Friday, November 20, 2009

Woody Allen: The Standup Comedy Years

Last night I attended a lecture on Woody Allen's early years as a standup comedian. It was one of three lectures on Jewish comedians by Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.

Woody Allen wasn't expected to show up, so it wasn't a surprise that he didn't. Because most of the work of Allen's standup years (1961-1968) is available only in audio on CDs, we didn't get to see any film clips, but Dauber played audio clips throughout the evening to illustrate the developmental phases of Allen's comedic persona.

One aspect of Allen's comic genius is his persistence at building a character that audiences can recognize and sympathize with. Drawing on his own Jewish family, he builds an image with stereotypical Jewish characteristics. His jokes, stressing his own weakness and neuroses, and those of his family, can appear to be intellectual and anti-intellectual at the same time.

Around 1965, Allen moved from standup comedy and nightclub acts to writing and directing for the stage and screen and acting in many of his movies. It's too bad that he hasn't returned to doing standup comedy. Many of the audio clips that we heard, although funny, (and the mostly older audience reacted with smiles and laughter to many of them) were replete with references to terms and personalities from the 1960's. It would be great fun to hear Woody apply his wit to the contemporary scene as well, but he seems to find satisfaction in personal performances these days in playing the jazz clarinet.

During the lecture we listened to an audio clip of one of his most famous routines, The Moose. I found a video of him delivering it on English television in 1965 and here it is, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy!

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