What’s Funny?

Published May 16, 2020

I’m reading Woody Allen’s new autobiography. I’m about halfway through. So far, so good.

One thing I find interesting is there are many classic movies Woody has never seen. Others, including some of his own, he feels are overrated. One example (not one of his own) is the classic comedy Some Like it Hot with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. Woody didn’t think it was funny.

I always thought I liked this movie. Then I started wondering: Do I think it’s funny?

It’s been awhile but I don’t remember actually laughing when I watched it. I don’t recall any scenes that caused me to laugh out loud. I’m sure in 1960, when it came out, there were people who thought two men dressing in drag was, in itself, a laugher. Not me. Tony Curtis pretending not to be affected by Marilyn Monroe practically raping him on a boat? Funny concept. But did I laugh? I’m pretty sure not.

I looked up “funny” in Webster’s. The first definition: “affording light mirth and laughter.” Further definitions don’t require laughter, but the first one does.

So, was Some Like it Hot funny? To quote from another movie, funny how? Does it make you laugh?

To me, Woody Allen is funny. I know I have laughed during some of his movies and I find myself laughing occasionally as I read his book. Last night I read him talking about the time he performed at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961. “I did my moose routine,” he says.

Allen does not describe the moose sketch in the book. Fortunately, I heard it on a comedy album a few decades ago. In a nutshell, Woody is driving to a costume party when he hits a moose. He takes the moose, who was not badly hurt, with him to the party and “the moose did very well. He scored.”

After the inauguration, Woody is walking through the airport when he passes a newsstand “and I see my photo and Johnny Carson’s side by side and a banner line the size of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It reads: Comics in Bad Taste at Inaugural. Apparently, Dorothy Kilgallen, the columnist, was present at the show, and whatever Johnny Carson did offended her taste and so did my moose routine.”

Johnny Carson challenged Kilgallen “strongly and decisively” on his show that night. Allen just let it go. “Was it really worth it to me to engage some dopey yellow journalist and defend not the Constitution of the United States but my moose routine?”

A prominent national entertainment columnist making headlines criticizing the moose routine at the inaugural? The moose routine? Now that’s funny.