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.

Rickey Gervais on how Laurel and Hardy have influenced him.

Ricky Gervais on the radio describing what he learned from Laurel and Hardy, and how he uses it in his work.

The Six Varieties of Physical Comedy

M. Wilson Disher wrote “Clowns and Pantomimes” which was published in 1925. He lays out six varieties of physical comedy. These are:

FALLS, BLOWS, SURPRISE, KNAVERY, MIMICRY, and STUPIDITY

FALLS. Easily the first one to come to mind. Gravity reminds us we are not special. The more important or serious the person is, the funnier it is when they fall. There are many combinations of people and ways of falling. It’s really about the set up, and also about having a reasonable belief that the person isn’t seriously injured. It’s about making them look foolish.

BLOWS This is the bread and butter of the Three Stooges. It’s also the category that pie fights fall into.

SURPRISE One reason Buster Keaton was considered a great film maker was his ability to set up surprises. You are all set to see one thing, then he gives you another. There are two good surprises in this clip from his short film “One Week.”

KNAVERY is the sneaky stealing of things. The sly trickster is appealing. He is the partner of stupidity. I immediately thought of Harpo Marx.

MIMICRY. You probably noticed the brief moment of mimicry in the previous clip. When someone pretends to be some one or something else, it is funny. Dressing in drag is a form of mimicry. The greater the skill, the greater the comedy. Jim Carrey has great skill and he pushes the exaggeration as far as he can.

STUPIDITY. Here’s the problem with demonstrations of stupidity: The professionals have been pushed out of the market by the amateurs. I’m talking about “fail” videos. Damn if there aren’t lots of cameras trained on lots of stupid people. But we want to see how the professionals act stupid. The comedy of mistakes. It’s about seeing things wrong, being confused, but it’s also seeing things in a different way. The stupid character misinterprets directions and repeatedly makes the same mistake over again. Stan Laurel was one of the great stupid comedians.

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