Tag Archives: comedy

Cabbages, Babies, and Bathing Beauties

mostbeautiful

The Newport, RI Most Beautiful Pageant as depicted on “Another Period.” (Courtesy of Comedy Central.)

As a fan of comedy, I’ve really been enjoying the new Comedy Central show Another Period. The premise is fun and silly – the show centers on the rich, debauched and aristocratic Bellacourt family, who live in an opulent mansion in Newport, Rhode Island during the Gilded Age. It’s a little Downton Abbey and a little Keeping Up With the Kardashians with a touch of Upstairs Downstairs.

One of my favorite things about the show is that in spite of its silliness, many of the crazier plot threads are based on actual events. It inspired me to check out a documentary on the history of the mansions of Newport Rhode Island – many of which were incredibly decadent and built to compete with the mansions of their (also filthy rich) neighbors.

One event on the show really got me curious about its historical inspirations though. In the fourth episode, the Bellacourt family hosts the first Newport’s Most Beautiful Pageant – which pits women against babies and cabbages.

anotherperiod

Babies, cabbages, and beautiful women — oh my! (Courtesy of Comedy Central.)

I had to wonder, was there actually a precedent for this sort of thing? Were there truly beauty contests back in the day where bathing beauties would compete alongside vegetables?

2015

Lillian Bellacourt prepares herself for the swimsuit competition. (Courtesy of: onionav.club.)

1898

An advertisement from 1898 depicts the swimsuit fashions of the time. (Courtesy of: loc.gov.)

The short answer is pretty much, and the man responsible is none other than P.T. Barnum. According to this Library of Congress page:

P.T. Barnum staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest. He kept the contest going by substituting daguerreotypes for women, a practice quickly adopted by newspapers. Newspapers held photo beauty contests for many decades: in 1880, the first “Bathing Beauty Pageant” took place as part of a summer festival to promote business in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

The first beauty contest took place at Barnum’s American Museum, which you can learn all about on The Lost Museum website. According to the site, “the Museum was the first institution to combine sensational entertainment and gaudy display with instruction and moral uplift. For a twenty-five cent admission, visitors viewed an ever-revolving series of “attractions,” from the patchwork Fejee Mermaid to the diminutive and articulate Tom Thumb.

baby-ad

Triplets! Twins! Fat Babies! An advertisement from 1863 for the National Baby Show. (Courtesy of The Lost Museum.)

Some of Barnum’s most popular attractions were “national contests” where dogs, chickens, flowers, and even children (and women!) were displayed and judged for paying audiences. The poultry and baby contests were especially popular, although there were some critics who called for others to protest the baby shows, hilariously seeing them as an, “unseemly public display of private maternal virtue.”

barnumcluck

A polka composed for Barnum’s National Poultry Show. (Courtesy of The Lost Museum.)

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A polka composed for Barnum’s National Baby Show. (Courtesy of The Lost Museum.)

So, while I was not able to find any specific mention of cabbages, it appears that ladies were indeed being judged alongside babies, chickens, and nonsentient objects – but at least they weren’t competing against each other!

Tara

PS – In case you’re still not sure if the show Another Period is for you, I present you with this dog in a wig — enjoy!

TV STILL -- DO NOT PURGE -- Another Period -- l-r: Natasha Leggero, Riki Lindhome

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Ook

Sir Terry Pratchett has gone off arm in arm with his most interesting character. Sad librarians–and other fans–are sad.

meme generated by author

meme generated by author

Terry Pratchett is most famous for his Discworld novels, and with good reason, as there’s a great deal about them to love. One element that makes the Discworld series so darned appealing is that there’s no one right way to read them. While there’s technically a series order, groups of books can also be chunked into mini-series that follow particular characters. Also, there are so many different things going on in different parts of the Discworld, you can start anywhere and make your way around the planet at your leisure. Talk about a reader-friendly approach!

Another appeal factor is the fact that the Discworld is just plain ridiculous. The flat planet floats through space on the back of four elephants, who are themselves supported by a very large turtle. Its major city, Ankh-Morpork, is quite possibly the least livable place in the universe, and yet none of its citizens seem to mind…most likely because the majority of them are the most amoral, absurd characters in literature. The city’s ruler, Lord Vetinari, is the least likable leader you could imagine, and yet the city operates slightly better with him at the helm than it would without him (thanks largely to his own efforts to keep it that way).  Oh, and the head librarian at the local wizard school, Unseen University, is an orangutan whose vocabulary is limited to the words “Ook” and “Eek,” thanks to a wave of magic gone horribly wrong. Absolutely everyone and everything in Discworld is an object of potential ridicule, and often a satire/parody of our own world. Nothing is ever taken too seriously.

