Sunday, April 20, 2008

Respect Your Elders

On this historic occasion of the Papal visit to New York, I felt inspired to write about an aspect of our culture so often neglected - listening to and learning from our elders. One of the most wonderful things I saw come out of the Pope's wondrous journey was shown on the Catholic Channel, Telecare: a busload of children reflecting on having seen the Pope and how they'd been deeply touched by him. They were enthusiastically expressing how they'd never forget seeing him for the rest of their lives. I hoped they regarded the elders in their own midst with the same respect and awe.

It's been a long time since I felt any sense of Holy presence in New York, but watching the Pope pleading with God to bring "peace to our violent world," I could feel a great sense of spiritual weather emanating from the sky - like a spring rain cleaning the dirty air. He greatly moved the 9/11 victims' families at Ground Zero at what he called the "scene of incredible violence and pain" - and thus began the long overdue healing process for acute sorrow that just won't subside.

"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world," the Pope prayed. "Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred."

On TV, at the same time, they were calling him a "Pope of great empathy" who'd known much pain and loss in his own life. The Holy Father is, after all, one of our elders and we all should respect his knowledge and experience and learn from him - no matter what our religion. This is a great Pope whose mission in life is to heal the masses and especially all the pain caused by the criminal priests of his own church. What he's doing is the most important work on Earth - spreading love, healing and peace throughout the world and, this week, thankfully, in America.

The Holy Father is truly an inspiration to all races, creeds, faiths and religions - a real universal symbol of Christ on Earth. He may be the only one who could have brought such hope to the victims' families of 9/11 or of the sexual abuse by degenerate priests; he minced no words, put on no airs - only reflected great sincerity and love, actually apologizing and promising to hold the bishops accountable. He is truly spreading God's light by using his life experience to teach us all about the ways of the world.

If our society valued the advice of our elders and listened to and learned from their wisdom, much in the same way as the Pope's messages are being analyzed and heeded - as well as inspiring - the enrichment of our culture would be immeasurable. But instead, many in America today look up to train-wreck idiots in the media who are pathetic human specimens; they emulate their bad behavior and perpetuate the downward spiral of the condition of our culture.

The older we all get, the more we seem to worship at the altar of youth. The elderly are neglected by those who should love them, bullied and patronized by those who should serve them, and exploited by those who should care for them. Our society has failed to tap the great resource of their wisdom. It doesn't matter how skilled they are or how much knowledge they have to impart; these days if you look old, you're put out to pasture. The average age of the population rises steadily; the older generations have more power at election time, are enjoying better health and are more affluent, yet the worship of youth continues and is reinforced daily by the media's fixation on making us all feel desperate to be younger, thinner and more attractive.

We used to venerate old age and experience. Winston Churchill didn't pack it in as Prime Minister until he was in his 80s. You will recollect that President Reagan took over as President - aged almost 70 - and stayed in office for two terms. He was popular and robust, even surviving an assassination attempt.

As vital members of our community, our elders deserve respect and honor, not neglect or humiliation. They possess life experience (both positive and negative) that can help others. "How far you go in life," taught George Washington Carver, "depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong - because someday in life, you will have been all of these."

Making fun of aging has always been a source of entertainment in comedy. Bob Hope, born in 1903 and still a star in the '80s, said, "I don't feel old. I don't feel anything until noon, and then it's time for my nap."

"I was always taught to respect my elders and I've now reached the age when I don't have anybody to respect," said comedian George Burns a few days short of his 100th birthday.

But what of the rest of us? Who do we have to respect? Respect is the idea that a person or idea deserves to be treated well. For example, treating one's elders with respect - as envisioned by the Ten Commandments - involves honoring those with more experience and wisdom. Respecting elders is a component of the teachings of almost every culture through the ages. And elder wisdom was the thread that held everyone together.

Today it's seen as a joke ... yet it's an untapped resource we should all consume in abundance.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Golden Age of Comedy

I've always loved comedy. I remember when I was a kid laughing myself silly to the wonderful skits on The Carol Burnett Show - with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway - especially when Harvey could not contain himself and inevitably always burst into laughter watching his wonderful costar, Tim Conway playing the old man, the dentist and many other hilarious characters. I always loved him as the boss opposite Carol Burnett's dim-witted secretary who could never stop filing her nails long enough (pun! ha!) to figure out the intercom system from office to office. Or Carol's nagging Zelda with her husband George... how many times my brother and I put on skits imitating them to entertain our parents!

