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.”

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

Physically Funny Females

Theater Licedei

In the history of comedy, funny female characters are greatly outnumbered by males. I won’t go into the historical debate about why this has been so, I just want to try to provide inspiration for animators to find new ways for women to get laughs. There is more to women in comedy than Lucille Ball.

In student animation videos women characters are often relegated to acting out a lip synced line from a romantic comedy. She’ll use girlish gestures like brushing the hair from her face. They are usually cute and appealing in VERY conventional ways.

I am here to show you how to not be conventional with your female characters. There are women in clown schools and theaters developing wonderful acts that go way beyond what animators are doing.

I was inspired to write this post when I stumbled onto some videos of women clowns from Teatr Licedei in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Licedei, BTW, means “Those who pull faces.” These women are bold pantomime comedians. The company appears to be an equal balance of men and women. I just chose the videos that feature the ladies.

In my book, I bring up “rivalry” as a comic starting point. Typically it is 2 male rivals for the attention of a female, like Popeye and Bluto. I have started to notice that when women are competing for the attention of a man, it is likely to be 3 or more. This is what happens in this next video. Note how each character has a signature way of moving.

I really like this next woman’s act. I should point out there is nothing about this act that makes it feminine. She uses the very same methods that male clowns have used for at least a century. She goes through excessive preperation for playing her tiny violin. She strikes strong poses and swings the bow with a beautiful arc. She pulls funny faces. It’s great physical performance regardless of gender.

This next one is a two part act. The first part is a parody of a ballet dance, but with some grotesque costuming. The woman does have some ballet skills, she can dance on pointe, which gives here license to get silly with the rest of it. The second part has three male clowns dealing with the leftovers of the first act.

What do you think of these acts? Would you like to see more? Do you know of any funny females you would like to others to know about? Please leave a comment below!

Frank Tashlin’s leg fetish.

Artists and Models
Promo image for Tashlin’s movie Artists and Models

Before Tim Burton, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton made the jump from animation to live action, there was Frank Tashlin, Looney Tunes director. Here is an interesting compilation of shots from both his cartoons and movies that illustrate his appreciation of women’s legs.

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