Although she’s a woman in comedy, Julie Gillis has nothing but love for the hilarious men who bring the funny to the stage and screen.
Funny. I’ll start by saying that all human beings are funny. We’ve had to be, or we’d have died out from all the varying dramas and tragedies the natural world throws at us. Plague? Childbirth? Ebola? War? Dentistry without Novocaine? Humor may well have been born out of a defense mechanism to deal with the horrors we found in the world around us.
For most of my life, I’ve been a performing artist. No matter the form, I’ve been on stage or backstage for more years than I’d like to count. I’m naturally comedic (as a defense mechanism to deal with the horrors I found in the world around me?) so my roles have usually been funny ones, and in the past eight years, my artistic career has lead me to comedy.
I love comedy. Comedy is smart. It can turn an idea on its ear, it shows us all what silly crazy creatures we are, it allows us to express hostility or sadness in socially acceptable ways, and it allows us to recognize ourselves in ridiculous situations, mirroring solutions to difficult problems or just letting us know we are all human.
Funny men on stage. I love them. Fierce, aggressive, passionate. Wickedly intelligent. Pushy? Sometimes. Manic? Dirty, scatological, and inappropriate? Sure.
Sexy? Damn straight. I think there is little sexier than a man who is funny. Funny means he’s smart; it means he’s thinking all the time. It means he’s aware of power dynamics, how to wield them in a joke. It means he’s got scar tissue and has found a way to deal with it. I like to watch men onstage the same way I like to watch athletes on the field.
I love to see that controlled adrenaline, exploding in bursts of comic energy. I enjoy discovering the thread of anger or emotion underneath a joke, the aggressiveness of give and take when men play. It’s wild to watch, and so fun to try to meet, match, and play that power back on stage. Women often play differently than men, and I’ve learned an incredible amount as a performer from watching and playing with many of the exceptionally talented fellas here in ATX.
(Frankly—and this is entirely another article—I see great parallels to sex from working solely with women, to working in co-ed troupes, to watching purely male groups perform. Call me bi-comedic, but I kind of dig it all.)
So without further ado, here are many funny men that I love and am giving thanks to for teaching me and making me laugh. Enjoy the humor over the Thanksgiving holidays!
The Marx Brothers: Vaudeville, naughty double and triple entendres, distinct characters. A Night At The Opera was one of the first comedic films I ever saw. I really dug the sexy humor, slapstick, and physical prowess the Brothers displayed.
George Burns: This man was wry, sideways glancing, sexy as all get out, and was never without his signature cigar. In his early comedy days, he worked with his wife, Gracie, and they played out hilarious status games in early television and radio. Subtle and wise, his humor was always a comfort to me, as was the knowledge that you could be funny no matter your age.
The Men of Laugh In: Rowan and Martin took digs at the mores of the time. It was one big, crazy, martini-free love party, but underneath the “Sock It To Me” and bikini dancing, there was a fierce political awareness and commentary on the Vietnam war, the presidency, gay issues, race, and more. I really thought that adult life would be a great deal like the Laugh In parties I saw on television. I’ve done my best to replicate it.
Richard Pryor: Amazing amounts of talent and vulgarity, piercingly focused on race and issues of the time. Bill Cosby reportedly once said, “Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.”
Bill Murray: Who can forget him in SNL, Caddyshack, or Ghostbusters. He was able to create extraordinarily memorable characters, imbuing them not only with lascivious humor, but pathos and subtlety.
Steve Martin: One of my favorite comedians, writers, and performers. This man is brilliant. His career is multifaceted and his work is both exquisitely physical and keenly intelligent. Tightly wound, tightly controlled, perfectly aggressive.
Eddie Murphy: Gorgeous, engaging, sly. His stand up is as great as his film work. Willing to cross lines, dealing with race, gender, and more, his work pushes you to react and challenge yourself.
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey: I was in love with both of them. Also, I was in love with Wayne and Garth. Also also, I was in love with boys like that in high school. Amazing character work, brilliant sketches. Cheeky, naughty monkeys. ‘Nuf said.
Eddie Izzard: OK, OK. I realize a lot of you may not like the whole transvestite aspect of his early work, but the man’s a bloody genius. Ratatat history lessons, surreal connections, manic delivery. And he does it in heels!
The Men of Mad TV: Michael McDonald, Aries Spears, Bobby Lee, Frank Caliendo. Such great sketch work. Funny, tight, spot on character work. It was too damn hard to pick just one sketch, so I’m linking a whole show here.
TJ and Dave: These two make their improvisational duo seem like they are channeling stories out of the sky, or as if they are literally hit by a runaway story. The great documentary, Trust Us This Is All Made Up, shows their process as a duo, and how they approach telling stories.
Finally, my dad, Don Gillis, while a composer, conductor, and teacher, was also a very funny man. His warmth, kindness, and wry, gentle humor taught me so much about life and about what a good man should be. There’s no way I’d be as funny today if it wasn’t for him.
Thanks to all the funny men out there. Keep us laughing and keep pointing out the truth as you see it.
—Photo Gino Domenica (AP)/SFGate