Tim Conway recently did an interview for a show on Telecare - the Catholic Channel - where he described his feelings about the Golden Age of Comedy versus today's comedy, which, as we know, is like day and night. He expressed the anxiety he experiences watching TV today with his grandkids and how embarrassing it is for him because of all the profanity, sexuality, etc. He said he just doesn't watch TV most of the time because you never know how far they'll go.

My favourite type of comedy has always been slapstick. One of the great masters of slapstick comedy is
Dick Van Dyke. His wonderful show with Mary Tyler Moore came before my time, but I really enjoyed watching it in reruns when I was a kid and loved the clever, creative humour of that show. He was obviously inspired by the great grandfather of comedy, Charlie Chaplin, whose films are still so fresh and fun to watch today. I never tire of Modern Times (1936), The Gold Rush (1925) or The Kid (1921). I've always loved silent films and especially the silent clowns; they've always been a passion of mine and I studied them for years - from Buster Keaton to the talented Laurel and Hardy.

As a youth, I was passionate about vaudeville and studied the entire history of theatre and the lives of the vaudevillians from the turn of the 20th century through silent pictures to talkies. And, of course, there was the incomparable
Mae West - one of the greatest comediennes of the 20th century who wrote all her own material for movies and stage!

I was also a huge
Jerry Lewis fan as a kid and watched all of his movies over and over, laughing so hard; I thought I'd die. And, wow! Is laughter good for my soul! One of my favourite movies, other than the original The Nutty Professor (1963) was The Patsy (1964) - an all but forgotten but truly hilarious movie. I stayed up with Jerry all night for years watching his telethon... until it became so obnoxiously commercial that it wasn't fun anymore.

As I matured, I grew to love Woody Allen and his films. He taught me just how beautiful life can really be. When I was a youth, I just wanted to be a character in one of his movies - go to New York and marry him. My dream was to go to Elaine's and sit in that corner table, just like in the movie, Manhattan (1979). The first time I saw the uproarious film, Sleeper (1973) was a real experience for me - I thought I'd never laughed so hard... and I grew to love all of Woody Allen's great movies throughout the years; however, I still laugh out loud at his early comedies, such as Bananas (1971, Play It Again, Sam (1972), Love and Death (1975) and, in the '80s, Broadway Danny Rose (1984).

I'm sure my favourite comedian of recent years,
Jim Carrey, learned a thing or two from these greats. Another very versatile actor who truly captured the idea of tragic-comedy and whose slapstick eclipsed just about every comedian who ever walked the earth, Jim Carrey's movies, such as The Mask (1994)Liar Liar (1997), and the characters he made famous on In Living Color were a sight to behold. That show was almost as great as the first Saturday Night Live with the original cast (never to be equaled) - John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, et al.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no prude. But, as a rule, I'm not too crazy about bathroom humor or off-coloured jokes, but I love
AbFab, (Absolutely Fabulous) and watched every episode! I recently saw Doug Stanhope's cable special, which was filled with a lot of political humour, and thought he was very talented and entertaining. And it's a shame about Mitch Hedberg, who died too young. He was such a wonderful talent!  I know they were all influenced by the late great George Carlin who I remember gave me such a laugh as a youth.

I don't care for loudmouth comedians who are so egotistical and full of themselves, such as
Jack BlackWill Ferrell, Chris Farley, Kathy Griffin, Andy Kaufman, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, and others who are crass, rude and arrogant. Though I do like the recent works of Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand and find them quite charming.

They could all learn a thing or two from the great
Jackie Mason who's currently finishing up his latest run on Broadway, hosts his own radio show and YouTube site, and stays current with the times politically and has never grown stale. He's a friend and a mentor and one of the best in the business! Like him, radio talk show host, actor and comedian, Dennis Miller's political and social commentary remains witty, smart and entertaining.

Jack Lemmon was my favourite actor all the time I was growing up. I remember reading his biography when I was a teenager and being so in love with him. He was a truly versatile actor - skilled at both comedy and drama. But I loved How to Murder Your Wife (1965) the most and wanted to grow up to be the character (Stanley Ford and his cartoon character Bash Brannigan!) in that movie played by Jack Lemmon and I loved the butler played by Terry-Thomas. What a character!

My Dad's generation influenced me to appreciate and admire the sweet clown,
Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners, the marathons of which I still watch during the holidays. What pros they were and the slapstick was side-splitting. Like Peter Sellers who was so comical in The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964); I still get tickled to death at his pratfalls as though I'm watching them for the first time every time.

In this day and age, we all need to stop and enjoy some good clean humor - it's healthy and invigorating. It makes you feel good and there's nothing like a good laugh.