So, it’s kind of a zany place.

I’ve been reading Discworld novels since I was a kid, and while I haven’t pulled them off the shelf lately, there are a few I’d like to give another go, just for the sake of a proper farewell. These include:

Mort. Being Death is a pretty big job, so naturally he needs an apprentice. Mort likes the mortsound of Death’s recruitment pitch, and the benefits are terrific! But Mort is a bit of a bumbler, and so of course things go hilariously awry; also, dating becomes somewhat awkward. This was my first Discworld novel, and I found it highly amusing that Death ALWAYS SPOKE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Several years later, when A Prayer for Owen Meany came out, I honestly thought Irving swiped that trick from Pratchett to render Owen’s unique voice in text; I’m sure now that he didn’t, but considering how Owen Meany turns out, that’s a little too spooky for words. Recommended for readers into gallows humor.

guards Guards! Guards!. Everybody knows dragons are extinct, so it’s a bit of a surprise when one swoops into Ankh-Morpork, breathes fire all over the place, and declares itself king. Coincidentally enough, a rare book on dragon-summoning has disappeared from the library at Unseen University. Hm.

It’s up to Sam Vimes, long-suffering Captain of the Watch, and his rag-tag group of guards to figure out what the heck is going on and how to set it right without getting burned to a crisp, magicked into something awkward, or otherwise killed/humiliated. Vimes and his men are hysterically inept; luckily, so is just about everybody else in the novel. Guards! Guards! is the beginning of the Watch mini-series, including–but not limited to–Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, and The Fifth Elephant. Recommended for Three Stooges fans, and anyone else who likes wacky, madcap bumbling in their fiction.

Hogfather. T’was the night before Hogswatch, and all through the Discworld there are a whole mess of problems. For starters, the Hogfather has disappeared and is unable to deliver his toys this year, something Susan hogfather(Death’s granddaughter) is going to have to remedy. To do so, she’ll have to deal with an assassin named Teatime, who’s been hired to eliminate the Hogfather. An action-packed adventure that also manages to be a poignant comment on the nature of childhood beliefs in particular, as well as myth and ritual in general. The perfect remedy for those who no longer believe in childish things, and very comforting to those who never stopped.

Going Postal. When con artist Moist Von Lipwig (yes, really) is finally caught, he’s given a choice: be hanged from the neck until he is dead, or be put in charge of the Ankh-Morpork post office. It sounds like a no-brainer for postalMoist…at least, until he starts the job and finds out just how much of a mess he’s gotten himself into.

Hindered at all turns by assassins trying to kill him, a rival communication system that’s threatening to make the post office obsolete, and the tormented cries of countless undelivered letters, Moist is determined to get the post office back up and running if it’s the last thing he does…which it just might be. Snarky commentary on competing technologies, lots of physical comedy, and a little love story to boot (Pratchett’s characters are often hopelessly crushing on unattainable people), this is a good pick for a reader who wouldn’t care for some of the more magical aspects of the Discworld, but would still appreciate the comedy.

Rest in peace, Sir Terry, and thank you for the many fine laughs you’ve given us, both in Discworld and elsewhere. Or, as your librarian might say, “Ook, eek, eek ook ook.”

–Leigh Anne

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eCLP for Laughs

Hoopla has nothing to do with the album Knee Deep in the Hoopla by Starship (a.k.a., Jefferson Starship) which contains the song “We Built This City” which I think might be the worst song to emerge out of the 1980s.  No, this hoopla (yes, the company branders always write it without capitalizing) is a newer eCLP library service that is marketed as a provider of movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and music albums.  It indeed has those things.  But you know what I use it for?  Comedy albums.  There are about 250 of them in there to stream or download with classics like Steve Martin and Richard Pryor plus newer sensations like Jim Gaffigan.  TIP: find them in the music category or just search for “comedy.”

Here are some I’ve checked out lately:

wea_824363019666_detail You might know Marc Maron from his WTF podcast/radio show.  For his stand-up comedy, he claims he doesn’t prepare: “In my mind, if I don’t prepare and I pull this off, I’m a !@#$ing genius…and if I don’t pull it off, eh, I didn’t prepare.”  His style is rambling, self-deprecating, and confessional, and I think he indeed does pull it off.

wea_824363010366_detail Pittsburgh’s own Anthony Jeselnik is the opposite of Maron.  He has a measured, deliberate delivery and his comic persona is ridiculously narcissistic.  As for his material, be warned, it is some of the most un-PC, offensive, and if you like that sort of thing, hilarious, comedy out there.

