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Thursday, 22 September 2011

A long time ago I was in a Jerry Lewis film

That's me, back row, between the men holding the live donkey and the grumpy lady with the massive hat (Also visible in the uniform on the far right is genuine London eccentric and vocal sound effects genius Chris Luby, who I had the pleasure of touring Germany with a lifetime ago).

1994, it was, so I would have been 25. The film was, of course, the under-rated "Funny Bones", and it had quite the cast: Jerry Lewis, Oliver Platt, Lee Evans, Leslie Caron, Oliver Read, Richard Griffiths, and it was about the nature of comedy and variety, and it was touching and magical and funny.. so there were plenty of reasons for me to be excited about doing it, but - truth be told - I only needed one. George Carl. He was my hero back then and he remains my hero today. Owner of the funniest silent 7 minutes in the history of entertainment. one of the last links between the modern era of comedy and real, honest to goodness fucking vaudeville. He was the man, and always will be. And he was in this film.

He started out as a circus acrobat in his early teens, but pretty quickly the clown inside got out and he was made for life. He played the best venues in the world, and regularly. Resident clown at the Crazy Horse Paris, regular on the Royal variety show, recipient of the Golden Clown award, and real, legitimate, actual genius. He spent 60 years polishing and honing a 7 minute act. A more noble and beautiful way to spend a life you might be hard pressed to find.

I remember watching him get tangled up in his microphone cable when I was a child, on the Royal Variety Performance (back when it was an actual variety show, and not just a long-form advert for various CDs, DVDs and west end shows), and being entranced by this curiosity - this crazy little old man who came on stage, got into difficulties, somehow reduced everyone to hysterics, and then left, having seemingly done nothing. To this day, I still make myself giggle by getting my thumb stuck in my jacket buttonhole, and of course my 3 ball/jacket routine is heavily influenced by the great man.

He died on the first of January, 2000, aged 84. I never met him. When I filmed my bits for "Funny Bones" he wasn't on set. We shot three scenes with me in, two of them in which I was featured quite prominently, but they ended up on the cutting room floor and all the remains of me in the movie is the scene captured in the picture at the top of the page. Didn't meet Jerry Lewis (which would, I'm assuming, have been awesome and terrifying), or anyone else - although Oliver Platt did hang around and we exchanged a few words. Nice fella and a hell of an actor.

So I never met him, but I kinda did. Whenever I do that 3 ball routine, he's there. Whenever I take off a jacket and make those around me groan by getting a thumb caught in a buttonhole, he's there. Whenever I throw a hat so it lands on a microphone stand, that's him. So a painter lives on past death through their paintings, a musician lives on through the music. A vaudevillian? A vaudevillian lives on through all the little bits of business that people giggle at. Passed down to those who see the magic in them like the treasured fragile heirlooms they are.

George was silent through almost all of his career, and he was silent throughout almost all of "Funny Bones", but towards the end, he speaks these lines about the nature of being a clown:

"Our suffering is special. The pain we feel is worse than anyone else, but we see the sunrise more beautiful than anyone else. We're like the moon - one side forever dark - as it should be. But remember, the dark moon draws the tides also."

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