Monday, September 4, 2017

Joke of the Day (Shelley Berman, on Holding Hands)

"When two people are holding hands, can you ever really be sure whose hand is doing the sweating?" –Shelley Berman, “Alvin and Shirley,” on his album The Edge of Shelley Berman (1960)

When comedian Shelley Berman passed away at age 92 last week, the height of his fame was long behind him—1963, to be exact, with three gold records under his belt. That was also the year when a documentary, broadcast on network TV, showed him backstage after the show, blowing a gasket over a phone ringing at an inopportune time in his act, saddling him with a reputation--probably overblown in the world of show business--for being unreasonable. 

(A bit of context might have made his rage more understandable: this was the second time that the phone had gone off.)

I think that a person deserves to be known for something more than a single mistake. You can read the obits about Berman, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better appreciation of the nature of his comedy—and the impact of his neuroticism on his career offstage—than in the chapter devoted to him in Gerald Nachman’s Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s

Nachman gives Berman his full due as “founding father of the school of persecuted comedians—the first of the method comics”—a performer less given to one-liners than to comic acting. One also emerges with greater admiration of Berman as a husband in a seven-decade relationship, for crediting his wife in helping him survive his career downturn (so precipitous that he had to file for bankruptcy) and the death of his son.

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