wea_824363011868_detail Also offensive and funny is Amy Schumer (who as it happens, used to date Jeselnik) who smartly takes on and plays with the identity of a promiscuous party girl.

wea_656605023465_detail I knew about Tig Notaro’s candid, stunning album that she made after being diagnosed with cancer, but until hoopla, I hadn’t heard her earlier album, Good One.  She is a master of deadpan delivery.

wea_824363016467_detail Those of you who have seen Demetri Martin on TV might think of him as a prop or a visual comic.  But he fares very well is purely audio form.  Here is a joke of his, for example, “Separate but equal is terrible for education but perfect for eyebrows.”

wea_824363017068_detail While I’m quoting jokes, I have to share the lesser known Kyle Kinane’s absurd description of pho soup: “If you don’t know what pho is, it’s a Vietnamese soup that answers the question: what happens when a former child soldier pours hot rainwater over fish nightmares?”

Get absurd.  Get offended.  Get happy.  Get some comedy albums from hoopla.

— Tim

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Whooping it up

Photo from official P&R website at: http://www.nbc.com/parks-and-recreation

Into every life a little rain must fall. We all get a little down sometimes, and we all have our own way of dealing with the blues. Some people turn to sad songs and comfort food, while other (more proactive types) get out and do things for other people or exercise. I’ll never turn down the comfort of a delicious cheese sandwich, but my own method for dealing with the sads is just to watch (and listen to) a whole lot of dumb comedy. Currently my go-to show is Parks & Recreation, which has been pretty unstoppable lately. The library also has a ton of other comedy available for check out if P&R is not quite your style. Behold, we have:

Sketch comedy

Stand-Up Comedy

Television comedies

British television comedies

Ridiculous movies

Comedy albums

After all, even with the grayness outside lately, it’s hard not to smile at comedy gems like this:

How about you? Do you have a favorite genre or activity you turn to when you’re feeling under the weather?

– Tara

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Funny Ladies

This past weekend I took a break from my movie marathon and went to see Frankly Scarlett, a new Pittsburgh comedy troupe whose side-splitting mix of skits, improv games, short video clips, and musical interludes was more than worth the price of admission.  Satirical scenes about dating, pregnancy, and catty female behavior were mixed in with good-natured jabs at homeschooling, vegetarianism, pop culture, and other topics for a solid hour of hilarity.  I’m actually still giggling over some of the jokes, and hoping that they will not only have another show soon, but also make a t-shirt I can buy and wear proudly.

Afterwards, my friends and I were discussing the relative lack of women in comedy; I say “relative” because, at first blush, it seems to me like there ARE a lot of funny ladies out there, as well as a long tradition of grand dames from which they sprung.  Five minutes thought brings plenty of names to mind:  Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Totie Fields, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Roseanne Barr, Wanda Sykes, and Margaret Cho are just the tip of the iceberg…aren’t they? Clearly, further research was required.

A little catalog sleuthing turned up a great book called Funny Women: American Comediennes 1860-1985, which contains brief biographies of some of the most amusing women you might never have heard of, including May Irwin, Trixie Friganza, Sally Marr, and Jean Carroll.  I slapped my forehead when I saw how many greats had somehow slipped my mind, famous names like Lily Tomlin(!), Imogene Coca(!!), Martha Raye(!!!), and, of course, Carol Burnett (!!!!!).  The book also has chapters called “Funny Women of Radio” (which reminded me that I’d completely forgotten about the hilarious Gracie Allen) and “Writers and Directors,” which pays tribute to women who were as witty with the pen as in person (including Selma Diamond, for whom Night Court was just one in a series of comedic achievements).  Between this book and the world wide web, you can get a gold mine of information on some of the most snickerworthy sisters to strut the stage.  And if you’re looking for more, well, we have a few more resources up our sleeves here at the library.

So is it that there aren’t a lot of women in comedy, or just that we don’t know much about some of them, and take for granted the ones we do know? Who do you personally find hilarious, and did I mention her? Why do you suppose more women aren’t drawn to comedy as a pursuit?  And, most importantly, who’s coming with me to the next Frankly Scarlett show?

Leigh Anne

who gives a damn

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Revisiting Movies for Groundhog Day

Since today is officially Groundhog Day, I decided to revisit Melissa’s idea of revisiting the stories we love.  And I’m going to start with a story of my own.

Once upon a time, the First Floor experimented with a “New and Featured Film and Audio” section, including a librarian’s desk and a TV.  We were allowed to run a movie on the TV, on mute with closed captioning.  But it had to be from that room and rated PG.

