The Sunshine Boys — Letter from the Artistic Director
This letter appears on the inside cover of the playbill for The Sunshine Boys.
Welcome to The Sunshine Boys,
What is funny?
Willie Clark, half of the infamous fictional comic duo of our title, will be sharing his rules and opinions with you throughout the performance, but I will say it’s a question that most of us who make our livings being “funny” ponder in a very serious way.
I refer to it as the “science of comedy”. And I’ve certainly had very detailed and philosophical discussions with my wife and my colleagues about why something “is” funny, why something “isn’t” funny, and how to turn an “isn’t” into an “is”.
There is a much revered quote in the world of entertainment involving a famous actor (generally credited to be Edmund Gwenn, a film actor of the early 20th century whose nickname was “Teddy”) as he lay struggling on his death bed. A friend is said to have offered the observation:
“All this must be terribly difficult for you, Teddy.”
To Which the actor replied: “Not nearly as difficult as playing comedy.”
And I guarantee you that anyone who does comedy for a living would absolutely agree. People seem amazed by the level of emotion and energy that goes into a “dramatic” performance, but the truth is there’s a lot of wiggle room in drama. It’s comedy that is unforgiving. Timing is everything. Choosing the words carefully and putting them in exactly the right order makes all the difference between riotous laughter and a blank stare.The real reason I think that comedy is often underrated by audiences and critics (how often does the Oscar for Best Picture go to a “comedy?”) is the fact that when it’s done impeccably, by masters like Lucille Ball, Abbot and Costello, George Burns, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, and countless others – it always seems effortless. As natural as just opening your mouth and having funny things spill out. But I assure you, a great deal of thought, skill, and instinct went into what appears to be so simple.
We’re very lucky with this production, to have been given a huge head start in the words of Neil Simon. Responsible for so many classic American comedies, like The Odd Couple, he truly understands how to structure a joke and make his audiences roar with laughter.
We humbly hope that we’re able to do justice to this wonderful script as it takes us all back to the unique days and style of Vaudeville – an era which gave us so many great performers, and shaped our national sense of humor. If you remember it, and the performers that are mentioned, I think you’re very lucky. And if you don’t - or even if you do – go home and type “Abbot and Costello Who’s on First?” into YouTube. I promise you won’t be sorry.
We dedicate our performances to all the comic greats who taught those of us you’ve come to see on this stage how to be “funny.” And the best way we could ever honor them, is by passing on their well-learned lessons. It may be hard to do comedy, but laughter makes it all worthwhile!
As always, thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.