Monday, October 22, 2012

Costumes and Masks: The Moose


One of the themes that I seem to regularly come back to is whether there is objectively good music or not—why do some people think a song or artist is great, and others are crap. In general, as I have said before, I’ve come to believe that all art is appreciated subjectively, so I try to avoid making pronouncements that something is good or bad. That being said, the comedy routine at issue today, “The Moose,” by Woody Allen, is undeniably funny, and I will brook no dispute on this matter.

I know this isn’t a song, which pretty much puts it outside of the general universe that this blog lives in, but it was the first thing I thought of when I read the theme, and it is, I believe I have mentioned, very funny.

Most people today may think of Woody Allen as a director of films that range from pretty good to not so great, but there was a time that he created some of the best and funniest American films ever. And a time before that when he was a writer of hysterical comedy pieces. And a time before that when he was a standup comedian. And a time before that when he wrote jokes for early TV shows.  And he is also an accomplished jazz clarinetist, so this post isn't completely lacking in music content.

Allen’s persona was at the time, and for years after that, a nebbishy, unathletic city guy, focusing heavily on his stereotypical New York Jewishness, making the premise of “The Moose” funny at the start—that he had actually gone into the woods and shot a moose. Of course, in his later work and life Allen tried to recreate himself—dating and marrying beautiful women and casting himself as a romantic leading man, until it became almost ludicrous. But that came long after “The Moose,” which was performed and recorded in the early 1960’s, at a time when overtly Jewish humor was infiltrating the mainstream, so that simply referring to the moose as “the Solomons” would get laughs. And when the moose locks horns at the party with a married couple dressed as a moose, they are, of course, the “Berkowitzes.”

I won’t spoil the finale, but suffice to say, it also addresses a Jewish issue that was relevant then, if not so overtly now. The video above is slightly different from the version I first heard on record (recorded in New York) in which Allen refers to an actual New York institution, rather than the fictional one in the video, from a performance in England. Maybe he thought that the English audience wouldn’t get the joke the same way that a New York audience would, much as Monty Python changed a reference in their “Nudge Nudge” sketch from Purley to Scarsdale when they performed it in New York.

I strongly recommend tracking down a copy of the vinyl, or the two CD set that contains the full version of the routines (linked to above). I guarantee that you will laugh many, many times. And I think you will agree that “The Moose” is objectively funny.

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