring classic comedy education to animation, I would like to add my thoughts to his. I have no doubt he knows My Little Pony way better than I do, but I have researched the commedia pretty well.

His comparison of Fluttershy to Pedrolino is convincing. As is comparing Pinky Pie to Arlecchino. Trixie is clearly a braggart coward like Capitano.

However, the Italian Dottore (doctor) is more a fool than the pony counterparts he invokes. Discord, in MLP, seems to hold the role of a leading villain, which is more than lower/middle class Pulcinella would ever assume. He refers to zanni as a female character. The original Zanni was male, and later the name was extended to a class of characters.

I was unfamiliar with Flavio and Vittoria, probably because they are lesser known members of the inamorata, (the lovers) so I was glad to learn a little something about them. I hope that this video and post will inspire those in animation to learn more about the roots of cartoon comedy. My book is devoted to giving those in animation a solid understanding of comedy history. Click the image at the bottom to go to Amazon. Also, I have a few other posts on the topic, HERE IS A LINK to the topic here.

Comedy for Animators on Amazon

Animated Acting: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder was a tremendous comic actor. I have assembled a few videos, with some text for animators to add to their understanding of comedy. This first one focuses on Wilder’s mastery of timing. While a fast pace is often conducive to comedy, knowing when to pause can help build a laugh.

Stories are about revealing character. Therefore, it goes without saying that characters are not always what they seem to be. Often they learn and grow and change. Other times, they are simply misunderstood. Wreck-It Ralph is misunderstood. He’s the “bad guy” who wants to be a hero. But sometimes, characters present themselves in a way to intentionally mislead those around them. It has become rather common in Disney films to have the real bad guy be someone nobody suspected. In Wreck-it Ralph, King Candy seems relatively harmless until it’s revealed he is out to destroy other games.

Wilder’s Wonka is a good example of a good character who misleads. He is extremely controlling, and this is one way he controls his interactions. He doesn’t want to be vulnerable. Wonka’s sudden explosion of anger at the end of the movie is a turn in the character arc that is just plain shocking. Of course, he reveals his true motives at the end of the same scene. It is not in the original book and is a brilliant moment added by the filmmakers. I assume nearly everyone reading this has seen Willy Wonka, and remembers Wonkas first appearance, when he limps out towards the crowd, then stumbles and does a flip. You can see it in my 10 Types of Comedic Entrances video. In this animated video, Wilder explains how his entrance into the movie was part of this character’s style.

For a kids movie, Wonka’s outburst is really strong and I am impressed by how he didn’t hold back. This remixed video highlights Wilder’s animated acting.

This next video observes how Gene Wilder didn’t always have to be the center of attention. He could share the spotlight in the interest of the story.

Gene Wilder died in 2016, and every television network devoted time to remember him. Here is just one of those memorials.

If you want to learn more about comedy and animation, click the image below.

Comedy for Animators on Amazon
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