Saturday, August 08, 2009

Boy, Boy, Crazy Boy, Get Cool, Boy!

New Mad Men episodes are less than nine days away which is very good news for all us Mad Men fans. I have been getting my Mad Men fix by reading the Lipp sister's blog Basket of Kisses each day. They cover everything Mad Men, including production, actors, writers, and cultural references.

Last Wednesday guest blogger B. Cooper wrote about "The Long View" that historians take when critiquing any presidential administration. Historians say you must wait 40 to 50 years for, as B. Cooper writes, "the ripple effects of its policies and decisions to fully come to light." Then Cooper goes on to say that,"...our popular culture reflects best on past eras after about that same amount of time." Cooper then provides examples of this in past television decades. It is an interesting post and I highly recommend it.

One thing that really caught my eye in B. Cooper's post was the last sentence, "Maybe in another 50 years, Jimmy Barrett will be funny again." The first thought that popped in my mind after reading this was, "Jimmy Barret was never funny."

(Jimmy Barret, for all you non-Mad Men fans is a comic hired by the advertising firm Sterling Cooper, where a large portion of Mad Men takes place, to shill one of their client's products on television.)

Cooper's statement and my reaction to it got me thinking. Would a comedian like Jimmy Barret be considered funny 40 to 50 years down the road? Will his kind of "in your face" style of comedy become timeless like Buster Keaton's or will he be perceived the same way as Blackface comics now are, as nothing but a huge embarrassment? I have no idea.

I do know that in the show Jimmy Barret is comedy-wise a dead man walking. The fourth episode of Mad Men had a scene where several of the men in the office are listening to Bob Newhart's The Button Down Mind Of Bob Newhart. That album became the first comedy record to reach number one on the Billboard charts. In an NPR interview about how Newhart and that album changed comedy Conan O'Brien had this to say about Newhart:

He's the opposite of what they used to call a "Sweat Act." I think that was an old vaudeville, maybe it's vaudeville term, an old club term. Someone's a sweat act, someone who's running around begging for the audience to laugh. And uh, Bob Newhart's kind of the iconic image of the comedian who's timing and his material is so good, he's not begging for it, you know. You have to go to him.

Jimmy Barret is definitely a sweat act in the mode of Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, and Don Rickles. Those guys were hot while Bob Newhart was, not cold, but cool and in the early sixties cool was in. Cool like soon to be president John Kennedy. Cool like Dave Brubeck who's recording Take Five was to become the first jazz single to sell a million records in nineteen sixty-one. Cool like Hugh Hefner. Cool like Don Draper. You never see that man sweat.

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