If you’re younger than 45, you can stop reading right here. The rest of these ramblings won’t make much sense.

In my weekly pile of email flotsam and jetsam the other day, I found one of the many hilarious comedy sketches from the old “Carol Burnett Show” of the 70’s. Some of ‘em are still around on “You Tube” if case you haven’t yet succumbed to the ever-present half-hour commercials trying to sell you several seasons of the show on CD’s.

This particular bit contained the classic comedy of my two favorites from all those Burnett gems: Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. It was the dentist office sketch with Conway as the apparently new tooth doctor and Korman as the long-suffering patient.

The sketch was short on dialogue and long on physical comedy, something the current crop of what are euphemistically called “comedians” just can’t do. Physical comedy is almost pantomime with few words and lots of knockabout action which, if not done so brilliantly by the best of them, would be called clumsiness. You also need a few props, most of which eventually are destroyed in the routine.

Conway was … and I guess still is … one of the best of that craft. Along with Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Dick VanDyke, Laurel and Hardy, Peter Sellers, Red Skelton and a few more. It’s an ancient skill. Lots of people have tried it. Few succeeded. At least not with the perfection of Conway and those other guys.

The late Harvey Korman, on the other hand, was known for his ability with a comedy line and his always outlandish creation of characters. Really great! But he had one professional failing for a comedian. A failing that, in his case, made him all the funnier. He could not work with his friend Conway without cracking up. And in the dentist sketch, he was destroyed by Conway’s physical comedy. Half way through, he made no pretense of keeping a straight face. He just couldn’t do it.

So it was doubly funny: Conway’s knockabout routine as the bumbling dentist and Korman, not only the hapless patient and foil, but also as part of the audience that had to laugh. Had to. Conway’s that good.

After a couple of viewings … and with tears on my cheeks … I got to thinking about what I had just seen and how it affected me.

I like comedy. I really do. But we see so little of it. If you take out all the lines about sex, physical imperfections of someone’s body, censor all the words you wouldn’t say to your mother, remove the verbal put-downs of one character to another, take out the sexual and racial stereotyping, you won’t find much to laugh about. There’ll be nothing left.

I’m no prude. Neither is Barb. But we can sit in front of the TV for hours watching “situation comedies” and not crack a smile. We don’t sit there anymore. Because if you see one half-hour sit-com, you’ve seen them all. The same situations regurgitated over and over and over. And all with laugh tracks that put laughs where the director wanted them instead of where a live audience would have put them. Naturally.

If you watch what’s euphemistically called the “Comedy Channel,” you’ll find foul-mouthed, jeans and sweatshirt guys in sneakers. Hour after hour after hour. Boil out the above “must have” ingredients and you can’t tell ‘em apart. Male from female. That’s about it. And sometimes, not even that.

Again, I like comedy. Nearly all kinds of comedy. British highbrow and satire are my favorites. About nearly any subject. Think Monty Python and you’ll know what I mean. I like Robin Williams, Johnny Carson, Mort Sahl, Abbott and Costello, Danny Kaye and lots more. Humor on subjects all over the map. And sketch comics like Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen and some of the old vaudevillians.

But somewhere back a few years, we lost most of our comedians who worked with talented writers, spending years honing routines until they had ‘em perfect. And we replaced that craftsmanship with put-downs, racist jabs, sexual references and whatever else came to the mind of someone who may have been a great comedian if …a big IF … they had worked with good writers and thought of themselves as professionals rather than someone who says funny things.

We don’t waste time watching them these days. We’ve tried. And “Tain’t funny, McGee.” And if you don’t understand that line, you’ve wasted too much time reading this far.

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