Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Honor of Lt. Frank Drebin

A good sense of humor involves being able to laugh at yourself. That means both making fun of your own faults and mistakes as well as appreciating your own jokes. After all, if you don’t make yourself laugh, how can you expect to make anyone else laugh?

Another important aspect of comedy is timing. You need to wait for just the right time to drop that punch line. A single word can change from deathly serious to outrageously funny based solely upon when it is said.

And the holy trinity of comedic tools, in my opinion is delivery. Everybody knows somebody who can tell the same damn joke they just heard five minutes ago but make it ten times funnier just by the way they tell it. Writers for comedy shows have really funny ideas, yet they need people called actors to pull the joke off. You have to package it properly.

One of my favorite delivery styles of all time is the deadpan. The contradictory nature of a person saying something ridiculous in a serious voice and then not flinching to smile in the slightest always gets me. It’s the reason why I like Will Ferrell so much.

When you talk about masters of the deadpan delivery, one name stands out. There is one man who, over the last several decades, has been the definition of deadpan. That man is Leslie Nielsen. We lost that man Sunday and the comedy world owes him a debt of gratitude.

Mr. Nielsen could deliver a silly phrase with a straight face better than anyone I had the privilege of watching in my lifetime. Regardless of how off the wall the events around him were, he always played it straight. Part of me always wondered if he were part Vulcan and perhaps unable to feel emotion or find anything humorous. I find it difficult to find any other reasonable explanation why he didn’t crack up laughing in the middle of his line like Jimmy Fallon on a Saturday Night Live skit.

So, fare thee well, oh sultan of the straight line, you duke of deadpan. You used to be a serious dramatic actor and then saw the humor in using that in a comedy career. Surely, you will be missed.

That would be me setting him up to respond from the heavens:

“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

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