Saturday, February 11, 2006


Fame as a long term contract

The other day, I overheard the video store clerk assert that Steve Martin is out of ideas -- that's why, argued the clerk, he's devoting his energies to lame-ass remakes like Cheaper by the Dozen and, now, Inspector Clouzot in The Pink Panther.

She has a point. Thirty and even twenty years ago, Martin was a brilliant comedic talent, and he was able to bring occasional fresh air to movie roles even after he became a mellow middle-aged baby boomer in the mid-1980s. More recently, he's been an interesting character actor in non-comedic parts -- The Spanish Prisoner is a particular favorite of mine.

But Inspector Clouzot? You get the impression that Martin has used his influence to indulge his vanity in trying his own hand at a role that has become a "classic." There is a long tradition of this sort of thing in stage acting. There, it's understandable, because the original actor can't return to the stage to reprise his classic role -- he being dead, and all -- and, frankly, mainstream theatre is such a has-been form of entertainment that they can economically justify remakes as necessary to fill the theatres.

Movies are different. Movies represent a significant commitment of resources and creative talent, and frankly, Steve Martin is just taking up space. Martin is kind of a case study in taking up space. Long after his original comic talent faded, he started getting very unfunny humor pieces published in The New Yorker -- which I gather was slobbering over the big name byline -- thereby displacing god knows how many writers of real talent.

If "15 minutes of fame" captures one end of a spectrum, Martin is at the other. He's like a 39 year old baseball player in the seventh year of a megabucks 8-year contract. The contract was thrown at his feet back when he could still produce -- now we're stuck with him, even though he's way over the hill. Move over, Steve, and let someone else have their shot.

I agree ... but I still love Father of the Bride!
Don't forget that crap with Queen' Latifah. As far as I know you couldn't even blame that one on the fact that it was a sequel an/or remake.
Yikes. While I agree that Martin has seen better days, this seems somewhat bitter.

It isn't as if it's like Mo Vaughn's contract keeping the Mets from getting a real first baseman--just go see a different movie.

Word Verification: mjzrn. (my-jeezer-on); slang for intense religious worship; "I'm getting 'mjzrn."
Heather, it's your absolute right to love any goofy comedy you choose.

Too true, psycgirl.

Aging L.S. -- Bitter? Me? You of all people should appreciate the logic. It's not Mo Vaughn sitting at home collecting a paycheck, it's the guy they keep in the lineup to justify the fact that they pay him so much -- keeping the prospects back in AAA.

Nice word verifiction.
This was the exact topic of conversation at dinner with my parents tonight. Dad was most disgusted with Steve Martin's go at the Pink Panther.

I too love Father of the Bride. I like his version even better than the original. But the sequal sucked ratbutt.
How does one address you? TTWBTB? Or maybe just "World"?
Maybe just Balls. Or Moral Turpitude is still good too.

Why do other people get fun word verifications and I get things like xyjjxxxqwqccytzzv which I inevitably mistype?
Although I agree generally with your comments about Steve Martin (and I think they apply with nearly equal force to Bill Murray), I fear that I (we?) will all too soon be in a similar position. How often do you hear academics grumbling about older colleagues who refuse to retire and, consequently, make it difficult for their department to hire new, younger, and less expensive aspiring professors?
A better example: John Cleese. (I saw bits of A Fish Called Wanda and Die Another Day yesterday.) The creator of several comedic institutions gets by these days with bit parts in franchise movies.

My theory is not that Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and John Cleese (and Eddie Murphy, for that matter) are out of ideas: they are out of comedy. My guess is that each person can only have so much comedy within them, after which they have to quit or become unfunny versions of themselves.

I can't think of a single comedian, living or dead, that sustained a long career of being consistently funny. I'll have to think about this some more, and maybe address it on my blog.

wvlsm ("WEE-vil-some"): like a weevil.

wvlsm ("weh-vell-ISM"): a Mountaineer expression, like "You've been Pittsnogled."
Hmmm... John Cleese does quite a bit more than appear in bit parts in new Bond films (and that's a whole other topic... how many times are they going to basically remake a James Bond film?) - mostly I think it's corporate work and voiceovers that's getting done now.

And these aging comedians that you name (Cleese, Martin, Murray, and Murphy) haven't written their own material in decades, if they ever wrote their own material in the first place. I don't begrudge actors their right to work - and for some, the roles are much scarcer once they are too old to reach the target demographic of "13-year-old boy" for whom all "popular" movies seem to be made.

As for aging comedians who remained funny into their twilight years, here are a few: Groucho Marx, Bob Hope (I suppose that's debatable), Johhny Carson, and Ronald Regan.

"fquqsb" -- the first thing that comes to mind for this is "fouled up quizno's sub" (and I used a different f-word for fouled in my first draft)
Wendy: John Cleese doesn't do much more, according to his filmography.

I don't know about Groucho Marx, but I think Bob Hope and Johnny Carson sort of coasted on personality toward the end of their careers, rather than actually being funny. (It's a tougher argument with Carson because he stuck to a single format and retired before he wore out his welcome.)

I'll give you Ronald Reagan.
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