Comedy fades: Billy Merson

As the images of them get older, they turn the geniuses of the vaudeville and silent film from comedians into highly talented ballet dancers, or else poets. But the jokes are hard to find. Where are they here?

A comparison between this, Britain’s first talkie, and “The Jazz Singer” shows just how far the British Empire has fallen and the American one has risen. The glamour of Jolson’s Hollywood hasn’t faded. Merson’s jokes have, into  5-year-old-ish remarks that baffle the aunts and uncles. Similarly, Jolson’s blackface gives a jolt, for all the wrong reasons, while Merson’s classical references seem as old and distant as Demosthenes. But this is pretty funny:

Merson eventually went bust after he tried to get a credit from Al Jolson who plagiarised his song ‘The Spaniard that Blighted My Life.’

As is this still and this title. I dread to think how the cyberkids of 2070 might react to Woody Allen. “Our grandparents must have found sex, jews and glasses very funny.”

See also: Paul Schrader on omitting Alexander Nevsky from his film canon.


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