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(Note some of the references are a bit dated. Mike wrote this a while ago and I have had it for many months just lying around in my files.)
Rita Rudner is one of the best. Her lines are excellent, and her persona is very interesting. She's like a hybrid of Victoria Jackson and Dennis Miller! She plays soft voiced, singsong, shopping addicted airhead to some extent, but somehow keeps you feeling that she is a knowing, dry, sage, wiseacre who is playing with your mind.
Like you, I like Elayne Boosler a lot too. I'm always glad when she shows up on my favorite TV show, "Politically Incorrect." I'll mention Degeneris again because I think she is a comedy genius.
I like every comedienne, come to think of it! My least favorite is Margaret Cho (I think that's her name). She is a young Korean comedienne who has considerable talent, but no charm. She tries to be as profane and shocking as possible.
I have not seen Whoopie Goldberg do anything funny in a long time. Her shtick seems to be to affect a superior smirk and make snide remarks. I had not thought of this until now. I respect her talent, but I am never happy to see her like I am some of the others. She charmed me early on with her Valley girl impression, and she's a good actress.
I enjoy seeing that redheaded girl from Brooke Shield's show, "Suddenly Susan." She is a sarcastic type on that show and is sort of an anti-Brooke (Brooke is something like MTM's Mary Richards). I can't think of her name, but she is very much like Elayne, but younger. I have seen her several times on "Politically Incorrect," and I am just as glad to see her as to see Elayne. She has a quick, quirky wit.
The biggest surprise on "P. I. " is Joan Rivers. One cannot tell from her usual act, her street interviews with entering stars on Oscar night, or her TV selling of her products whether she is smart or not.
On "P. I. " she reveals the truth. She's brilliant!! She does not use the forum to clown around distractingly like Kevin Nealon and Carrot Top do. She has strong opinions and she argues cogently for them. But here is the shock - - she rasps out the same kind of solid jokes that are in her act, but they are only a trenchant and colorful way to make her points.
The flow of conversation would not allow anything but spontaneity. If the jokes are written and on tap in her mind, then she is just as brilliant as if she makes them up in mid-sentence. No matter where the conversation goes, she is right with it, advancing it, and taking sides - - but sounding like she rehearsed a monologue for a Vegas act. I'm astounded, but I don't call her a "favorite" because she is not my type. (-;
I like softer comediennes, like Alexandra Wentworth, a very young, goofy, physical, cutie pie who may not even do standup. She was on "In Living Color," and then Leno had her on in some special vignettes outside the studio. I've seen her on interview shows.
Historically, I liked Gracie Allen, then Carol Burnett, then Lily Tomlin, and then the ones mentioned above. I am probably leaving out one of my top comediennes because I'm winging it.
I admire their acting, but I was never "into" Imogene Coca or Lucille Ball.
In retrospect, I think Minnie Pearl was great. I was not savvy enough, as a child, to see that she was a woman who invented a comic character, knew what audience she wanted, and knew a way to get them on her side. I thought she was just a loud, happy hick who made people laugh by having a price tag on her hat.
I don't think I even heard her jokes. Knowing what I know now, my guess was that she had good lines, but they did not HAVE to be great lines because she had created such a warm, welcome, happy, innocent, charming, and silly persona.
Elayne Boosler's happy affability approaches that effect, and non-standup Dolly Parton is immediately likable in a similar way, but most of the comediennes are heavily dependent on having very strong material. (Dame Edith has the ingratiating attitude, but she is disqualified on technical grounds).
All the comediennes on Saturday Night Live are very talented. They are all more like Dana Carvey than like Jane Curtain. Jane did not do impressions, dialects, etc. She was more like a female Jack Lemmon.
I knew I had left out a deity. The SNL comediennes all live in the shadow of the great Gilda Radner. She made Minnie Pearl look like Leona Helmsley. She had enormous talent and was inherently lovable. One of my favorite comedy skits of all time is the one in which Gilda was a drug and booze obtuse rock star who was carried onto and off the stage, but who gave a passable raunchy rock performance in spite of her semicomatose state.
I should do something with the rest of my life besides sit here and write about comediennes until I die. Paula is to blame! Somebody get a rope!
In an essay I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle titled "I'll Remember You" I wrote:
"It's a ritual I've repeated for more than 20 years. At the start of every class, I scan the faces and wonder: Are you the one? The one who will so stand out that I remember your face for years?
"I do not teach in a school. I am a comedy teacher. My classes are self-produced, and through the years I've discovered that every class has one student who seems a sparkling jewel.
"Yes, that student's face I'll remember."
<SNIP> To read the full 400 words got to http://sfgate.com/ and search on <cantu> in the archive (It's important to make sure archive is chosen). Click on Who Goes to School? - The face of learning - Teachers look the 09/26/2002 - Chronicle
NOTE: The link now takes you directly there. Go to page 2 of the article.
Comedy writer Michael Bass from one of my Holy City Zoo comedy writing classes was just such a person. I remember him. He went on to write for many comedians including Bob Hope and Pat Paulson
This was originally a private email from Michael to another writer (Norm Goldblatt who's also written for many comics including Jay Leno). The comments by writer Michael Bass are so astute, I felt anyone interested in stand up comedy would find his insightful comments of value.