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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Get Reel: Weighty issues for comic thespians

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  • People of the portly persuasion have long been the targets of taunts, from childhood playgrounds to adult playing fields.
    However, some heavyset individuals have used their extra pounds to their advantage, such as athletes, and not just football players and sumo wrestlers. Charles Barkley fashioned a Hall of Fame basketball career, putting his girth to good use while earning him the nickname the Round Mound of Rebound.
    Actors and actresses have also made careers out of being less than svelte, especially in the field of comedy.
    Now is this because audiences laugh more at overweight people than skinny people? An argument can be made that they do, that overweight people generate guffaws simply because they appear different from the “norm,” whatever that is. Or maybe we’re just inherently mean?
    Whatever the reason, big-boned thespians have been getting big laughs for decades. One could assume that Kevin James might not be a star if he were rail thin. He literally throws his weight around. So if you think watching a fat person fall down is funny, James is your man. That’s his shtick. In his latest alleged comedy, “Here Comes the Boom,” he plays a high school biology teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter in order to raise money to save the school’s music program from the budget ax.
    During the fights and the training for the fights, James falls down, a lot. And he also gets the fecal matter knocked out of him, which is, of course, hysterical.
    Now, in reality, if a schlub like James was put into the ring with a mixed martial arts master, he just wouldn’t get hurt. He’d either get killed or hospitalized. Still, I bet you’ll never guess what happens in the big fight in “Boom.” The movie plays out like “Rocky” for mental midgets. That Salma Hayek falls in love with James’ character maybe even more ridiculous. Expect a large box office.
    “Here Comes the Boom” represents just the latest cinematic fiasco from James, whose resume includes “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” “The Dilemma,” “Grown Ups” and “Zookeeper.” Only Martin Lawrence has made more wretched movies of recent vintage than James.
    While James hasn’t stooped to the stygian depths of “Big Momma’s House” yet, give him time. One can only hope that audiences will eventually tire of his pratfalls just as they did with Pauly Shore’s stoner shtick.
    On the opposite end of the spectrum are corpulent comedians who actually have talent. Chief among them is Jackie Gleason, appropriately nicknamed “The Great One.”
    Interestingly, as notable as Gleason was for his comic genius on TV with the “The Honeymooners,” his more impressive roles on film were in dramatic parts in such brilliant films as “The Hustler,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “Gigot.” That said, most filmgoers know Gleason for his role as the blustery Buford T. Justice in the “Smoky and the Bandit” movies. Personally, I’d like to send some of those films to the moon.
    Page 2 of 3 - Another stout actor who has successfully alternated comic and dramatic work is John Goodman. The actor first gained fame on the TV show “Roseanne,” before going on to appear in a multitude of films, including the Coen Brothers’ “Barton Fink,” “The Big Lebowski” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” As for unintentional laughs, there’s Goodman’s “awkward” performance as Babe Ruth in “The Babe.” And then there’s “The Flintstones.” Yabba-dabba-don’t.
    Few actors parlayed their stocky appearance into more comic gold than John Belushi. In one memorable skit on the TV show “Saturday Night Live, “ he mocked Olympic training by downing a lot of doughnuts. On film, he played John “Bluto” Blutarsky, a one-man wrecking crew, in “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” That film also featured the rotund Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst), aka “Flounder,” who gets berated by Dean Vernon Wormer with the oft-repeated line, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Belushi also excelled in “The Blues Brothers.”
    The film careers of John Candy and Chris Farley contain more hits than misses. Some filmgoers rave about Farley in “Black Sheep” and “Tommy Boy.” This critic prefers Candy in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.”
    One of the first successful movie comics of husky stature was Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Not only was he one of the popular silent screen stars, he was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. That’s before scandal derailed his career in the 1920s.
    In short films and later feature films, pudgy Oliver Hardy teamed with skinny Stan Laurel to form the original odd couple. They turned fine messes into an art form.
    Lou Costello partnered with Bud Abbott for another fat-thin combo. Their films, while popular, weren’t exactly memorable. While their “Who’s on First” routine remains their best work, their first starring film “Buck Privates” has its moments. The highlight for me is listening to and seeing the Andrews Sisters sing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
    Another comic master in short films is unquestionably Jerome Lester Horvitz, better known as Curly Howard of “Three Stooges” fame. He was funnier in his sleep than James is wide awake.
    In the short film category, we shouldn’t forget Norman “Chubby” Chaney in “The Little Rascals.” Or in feature film department, Jeff Cohen, who played Chunk in “The Goonies.” Cohen looks a “little” different as an adult.
    Plump character actor Eugene Pallette stayed busy in the 1930s and 1940s, appearing in such comedy classics as “My Man Godfrey.” He’s particularly outstanding in this film. Unlike James, he gets his laughs by delivering witty lines from an wonderful script. “All you need to start an asylum,” his character says, “is an empty room and the right kind of people.”
    Other plus-size comic actors who have achieved varying degrees of success include Dom DeLuise, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Cedric the Entertainer, Wayne Knight, Jack Black and Rodney Dangerfield.
    Page 3 of 3 - Thin actors get into the overweight act thanks to prosthetics, most notably Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor” and Mike Myers as Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers” films. The latter character is priceless.
    Finally, we can’t be sexist and ignore comic female actresses who have put on a few extra pounds. Rosie O’Donnell, Wendie Jo Sperber, Kathy Najimy, Loretta Devine, Mo’Nique, Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson and Jennifer Hudson (before she lost the pounds) have fashioned careers that range from diminishing returns to Oscar-winning turns.
    McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” and Wilson in “Pitch Perfect” steal each film. Wilson’s character is even called Fat Amy, yet it’s a name she gives herself. Why? “So twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back,” she explains to a group of female students. Touche ... in a big way.
    Remember those silk stockings?
    It’s now time for TRIVIA.
    Last month’s tester: What Clint Eastwood co-star died of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after their film together was completed? Name the co-star and the film.
    Answer: Clyde in “Any Which Way You Can.”
    L. Hill of Milford, Mass., was the first reader to answer the question correctly. Robert Paget of Framingham, Mass., also answered the question correctly. Congratulations! Other readers mentioined Clyde in “Every Which Way But Loose,” but that Clyde (different orangutans were used for the different films) did not suffer the same fate as Clyde in the sequel.
    Also, mea culpa time, as yours truly inadvertently forgot to name Brian Johnson of Natick, Mass., as a reader who answered August’s trivia question correctly.
    This month’s tester: In what movie is a talk show host asked to tie up a religious man with silk stockings? Name the film and the talk show host.
    The first reader to answer the question correctly will receive products from Fruits & Passion.
    Trivia enthusiasts can call me at 508-626-4409 or email me at rtremblay@ wickedlocal.com.
    Make sure you leave your name, address and phone number on my message machine or email so I can contact you if you answered the question correctly. The address is needed so winners can be mailed their prize. Callers should spell out their names slowly and clearly so their names will be spelled correctly in the column.
    Answers will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Good luck!

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