A Laughing Matter, from Photoplay, December 1976
From Photoplay, December 1976:
- A Laughing Matter
Gordon Gow has been asking some top laughter-makers what and who makes them laugh
LOTS of comedy stars are serious people. The clown who always wanted to play Hamlet has handed down the urge through the ages. But there are still plenty who enjoy having a good laugh themselves.
A big influence on Terry Scott was the dry wit of Jack Benny. "His timing and rhythm were fabulous. I studied him, and worshipped him. And I laughed a lot at Hancock, of course. It was the greatest disappointment of my life when his comedy went off, because he felt he had to prove he could do something more. He didn't need to. He was fabulous already."
Barbara Windsor gets no guffaws out of humour that is too broad. Custard pie battles leave her cold. "Except when I'm participating, as I did in one of the Carry Ons. I was really on the receiving end, too. They said it was the kind of experience that separates the women from the girls, and I guess it proved my womenhood. So I like doing it, but not watching it. I'm not a lover of slapstick. I like the Road pictures with Bing and Bob. And for me there's nobody to touch the Marx Brothers. If one of their old movies is coming on telly, I won't go out that night."
Michael Palin, who's been filming Jabberwocky, as you might expect from a brainy Python, finds it difficult to hold back his chortles as he moves through the streets. "The other day I passed a vet's, and there was a queue of animals outside: a big dog with a bandage round his middle, a hamster with an eyepatch. I expected any moment to see a goldfish with a fin in a sling.
"Awful of me, isn't it? I feel like laughing all the time but I try not to. If you do, people think you ought to be put away.
"I appreciate Woody Allen's movies. They're glorious. Bananas got me totally on my funnybone. But usually I go to see some dark, gloomy, tragic film for a change from comedy. I saw Taxi Driver when I was in New York, and coming out into the street afterwards I must say I thought twice about hailing a cab."
Robert Morley also sees the funny side of things that sterner souls would not find funny at all. "I love it when the plumber forgets his tools. I love it when people walk into cupboards when they think they're leaving the house.
"My favourite funny man is Phil Silvers as Sergeant Bilko. I never really cared for Chaplin. I never was able to laugh at Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. I thought they took a long time to get to the joke, and a lot of other people had to work very hard to lead them to it./ But Bilko always hit the joke straight away, and didn't need to have a great many people feeding him."
For June Whitfield "people more than comics are funny. People you see by chance. Especially if they're pompous - then they're automatically hilarious.
"But Laurel and Hardy bring a smile to my face before they even start. It's their simplicity more than anything. They never over-do it. I've lost count of the times I've seen The Music Box, where they take that piano up all those stairs and it slips and goes all the way down again. I know it's going to happen, but I'm always intrigued by just how long the pause will be before it does. And I never fail to laugh at it."
On the other hand there is a kind of laughter-maker who makes no sound. Melvyn Hayes is in this bracket. "My wife says, 'You're laughing inwardly, aren't you?' And she's right," says Melvyn, "but time and time again I can be enjoying a show or just watching the way the wheels go round, and I just laugh to myself. Nobody hears me.
"Sometimes, mind you, your sense of humour is really put to the test. When we were shooting Carry On, England. I had a scene where Windsor Davies had to jump on my back and then crash to the ground. He's a big man, you know, and there was a lot of force in that leap. Also in his fall. And when the 'take' was completed, everybody in the unit came crowding around him and asking him if he was all right. I suppose that was because he made such a noise when he crash-landed. But I was crawling away limp, and nobody took a blind bit of notice. That was funny, of course. But it took me a minute or two before I could see the joke. Then I laughed inwardly.
"Nearly all my laughs are inward ones. I used to laugh out loud at other comedians, but not now. I guess I'm thinking about the way they work. There are plenty I enjoy watching: Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd."
And what of Kenneth Williams? Is life for him one constant howl of glee, or is he perhaps the serious type? After all, there was a time when he gave a dramatic performance as the Dauphin in Bernard Shaw's "St Joan" on the stage. And it is only his dazzling success in comedy, I'm sure, that holds him back from the straight acting career that could equally well be his.
"It isn't easy to think of something that makes me laugh," he said when I asked him. "Well - I can think of one thing, yes. The chimps in that television commercial for tea. I get the giggles whenever I see them, and I can't stop for several seconds."