Friday, 19 October 2012

Al Benn's Alabama: Humorist David Misch wrote 'The Book' on comedy

If love really does make the world go ?round, as the popular song suggests, then humor has to be the glue that keeps it from falling apart.

That?s pretty much what a California comedy writer stressed Sunday when he spent part of the afternoon explaining the importance of laughter.

His name is David Misch, and his appearance at Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem Synagogue led to laughter and a few dollars for him from those who bought a copy of ?Funny: The Book ? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Comedy.?

In addition to tracing the history of humor to near prehistoric times, Misch also was asked to make a different kind of connection with the audience.

Dale Evans, who helped organize the event, said a request was made for Misch ?to elaborate on the correlation between humor and health ? that laughter is the best medicine ? and why.?

Two Agudath members, Dickie and Joy Blondheim, didn?t really need those details because they were well aware of that correlation.

Joy is a breast cancer survivor and creator of the foundation named for her, one that provides free mammograms for underserved women in the region.

She said humor was a vital ingredient in her recovery.

?A good sense of humor means everything to us,? she said. ?It was important throughout my treatment and surgery, and we?ve been laughing ever since.?

Without that sense of humor, Joy said, ?you won?t make it through the pain and fear you might be facing.?

Misch, a transplanted Yankee from Massachusetts who wound up in California, where he honed his writing skills on shows such as ?Mork and Mindy? and ?Saturday Night Live,? is as much a historian as an author.

Wearing a black T-shirt with ?Hey, Y?all? on the front ? something that certainly ingratiated himself to his Southern audience ? Misch sprinkled commentary with an audio-visual presentation in the synagogue?s large social hall.

He noted that ?comedian? wasn?t a word way back when. Instead, he said those with a good sense of humor ? one that didn?t cost them their head ? often wound up with royal approval.

That led to court jesters and, eventually, masters of comedy such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Godfrey Cambridge, Rodney Dangerfield and, of course, Johnny Carson.

Carson?s one-liners and Benny-inspired comedic timing produced what many believe was the funniest moment in television history.

It happened in 1965, when singer-turned-actor Ed Ames attempted to show Carson how to toss a tomahawk to finish off an enemy.

Instead of striking the cardboard target in the chest or head, the sharp blade struck the ?victim? somewhere south of that area, setting off loud, sustained audience laughter.

Misch said there was no way Carson?s response could have been scripted or rehearsed, but the uproar did give him about 20 seconds to think, and he came up with: ?I didn?t even know you were Jewish,? followed by: ?Welcome to Frontier Bris.?

Not all humor is derived from scripts, Misch stressed, and some of the funniest moments result from verbal comebacks, often in response to cutting comments aimed at them from someone else.

The master of the comeback had to be Winston Churchill, whose dry sense of humor elicited unforgettable quips that would leave his adversary beet red.

Some of his best involved his favorite foil, American-born Nancy Astor, who had ?lady? attached to her name ? but there were those who said she certainly was no lady.

As the story goes, she and Churchill were at a lavish dinner party in 1912, when ?Lady? Astor turned to him and said: ?Winston, if you were my husband, I?d put poison in your coffee.?

Without giving it a thought, Churchill responded with: ?Nancy, if you were my wife, I?d drink it.?

President Calvin Coolidge, known as ?Silent Cal? because of his reticence, actually could display a biting sense of humor, such as the night he was at recital where a famous opera singer performed.

He was asked by one of the guests, ?What do you think of the singer?s execution?? Coolidge responded: ?I?m all for it.?

On another occasion, a man once bet a friend that he could make ?Silent Cal? say at least three words in a conversation. When he met Coolidge and told him of the wager, the answer Coolidge gave was: ?You lose.?

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