Showing posts with label Rodney Dangerfield. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rodney Dangerfield. Show all posts

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Don’t You Dare Go Gentle

He’s so unhip that when you say ‘Dylan’, he thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was. The man ain’t got no culture.
Simon and Garfunkel
“A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)” 

While “Rhymin’ Simon” was likely referencing British poet Dylan Thomas with a tongue-in-cheek approach, the snarky aside nevertheless addressed a cultural divide between the Sixties counterculture and their literary forbearers in the previous era.

Thomas, born in Swansea, Wales in 1914, became an early admirer of the work of Yeats and Poe and soon ascended to national attention himself while still in his youth. He would eventually garner world acclaim as one of the premiere poets of the English-speaking world, broadcasting for the BBC as a means of supporting himself and later recording his own works for a series of record albums in the U.S.

In 1934 he published his first book 18 Poems during which time his work took on its characteristic style highlighting romantic imagery and aesthetic rhythmic style. The “images” he created, particularly ripe with conflict and contradiction, were evident in his best known work including “And death shall have no dominion” and “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

After working on a number of screenplays and several tours of America, Thomas passed away in 1953. His hard-drinking ‘Dionysian’ image which fell him has since influenced everyone from Charles Bukowski to Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Like many of my own generation, my primary reference point regarding Thomas would (regrettably) be the recitation of his most renowned work by Rodney Dangerfield in the hit movie, Back to School where the comedy legend learns the poem to get through a mandatory exam. That should be satisfactory enough for most, however, considering the Minnesota folk-rocker who adopted Thomas’s name and rode it to stardom himself apparently didn’t even know how it was pronounced at first.

That all goes to show that the cyclical nature of art and communication for that matter can be irrelevant in its details. The proliferation of what we experience through words, images, juxtapositions and patterns are what we pass on and remember— when all is said and done.

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Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire (image)
Christopher Robinson, Writer Extraordinaire 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Jabber Mania

What stands out among your beloved shows in television’s golden years of entertainment? The Sopranos? MASH? Law and Order?

All pale in comparison to the paragon of excellence in that pantheon of classics known as... yes, I’m referring, of course, to Jabberjaw! Everyone’s favorite wise-cracking land shark was the titular character of a fondly remembered Saturday morning cartoon (they called them that before ‘animated series’ became the preferred ‘respectable’ term).

The fastidious production company Hanna-Barbera churned out just sixteen episodes of Jabberjaw but it has nevertheless persevered as a retro-favorite of fans to this day. Created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, Jabberjaw was a deliberate attempt to capitalize on their previous creation, Scooby-Doo who was similarly short-lived in his original incarnation.

Like that Great Dane sleuth, Jabberjaw travelled with four teenagers who got into trouble and were resolutely chased around by bad guys to the sound of groovy pop numbers. In fact, one major difference between Jabberjaw’s gang and the Mystery Inc. crew was that Jabberjaw and company were a touring rock band in the futuristic year of 2076!

‘The Neptunes’ who also included Shelly, Biff, Bubbles and Clamhead, drove around in an underwater submersible which Jabberjaw could just barely fit into. Usually en route to the next gig, the band would find themselves in the middle of a mystery, misunderstanding or sinister plot to overthrow the undersea universe. Along the way Jabberjaw would be pestered by various marine life or plankton who showed him ‘no respect.’

“No respect from a clam!”
“No respect from a seahorse!”
“I don’t even get any respect from a starfish!”

Okay, so Jabberjaw’s writers weren’t necessarily brilliant or original. If Rodney Dangerfield was the source of Jabberjaw’s shtick, Curly from the Three Stooges was obviously the model for his speaking voice and mannerisms. Even more amusing, for my money, was the inter-species sexual tension he shared with band mate Shelly, who bickered on and off with her toothy pal but inevitably always stayed in the band.

