Thursday, January 21, 2016

Neil Simon: Everything!

I’m about to start blogging on the entire filmography of playwright Neil Simon, and I’m not gonna bore you with a long-winded introduction this time. And anyways, the man’s canon oughta speak for itself – his career spans over 60 years in both stage and screen, and he’s a mandatory part of any conversation that includes the phrase “comedy legend.” While now only consigned to the awareness of those-in-the-know, he was, at one time in the late-70s and early-80s, so popular that his name was part of his titles. And, in my opinion, he ranks up there with Larry Gelbart, Norman Lear and Woody Allen as one of my all-time favorite comedy writers. Hearing his dialogue performed in almost any capacity never ceases to bring a smile to my face, or cause my sides to ache.

It’s not just an ache from laughter – those guffaws come not simply from jokes but from the characters delivering those jokes. Characters based on people in his life – and our lives, too. Those friends, mothers, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, wives – that cavalcade of assorted looneys that make up the dramatis personae of that crazy show we call life. The good times, and the bad times, or should I say, especially the bad times. The dark times when we need to laugh more than ever.

Each Simon play or movie comes directly from a part of his life. Sometimes they combine more than one part, and sometimes they focus exclusively on that part. And you can always detect what role is essentially Simon himself. Well, they say write what you know. And so he did.

But of course, I’m sure his day-to-day didn’t feature all those great one-liners he handcrafted with expert comedic precision. That comes from his sharp wit, honed on years of apprenticeship in live TV – the Golden Age, as we know it now. He worked alongside such future nobodys as Carl Reiner, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks; not such a bad graduating class. Clearly attracted to the concept of the live, Simon turned his pen toward Broadway, and the rest is history.

Looks like I’ve already come perilously close to violating the promise I made in the first paragraph. So I’ll shut up and let you go from film to film with me, starting with Come Blow Your Horn, from 1963. So let’s go.

Oscar, Felix, Corie, Paul, Paula, Elliot… and Eugene. We’re on our way!

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