Saturday, June 01, 2013

Dean Martin Epiphany

I was just watching this Richard Pryor documentary on one of these movie channels and it said that when Richard Pryor was first working in Las Vegas he was doing his act and he looked down and saw Dean Martin in the audience and suddenly he saw himself through Dean Martin's eyes, and saw that Dean Martin knew he was a phony, and from then on he stopped doing his regular everyday stand-up act and started doing his Richard Pryor act, the act that let us know he was a genius. And that made me remember that I once taught a "humor" class at the university - ugh! what could be more useless and horrible? - and I divided the students into groups and made them research and write one-act plays about various comic geniuses, such as Richard Pryor and Dorothy Parker. And the class was two little dudes and 12 young women. So a young woman was obligated to portray Richard Pryor, and she was thoroughly committed and did a great job! And as I recall, the play that group came up with was Garrison Keillor interviewing Richard Pryor in heaven. So now I need to tell you that one of the young women was utterly obsessed with Garrison Keillor. She was a goodnatured and brilliant young person who was sometimes late for class because of her piano lessons. And then it turned out that she was trying to be Miss America! She was Miss Mississippi, and her piano lessons were aimed toward the national contest. She was awesome! And she played Garrison Keillor (in the Richard Pryor skit) with aplomb, which is more than Garrison Keillor ever did, ha ha. (Garrison Keillor came to speak to the class but that's another story. I didn't plan or ask for it! The "Honors College" made it happen. In fact, they asked me to design a class around the fact that Garrison Keillor was coming. Garrison Keillor was coming!) I guess that class had the most cross-dressing of any class I ever taught. In the Dorothy Parker skit, a young woman portrayed Parker's BFF Robert Benchley with such incredible verve that I had to ask whether she had ever acted before. She said, "I was in one movie. Have you ever heard of O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?" (That wasn't a rhetorical question; she was just extremely modest.) Turns out she was the middle-sized "Li'l Wharvey Gal" (see below). She gets to tell George Clooney he "ain't bona fide!" You remember that part.