Where are delightfully absurd cartoons like this today? Contemporary animated gag-fests seem to be written and created by cartoon super-fans who concentrate on amorphous paradoxes in cutesy-ass microcosms where every utterance is a knee-slapper and every occurrence a send-up of something recognizable from pop culture, but never for any good reason and usually devoid of any charm. One word usually sums it up— derivative.

Perhaps those refreshing classics will hit the Saturday screens more often. After all, kids don’t care what’s contemporary or not and— until 2070, who can really say for sure if an ocean-exploring band with a drumming shark spitting out one-liners is probable or improbable. In that regard, Jabberjaw’s still the latest, greatest shark you ever saw!

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Saturday, June 6, 2020

Rodney Commands Respect

Occasionally, my publisher Al Colombo and I engage in brief conversations on the greatness of our favorite comedian, the incomparable Rodney Dangerfield. He came to prominence late in life and eventually enjoyed a long and lucrative career in the extremely competitive world of comedy.

An unmistakable persona, usually decked out in a black suit and red tie, bug-eyed and innocuously tugging at his collar and wiping sweat from his face with his handkerchief, Rodney is still remembered today by most over the age of 30 and his universally endearing “no respect” trademark led Johnny Carson to once declare him the greatest stand-up comic of all.

Born Jacob Cohen, the Long Island native began as a struggling stand-up performer with the stage name Jack Roy. After failing to find his niche, he notoriously left show business to sell aluminum siding. When he decided to take a second shot at stand-up, the rechristened Rodney Dangerfield worked his way through venues such as those in the famed Catskills.

Eventually earning headliner status, he developed a memorable act based around an endless string of catchy one-liners that defined his self-deprecating image as the ultimate loser who won’t ever get a break (“My father carries around the picture of the kid who came with his wallet.”) By 1969, he had opened Dangerfield’s, a first-class comedy club in Manhattan that still features top-rate comedy talent to this day.

In the 1980s, Rodney became an iconic household name thanks to a series of best-selling records and a starring role in the hit comedy film Caddyshack as the brash, no-class cut-up Al Czervik who traveled with an Asian chauffeur named Wang who found everything to be photogenic. “Hey Wang, what’s with the pictures? It’s a parking lot!”

More movies and TV specials followed as well as a series of appearances in an all-star TV ad campaign for Miller Lite beer (he was even bestowed with the honor of having his own board game).

Milton Bradley's Rodney board game

Rodney died in 2004 at the age of 82. His grave marker in Los Angeles infamously reads- ‘Rodney Dangerfield, There goes the neighborhood.’ An obvious reference to his hard luck image, it carried a negative connotation and wasn’t something I ever felt was entirely appropriate. For me, It served the excessive side of his myth, much like some of his HBO specials where he often seemed to be attempting to outdo his younger protégés with uncharacteristic gags that were increasingly vulgar and abusively mean-spirited.

The ironic fact of the matter is that Rodney’s true reputation, much like his real-life personality, is in direct contrast to his celebrated characters that he honed so meticulously. He was and continues to be highly ‘respected’, particularly by the young comics he mentored and inspired.

Today’s contemporary comedy scene lacks the common range that legends like Rodney worked in. Most new comics seek to craft material relatable to like-minded pockets or groups with whom they can establish themselves as spokesmen or figureheads of irreverence. The days of instantly recognizable comedians with easily identifiable gimmicks cracking jokes that everyone gets, regardless of age, race, occupation or social class seem to be relegated to showbiz past.

Rodney was always destined for stardom because he possessed the key to laughter with a style that was empathetic, whoever you happened to be.

Do you ever feel like you don’t get any respect? What about groups, communities and countries? Can they feel that way, collectively? Does America feel the way Rodney did? If so, can humor save it? Maybe Rodney had the answer. Many of us are undoubtedly invoking him without ever knowing it. How often do we seem to look around and say to ourselves in exasperation, “I tell ya, I can’t take it no more.”?