Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Funny Fat Guys

Before everybody had their cholesterol count and percentage of body fat memorized, fat people were a lot less stigmatized than they are in today's "thin is in" culture. In fact, it was even OK to refer to them as "fat" since that's what they were. Now, like other perfectly good terms, the word "fat" has fallen out of favor. We refer to the overweight as obese, as if that changes anything. The conventional wisdom about fat people is that they were jolly, and that was very often the case. Maybe they figured out that their looks were not going to get them a date to the prom, so they found another way...a sense of humor. Just for today, I want to resurrect the word and tell you about my favorite fat, funny people.

I guess Jackie Gleason would have to top the list, not only because he's a Brooklyn home boy, but also because he had the secret of turning sad into funny. So many of the characters on his TV show were not inherently funny. Ralph Kramden, the poor shlub full of dreams that would never come true; Charlie Bratton, the loudmouthed bully who tormented the meek Clem Finch as played by Art Carney; the Poor Soul, a completely hapless sort who never seems to catch a break, played by Gleason in pantomime as a tribute to silent screen comedy; in all these basically sad people, Gleason mined the humor like the talented pro he was. He got us to see the laughs, and sometimes the pathos, in everyday situations. The Poor Soul - Jackie Gleason Video Clips

Oliver Hardy, half of the great comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, was a very funny fat man. He and Stan Laurel were paired together by accident when another actor who was supposed to appear with Hardy in a film was injured, and Stan Laurel filled in. They were magic together, doing some of their best films like Sons of the Desert and Way Out West at the Hal Roach Studios. Having been schooled in silent films, Ollie could express more with a look than most actors could with pages of dialogue. Stan was the perfect foil, getting the two of them into impossible situations that Ollie would often summarize by saying: "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into". Laurel and Hardy: Getting Up, Getting Down, and Getting Dirty

John Candy, like so many talented people, left us too soon. He always seemed to me to be like the characters he played in films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles with the great Steve Martin, and Uncle Buck. (Watch these movies immediately if you have not seen them. If you don't find them funny, I'll personally refund the rental fee.) John was born in Ontario, Canada and broke into television with the Second City troupe that included such future stars as Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin and Shelly Long. Later in his career, John played some serious parts like the corrupt lawyer Dean Andrews in the 'Oliver Stone' film JFK, and Cool Runnings about the first Jamaican bobsled team. YouTube - John Candy & Steve Martin

Saturday Night Live has given us many talented people including one of my favorite funnymen, Chris Farley, who, like John Candy, was a Second City alumnus. Chris was the loveable slob who would back into the table and topple Grandma's antique lamp, and while trying to catch it, knock over an entire breakfront filled with china. His sketches on SNL as motivational speaker Matt Foley were classic, leading to a number of funny movies like Tommy Boy. Chris had problems later in his career with alcohol and drug dependency. On December 18th, 1997, he died from a heroin and cocaine overdose in his apartment in Chicago at the age of 33. Tragic end for such a funny guy. SNL-Matt Foley Video

It’s long past time this man gets the respect he deserves. One of the most well known stand up comedians of all time, Rodney Dangerfield also had a fairly impressive movie list including one of my all-time favorites, Caddyshack. Of course above everything else, Dangerfield was known for his nightclub routines, polished over the years in small-time comedy club venues. His success came late in life but Rodney made the most of it. A frequent guest on late-night shows, his one-liners, mostly at his own expense, have become pure comedic gold. He also opened his own club, Dangerfields, where many young comics launched their careers. At long last the very respected Rodney Dangerfield has taken his place in the pantheon of funny fat guys.

Sometimes a good laugh is all we have between us and the window ledge. My hat is off to anybody who can make people forget their troubles, even for a little while, especially when their own demons may be hot on their heels.


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The Whiner said...

Oh my I couldn't agree more. Ralph Kramden, Planes/Trains, Caddyshack, Matt Foley....all some of my favorites. It's sad that we've become such a nation of supposedly health-conscious bores. Oh and don't forget Kevin James.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Correctioney-oney-oon, add the King of Queens.

joe del broccolo said...

being a fat man myself, I wonder if I could get a TV show?