Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, March 25, 2006

A different PP quote by Steve

Ottawa Citizen
March 19, 2006 Sunday
Final Edition
NEWS; Charles Gordon; Pg. A12
Clouseau is a skilled art, but Steve Martin dabbles
Charles Gordon, The Ottawa Citizen

It is with no small sense of desperation that whoopee-cushion owners around the world hoped against hope that Steve Martin could succeed as Inspector Clouseau. More than ever, the world is desperate for something funny. Really funny -- not the stuff with laugh tracks pushed at you on television, or the movies with people screaming at each other both on screen and in the audience.

In real life, actual funny stuff doesn't happen all that often. It was a gift when Dick Cheney, the American vice-president, accidentally shot a hunting companion in the face in an attempt to kill a quail. The late-night comedians could barely contain themselves, and in fact did quite well with it. One of them, Jon Stewart, actually raised his eyes to the heavens and said: "This is too easy."

Beginning with the fact that the victim didn't die, which would have ruined the joke, the important elements of humour were all there: A rich and powerful guy making a fool of himself -- the equivalent of the banker slipping on a banana peel. Then a series of attempts to pretend it wasn't happening, a coverup that drove the press into a frenzy, and a hilariously grave official tone to the proceedings, culminating in the victim's statement to the press expressing concern that all the media attention would give hunting in Texas a bad image.

That's comedy, the essence of it being that the comedian doesn't seem to know he's being funny, which is the essence of the humour of Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, which is the essential point that Steve Martin missed in his attempt to put his own stamp on the character.

Martin's The Pink Panther was eagerly awaited by Clouseau cultists because of the respect that Martin has earned for himself in the comedy world. He is a brilliant actor, an equally brilliant writer and a man who is thoughtful about his profession.

We didn't dispute the right of Martin to do Clouseau. Martin said a smart thing about that in an interview with The Independent the other day.

"Nobody says, 'Oooh, I can't do Hamlet because Richard Burton did it.' So, to me, Inspector Clouseau is the Hamlet for comedians."

As Clouseau, Sellers affected a ridiculous French accent, broke things and set curtains on fire, all the time attempting to maintain his dignity. When he solved cases, it was by accident. People reacted to him as if he were a buffoon, but Clouseau was unaware of that, unaware that he was funny.

That made him funnier, which Steve Martin doesn't seem to get. "I bent it a little bit because I am different," he told the British newspaper. "When I looked at those movies, I understood that Peter Sellers could ad-lib all day within the context of the character. He understood Clouseau so well and I could tell he felt funny. I was a long way from that when I first started thinking about the part, but I knew it had to feel funny to me and the only way that would come out is through my own comic sense. I can't tell you exactly what it is, because it's a little mysterious, which I think is a good thing."

Actually, it would have been funnier if Martin played Clouseau as Hamlet. Imagine Hamlet setting fire to the curtains, or saying: "Aye, there's the rewb."

Martin does understand his roots, particularly when it comes to physical comedy: There is a bit with a globe that is a clever variation on a gag Sellers did several times; there is a great routine with a priceless vase that owes a lot to Charlie Chaplin. But as Martin bends it, Clouseau's comedy becomes too self-aware. Rather than do his funny accent in an unconscious way, Martin even puts in a set piece in which Clouseau shows off his accent. Sellers's Clouseau was never that on-the-nose.

It wouldn't have been funny if Stephen Harper, at the controls of a military aircraft, was actually trying to look silly. And it wouldn't have been funny if Paul McCartney and Heather Mills had acknowledged that they were just a couple of British celebrities talking off the top of their heads about Canada's seal hunt. What was funny was that they were all so solemn about it.

There's lots of it around. Just this week we learned of Canada's former privacy commissioner going to absurd lengths to protect his privacy. Strange how some amateurs have just an instinctive grasp of comedy.


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