Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols

When I was old enough to be aware of what Comedy "is" my first crush was on Nichols and May.  Not just because they were a comedy team (like I wanted to be as a ventriloquist) but because of what kind of Comedy they performed.
Most of the comedy going around the Sullivan show at the time was borsch belt brand humor. The routines were mainly set up jokes and stories. Make believe situations with stereo typical characters.  There were a lot of mother-in-law jokes and one liners like "Take my wife.. please".  I did not think these comics were so much funny as goofy.  Even comedy teams like Martin and Lewis did goofy humor. Martin the suave Italian singer and Lewis a frenetic chimp interrupting the song with stupid.  Allen and Rossi, Steve Rossi an Italian singer Mary Allen a wild haired troll with a lobotomy.
They say a comedian says funny things and a clown says things funny.  Then there was Nichols and May. They didn't look funny.  They weren't clowns. They didn't do funny ethnic accents. They did real characters in real situations that became hysterically funny as the situation drove the humor. Things like: The mounting frustration of a man who wants to get his dime back from a pay phone operator.  A funeral director who offers a cheap funeral while adding on "extras" like a casket and driver for the hearse.  They gave us a satirical look at how our everyday lives can spiral into a comedy of errors from just trying to communicate.  The jokes came out of the frustrating situations we all find ourselves in from time to time.  They were the sirens for the fogged out beatnik generation that was morphing into a society of consciousness seeking hippies.  Put on one of their albums, close your eyes and let them take you on a journey not that different from your own life only funny.
At the height of their career  Nichols and May were hired to write and perform the voices for cartoon characters to sell Jax Beer.  Jax was a New Orleans beer company that was more a regional brand than national.  The commercials were hysterical and sometimes better than the shows they were sponsoring.
For example:  A funny looking lady walks into a bar.  She has a funny little voice and orders a Jax beer.  The bartender gives her the beer and says "Here you go, Jax beer" in the same funny little voice. Lady says, "Are you making fun of my voice?"  In the same voice the bartender says "No. absolutely not. Ma'am" At this point a man come up and orders a Jax beer in a very normal voice.  In a regular normal voice the bartender says "Here you go my friend a Jax beer." The man walks away and the lady, a little pissed off, says to the bartender, "I thought you said you were not making fun of my voice." in the same funny voice the bartender says, "I wasn't making fun of your voice... I was making fun of his."
The commercials were extremely successful to the point I still remember that one to this day.  However, after one cycle the commercials were discontinued.  Not because they were not popular but because even though the commercials were great the Beer remained awful.  The commercials became more popular than the beer.
I was destroyed when Nichols and May broke up.  It wasn't a drama like Martin and Lewis, I guess Elaine and Mike decided they had done all they could together. I felt like the most popular kid at school had just moved away.  I was going to miss their talents just as I was trying to find my own.
Elaine May went into writing and acting.  She was hysterically funny as the ditzy millionaire opposite Walter Mathau in "A New Leaf" and other projects.  Mike Nichols became a Broadway director.  and a Film director  (check out those credits) and one of the few people to become an EGOT ( winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.. EGOT) AND he married Diane Sawyer.  He was a genius of real comedy, funny and real.  I was never fortunate enough to meet him but will always be a huge fan.
Nichols and May made it possible for comics like Bill Cosby to become stars doing real life situational humor and not just jokes.  Perhaps that is the very reason why Mike Nichols decided to move on after 83 incredibly creative years on earth. He didn't want to see what he started in the hands of a comic that  now seems so unworthy. Mike Nichols was the real deal and from what I have heard a wonderful person.  He will be missed in so many ways.
As you were,

1 comment:

P. Grecian said...

They were just the best together, weren't they?

But they were too much "the best" to stay with one thing.'s what I always think of when I think of either one of them.