There weren’t any children’s titles in the room, and the newest and most interesting titles were always checked out.  So I usually ran the same four or five movies repeatedly.  (Okay, I’ll confess — I slipped in the occasional PG-13 during the low-traffic early hours.)  Fortunately, I was busy enough that I wasn’t paying attention most of the time, and I never really got sick of them.

Yes, one of them was…

“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”

But I also spent a lot of quality time with…

“A shark ate your eye?”

“In Okinawa, all Miyagi know two things: fish and karate.”

“More amazing than the time Michael Jackson came over to your house to use the bathroom?”

The Blob (motion picture)

“I wouldn’t give much for our chances, us running around in the middle of the night, looking for something that if we found it, it might kill us.”

Of course, everybody’s got a few movies they could recite on command.  Outside of my time in that department, I’m notorious for never watching movies, and even I have a list–

“It’s in that place where I put that thing that time…?”

“We got five thousand dollars, we got five thousand dollars!”

“It’s one of my personal favorites, and I’d like to dedicate it to a young man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today.”

“No ticket.”

So even though I’m not a big movie person, I’m always up for some comedy, action, or horror.  What movies could you watch a hundred times?

-Denise  (with a little help from my friends)

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.

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My Favorite Movie

Not only is it absurd, hilarious, and absurdly hilarious, Mel Brooks’ 1974 spoof is also one of the most successful westerns of all time.

I first encountered this movie as a very young Amy, when my dad would choose a movie for us to watch on Monday nights while my mom was at her ceramics class. (I used to think that the Monday night movie was quality family bonding time, but now I also realize that it was a darn good ploy for keeping my brother and me entertained until bedtime. Way to go, dad!)

I’m not sure what I could possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before by real professional movie-reviewing types, so instead I’ll share some fun facts:

  • The movie grossed $47.8 million dollars at the box office1, or $119.5 million if you believe the Internet Movie Database.2
  • Richard Pryor, one of the film’s screenwriters, was originally chosen to play Sheriff Bart, but the role went to Cleavon Little because “the studio believed that Pryor was an insane drug addict.”3 Though another source claims that Pryor lost out because he was considered too new and inexperienced.4
  • The role of the Waco Kid, made famous by Gene Wilder, was first offered to John Wayne, who loved the script but was unwilling to ruin his image.5

So if you’re looking for fart jokes, horse punching, biker gangs, pie fights, Slim Pickens, candygrams, Count Basie and his orchestra, sharpshooters, an entire town full of people named Johnson, countless Mel Books cameos, schnitzengruben, musical numbers, the world’s most overbooked hangman, and believe it or not – a healthy dose of social commentary, be sure to check out Blazing Saddles.

– Amy


Sources:

1 Hughes, Howard. Stagecoach to Tombstone: the Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Westerns. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007.

2 “Blazing Saddles (1974) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 8 Nov. 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071230/>.

3 Schneider, Steven Jay. 1001 Movies You Must See before You Die. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s, 2005.

4 McCabe, Bob. The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies. London: Rough Guides, 2005.

5 Ibid.

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Steve Martin Appreciation Day

“Isn’t Steve Martin just great?”

This thought enters my mind whenever I see one of his old movies (emphasis on the older ones), pick up a novel he wrote, or simply hear about him in the news. I just finished tearing through The Pleasure of My Company, and it’s wonderful.

I’m impressed with the fact that Martin has stayed relevant throughout a career that spans four decades now, and that he has in no way remained static.  I wanted to take a quick moment just to highlight some of my favorites from the man that is much more than a comedian.

For example, he started his film career with The Jerk, which he both wrote and starred in.  Not only is Martin at his personal best here, but the film at large is considered one of the finest comedic efforts of all time.  You would think that might cause an actor dismay, but it apparently didn’t faze Martin, who went on to do Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Roxanne, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I must also, of course, mention Three Amigos, which I have basically watched once a week from the age of five until now. L.A. Story is the finest of his later films; once again written and starred in by Steve himself, this movie is essential viewing before any visit to Hollywood.

As his movie career has been less stellar in recent years, my enjoyment of Martin’s other work has increased.  Because of Pure Drivel, the devestatingly beautiful Shopgirl, and the aforementioned The Pleasure of My Company, I think fiction may be where his talent truly lies.  Of course, it doesn’t end there either:  Martin is also an accomplished banjoist — dude has won a Grammy for his collection entitled The Crow, played at Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and jammed with Earl Scruggs. That’s not just playing around.

On top of all that, Steve Martin has remained remarkably candid and aimiable.  This is a guy who has received the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts, hosted the Oscars and SNL multiple times, and yet still seems genuine and down to earth. Oh, and of course, if you don’t want to hear any more about Steve Martin from me, you can always get it straight from the source in his memoir, Born Standing Up.

–Tony

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