Synopses & Reviews
From the days of vaudeville to Jerry and Elaine a history and celebration of a uniquely American art form.
From nineteenth-century vaudeville to contemporary sitcoms, comedy teams have made people laugh. Those teams were masters of the comic craft and gave to the world a particularly American art form. And, more than that, they were funny.
Lawrence J. Epstein has written a joyful, celebratory history of America's finest comedy teams from Burns and Allen and Laurel and Hardy through the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, to the Smothers Brothers and beyond. It's a story of the classics of comedy and, at the moment of the apparent eclipse of comedy teams, of their unexpected rebirth.
Although for comedians success is fickle and failure brutal, comedy teams couldn't resist the lure of celebrity and the remarkable explosion of the popular media of radio, film, and television. These were platforms from which to speak to an emerging nation in often troubled times; and when the times were hardest, the nation looked to its most cherished comic teams to cheer it up. Filled with telling anecdotes and hilarious routines, Mixed Nuts is the story of how America created comedy teams and how successive teams reflected America back to its people, meeting its deepest needs, tackling its most sensitive issues and mocking its pomposities. And always for laughs.
"Organizing this work chronologically, Epstein (The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America) provides a lively history of entertainment from early vaudeville through radio, film and television. He's especially good at viewing humor through a sociological prism, showing, for example, how the cynicism of the early Marx Brothers needed to be reworked to accommodate a Depression-era mentality. With FDR's New Deal, Epstein explains, Groucho's character was made more likable. In fact, comedy teams were most popular during America's tough times, such as WWII, when Abbott and Costello delivered much-needed relief. In contrast, the '50s antics of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin unleashed inner hysteria (repressed during the war). Epstein deftly notes comedy's evolution, explaining how Jack Benny's radio show, which created multiple comedy teams, gave rise to sitcoms from I Love Lucy to Seinfeld. For readers who until now haven't understood the prolonged allure of the Three Stooges, Epstein's chapter on the trio is particularly enlightening: 'The teams that created worlds capable of relieving the existential anxieties embedded in the human condition lasted beyond the moment.' At its best, this history demonstrates how comedy reveals a nation's true mindset: if you want to know how society ticks, check out its comedians. B&w photos. Agent, Don Gastwirth. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Like the best straight men, [Epstein] has a ready knowledge of what gets laughs....[H]e offers sharp appreciation of the work, the timing, the language, and the carefully created characters: the actual craft of those who practiced comedy in tandem." Kirkus Reviews
"[Epstein's] analyses are as insightful as his facts are diverting....Occasionally, Epstein strays from his main topic into other areas....None of this detracts from to the contrary, it adds to his narrative." Denver Post
"Like Bob Woodward, Larry Epstein has written a journalistic masterpiece. He has gone to many sources and given us an intimate, warm, gritty and loving memoir about the comedy teams that created the lunacy that kept us sane." Jerry Stiller
"For those of us who love comedy teams, this is a must read. The classic team is a thing of the past. The book brings it all back great research and a good read." Tom Smothers
From the days of vaudeville to current sitcoms a history and celebration of a uniquely American art form, the comedy team.
Nothing is needed more in troubled times than a friend to laugh with or two friends to laugh at. As Lawrence J. Epstein shows us in Mixed Nuts, the great American comedy teams were there for all of us during the rough years of the twentieth century and, as we head into a turbulent new era, they've made a surprising resurgence. Here, for the first time, Epstein presents the complete story of America's comedy teams, revisiting some of their best-loved routines, revealing the personal stories that lay behind them, and showing how the comedians shaped and were shaped by their eras. From the rollicking twenties to the threadbare thirties, on into the war years, and all the way through the social turmoil of the latter half of the century, Americans counted on the great comedy teams to respond to events, to make them laugh, and to show that though times might get tough, friendships and humor could always help you through.
From the days of vaudeville to Jerry and Elaine--a history and celebration of a uniquely American art form.
About the Author
Lawrence J. Epstein is an English professor and the author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America. He frequently lectures on American popular culture and lives with his wife and family on Long Island, New York.
Table of Contents
1 Musty theaters and asbestos curtains : the rise of Burns and Allen 1
2 Wild gags and murdered English : the birth of comedy teams 16
3 An explosion of stars : the first classic comedy teams 31
4 "In this country we're only permitted one husband" : comedy teams on radio 50
5 Comedy comes to the big screen : Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy 80
6 "I shot an elephant in my pajamas" : the Marx Brothers 106
7 Anarchy let loose : other comedy teams of the 1930s 119
8 "Who's on first" : Abbott and Costello meet the 1940s 129
9 The road to temporary teams : Hope and Crosby 151
10 Loco boys make good : the Three Stooges 163
11 "The playboy and the putz" : Martin and Lewis 178
12 "Helloooo, Ball" : comedy teams of the 1950s 189
13 "Mom always liked you best" : comedy teams of the 1960s 218
14 Vanishing stars : final acts and the death of comedy teams 238
15 The stars return : the unexpected afterlife and enduring legacy of comedy teams 261