Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be a comedian. Now that I’m an adult only a handful of comedians that I call my inspirations. These comedians shaped how I personally approach comedy. Sadly, only one is alive today.
Steve Martin. On my list, Steve is the only one alive. I first saw him on the Muppet Show of all places. He was the scheduled guest, but the Muppet Show was dark that day. He did a few gags, including a hilarious piece with a balloon. Then I saw him on Saturday Night Live with the infamous King Tut song. Dr. Demento would play that song ad nauseam. My brother than introduced me to Let’s Get Small and A Wild and Crazy Guy.
Three Amigos was an exercise in silliness that I love still today. Planes, Trains and Automobiles featured the best and most clever use of the F-word in cinematic history. Parenthood and Father of the Bride is a where I learned that comedy must connect emotionally with an audience. Bowfinger is a classic comedy in its sheer cleverness. I love parody and Bowfinger lampoons Hollywood to perfection.
Steve showed me that that my style was the clever, dry comedy versus the over-the-top wackiness audiences react to quickly but grow tired even faster.
John Candy. I first saw John Candy on SCTV and fell in love with him in Splash and Stripes. It wasn’t until he teamed up with John Hughes in Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles that with great comedy must come great acting. Both movies and Only the Lonely forced John to be vulnerable as a comedian on screen. His heart was on the screen and it was big. Sadly, his career ended way too soon when he passed away due to a heart attack.
He also taught me that nice and funny are a powerful pair.
Phil Hartman. For many up-and-coming comedians, Saturday Night Live was the dream and when Phil Hartman joined the cast, I was at the age where being a cast member of SNL was a possible dream. Like Dan Ackroyd and Will Farrell, Phil Hartman was the quintessential utility player on the show. He could create amazing characters, speak in any accent and be the everyday man.
What I admired most about Phil was his ability to be a supporting player on stage. Sure, I could star in any scene, but he could also set up and make his fellow actors look better that they could. He was the ultimate team player. This was especially true with his character Bill McNeal on Newsradio. I loved that show and it was never the same after his tragic death in 1998. Only Eugene Levy can dare to take the spot of Phil Hartman as that perfect utility player.
Robin Williams. I could go on about Robin’s comedic greatness, but I could not say anything that has no been already said. It’s funny, but I never really like Robin’s comedic performances on screen. It was his dramatic performance in Good Will Hunting, Awakenings and, of course, Dead Poets Society, that showed me that you need to have depth in your comedy. You need to understand what it means to be human in order to make fun of it.
I’m almost fifty and it’s hard to believe that 75% of my heroes are gone. Nothing new will come from them. So here’s to long life for Steve Martin.