I now answer the burning question, what is the oldest gag ever put on film:
3 days ago I posted some videos of Pee-Wee Herman, and I have been thinking about his character.
The name Pee-Wee is not without importance. The name Pee-Wee supports his childlike character. He is small, and harmless. Such youthful behavior makes him non-threatening, so the audience indulges his behavior as they would a child. The silent film star Harry Langdon had a similar quality.
In the wrestling video, Pee-Wee gets in the ring with a buffed out pro-wrestler and plays out his schtick. But the wrestler can only get in his face. If the wrestler were to knock him down, it would be like hitting a child. He would be picking on someone half his weight. When Pee-Wee mocks the wrestler, we enjoy his fearlessness. We would love to say such things to the guy, but we don’t have the nerve. It is one of the clown’s age old priveleges, to ridicule the powerful, to say the things we won’t.
One of the basic concepts of the clown is to not follow the rules of educated society. Children don’t follow the rules of society simply because they have not learned them yet. It gives them a license for such behavior, and is one of the ways to begin the creation of a funny character.
Here is a re-post in honor of the release of the book: “Inside Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”
Back when I was a student at NYU, I had occasional jobs at Broadcast Arts, an animation studio just down the street. Runner, animation camera operator, and workshop manager for the first season of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Those were good times.
I’m very happy to see Pee-Wee back. I hope he takes his new live show on the road. Here is a “Digital Short that just aired on Saturday Night Live.
What I notice about Pee-Wee is he often promotes himself by hanging out with “tough guys” The contrast works really well. They all play along, and that’s what makes comedy happen.
This bit from a wrestling show really had me laughing:
And here he is at Sturgis with bikers
This guy demonstrates stereo technology that makes your eyes blink in sequence with the picture.
The video is very funny. Do you think this guy is faking it?
I must recommend the blog by Mark Kennedy, “The Temple of the Seven Golden Camels.” It is packed full of images and information from an active story artist. His post about comic obsession is particularly interesting to me. He describes the development of the horse Maximus in the film “Tangled”, including the inspiration from Tommy Lee Jone’s character from “The Fugitive.”
It is easy to think of comic obsession in cartoons. Wile E. Coyote’s obsession with the Roadrunner, Sylvester with Tweety, Scrat with the acorn.
If we consider the old expression “Nobody likes a quitter” to be true, then the inverse, “Everybody likes a character who will not quit no matter what” would also be true. Such characters earn our admiration.