ACTOR OR COMEDIAN?
In Shakespeare’s time the roles were usually more clearly defined, even within each performance. You had your tragic kings and murderous behind-the-scenes wives and servants, and then you had your Bottoms, prancing about wearing a donkey’s head. Even if we now often don’t recognize the clowns, much less the “jokes” in Shakespeare, in its day everything was clear as, well the water in the River Avon!
Jump forward 350 years to Birmingham’s Tony Hancock, who in the 1950s and 60s was the highest paid and most gifted comedian in Britain. This is a man whose Hancock’s Half Hour used to empty pubs across the land so people could go home and listen to him on the radio for goodness sake! Tony decided to have a crack at being a movie star. Hancock’s only full length movies The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man are still my favorite movies, a brilliant comedian, furiously making satirical statements about art and society, left, right and bloody center, yet somehow his magic didn’t quite translate onto the big screen. Were we all too programmed to hearing The Lad Himself on the radio or jammed within the tiny frames of our black and white TV screens?
Then in the 1960’s there was the genius that was Peter Cook, invented modern British satire, single-handedly saved Private Eye magazine, godfathered the alternative comedy genre, and redefined the comedy duo with Dudley Moore. He had matinee movie idol features, he was tall, he wanted to be a movie star but Fate is a bastard and it turns out that brilliant though he was as a writer, monologist, and sketch comedian, Peter Cooke couldn’t act as such when it came to movies. It was his gammy-legged, short-arsed sidekick Dudley Moore who went on to become the lustful center of millions of women’s midnight fantasies. In my opinion Cooke’s best shot was Beddazzled (please avoid the Hollywood remake like the plague – the original doesn’t quite work but it probably won’t make you vomit popcorn into a bucket!). The original Bedazzled, is a sort of Swinging Sixties version of the Faust legend, had everything going for it, including Dudley to hold Peter’s hand and play the patsy. It should have been massive. But it wasn’t, somehow it doesn’t quite work.
And much as I dearly love their TV shows, the less said about Morcambe and Wise in The Intelligence Men, That Riviera Touch, and the like, the better.
But Eddie Izzard did a superb job in the FX series The Riches. Here was “real” acting with only the barest occasional comedic nod at the camera and a Hugh Laurie,House TV showbelievable, if somewhat geographically wandering, American accents, from both Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. Eddie also pops up in more than a few box office smashes, such as however many “Oceans” we’re up to so far.
There was Mark Addy from The Full Monty who quite unaccountable popped up with some sort of LAish accent on the hugely popular sitcom Married With Children, and was promptly paid a squillion dollars a show.
And finally to poor old evicted Hugh Laurie who made several squillion dollar a second, limping about, being grumpy and shouting at people on his way to solving baffling death scenarios in a badly-lit hospital somewhere in the twilight zone. Now he can definitely act anything you care to throw at him. God I hope he decides to go back to comedy. I could do with a good laugh.
(Please feel free to send comments with other examples of comedians who did or did not successfully make the leap from one genre to another. Thanks)
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