Monday, August 3, 2009

Changing Fashions: Beyond the Fringe

Nerds across America recite Monty Python by rote, yet whole British comedy troupes of equal quality have been swallowed up by obscurity.

The names Dudley Moore and Peter Cook will still ring an enormous bell today to Baby Boomer movie lovers (to say nothing of famed playwright Alan Bennett or theater director Jonathan Miller), but the troupe they belonged to: Beyond the Fringe, has been consigned to the dustbin of comic obscurity. The reason is not hard to see - Beyond the Fringe played upon the assumption that its average audience member was literate beyond today's average Ivy Leaguer. Watching them today, it is rather difficult to believe that they thought their audience was anything but Oxford Dons. And yet they were the comic stars of early-60's Britain.

Consider the infamous above clip, in which a piano-playing Dudley Moore is stopped by Peter Cook in a Bobbie hat, who proceeds to discuss Moore's piano playing as if it were drunk driving, and all the while using 400-year-old Italian musical terminology to describe it. It is utterly brilliant in an utterly obscure way.

Or consider the below clip, in which Dudley Moore not plays the piano in pitch-perfect imitations of Benjamin Britten and Kurt Weill, but also sings in pitch-perfect imitations of Peter Pears and Lotte Lenya. Clips like this made Dudley Moore the biggest name in England for a time, and yet how many people even know who Peter Pears is today?

So what can we do today to make Dudley Moore funny again?

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