Lou's on First (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 1, 2003
- pp. 73-75
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature Book Reviews Chris Costello with Raymond Strait. Lou's on First Cooper Square Press, 2000. 257 pages; $17.95 paperback. More Nostalgic Perhaps because it targets our foibles, the more superficial and ephemeral of our failings, modern performance comedy often does not keep very well—sometimes no better than the faddish clothing we find so preposterous upon us in the snapshots of our younger selves we are sometimes foolish enough to dig out. It is doubtful, forinstance, that any contemporary audience would find a miraculously rejuvenated Bob Hope doing any ofhis very best routines from the thirties as anything but insipid. Yet evidence exists—films, records, reviews—to document that he once struck audiences as funny—not just ingratiatingly so, but bellylaughing funny. The reassuring optimism ofhis outlook, the contained formality of his jokes and routines, and the winsome connivance of his deportment accurately captured the essential traits of his fundamentally decorous generation, so that his audiences could recognize the caricature of themselves, the way they fashioned themselves for one another and the attitudes they adopted toward their world. Even across the lesser distance of some thirty years, we find it difficult to imagine that we ourselves once guffawed at the simple spectacle of Steve Martin smiling inanely with a proparrow through his head, yet at the time, his antic "overbehaviors" for their own sake struck so true in mirroring the vanities of the vogueing disco culture of the seventies that he was considered a comic genius. Now, we reserve that status for the manic cynicism of Robin Williams or the bristling vulgarity of Martin Lawrence, rightly recognizing in those elements oftheir mockery the essence ofour contemporaryjaded selves. And guessing what travesties of our nature shall best please us twenty or thirty years hence is a matter ofno small cultural anxiety, calling us as it does to either hope or despair in our underlying development. What shall become of us? Whatever our fate, it appears to be a certainty that the entire corpus of twentieth century comedy will accompany us, however variously funny we now find its individual works. Thanks to cable television's seemingly limitless channel capacity, niche programming has arrived, and its typical program schedules are revealing. The Three Stooges routinely win marathon blocks ofthe Comedy Channel alongside recentreruns ofSaturdayNightLive. The zany slapstick shorts of the Stooges, so closely approaching the conditions of pure cartoon, still count as funny. Abbott and Costello features, on the other hand, earn only the comic relief role for American Movie Classics or Turner Classic Movies. Despite Jerry Seinfeld's successful (but singular) 1994 homage to the team in an NBC special (Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld), their appeal is now more nostalgic than truly comic, and their audience is essentially a relatively small fan club (although a surprisingly vital one that publishes a quarterly magazine and posts aWeb site at http://members.aol.com/ACQtrly/). To most ofthese fans, Chris Costello's (assisted) biography of her father Lou is probably old news, it having been first published in 1981, and there is little real significance to its paperback appearance now. Originally serving as an antidote to Hollywood historian Bob Thomas's unflattering 1977 biography (Bud & Lou), Ms. Costello's familial perspective has probably even lost much ofthe rooting appeal that may have originally redeemed the powerful shortcomings of this work. Despite the assistance of a professional writer, for instance, the prose here is generally stilted and the editorialjudgment sometimes astonishingly defective, as in this bathetic account of the moments after Lou's return to his home the afternoon ofhis infant son's death by drowning: "Mitch [the Costello butler] had returned with Dad and went immediately outside, where the baby lay on the pavement at the shallow end of the pool. Mitch gently took off his new coat (Dad had recently purchased it for him) and with great tenderness covered the baby." To be fair, the detail ofLou's generosity is not entirely gratuitous. One of Ms. Costello's main themes throughout the book is exactly that generosity, and she often indulges in one saccharine anecdote after another about her father's impulsive munificence with his family and...