A few weeks ago Valentine’s Day was all the rage with the masses, yet it was trashed by the critics. The NY Times described it as “barely directed,” which is a shame since the director is Garry Marshall. As someone who was raised on Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, I have a soft spot for Mr. Marshall. He’s hokey as Hell, but he’s made me laugh a lot. Also, he was a wonderfully expressive voice, all full of peaks and valleys and feeling, as anyone who’s seen him in Albert Brooks’s Lost in America can attest.
But this post is about his early days, and is audio only. It’s the tail end of Garry Marshall’s commentary for a 1965 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. He and his writing partner Jerry Belson wrote several episodes of the show, and he openly credits the experience—and creator/producer Carl Reiner’s influence—as a defining moment in his career.
The commentary itself is a treat. The episode is called “Baby Fat,” and it concerns Alan Brady’s performance in weak play. He enlists Rob Petrie’s help to ghostwrite some material and goes so far as to have Rob hide in a dressing room closet, pounding out jokes on the sly. The episode is wonderful, but Marshall’s commentary is a lecture in “I Know Funny.” With his very distinct voice, he tells us how he and Belson became writers for the show and how Reiner taught them to turn pain—their pain—into genuine laughs.1 And through out, he points out important of aspects of comedy writing:
• “A mushy sandwich is always funny.”
• “So we figured at this point he’d have to lie so he said Rob was his tailor—because tailors are always funny to me.”
• “Doors. I always liked doors. Whenever you got doors, you have comedy.”
• “We spent a day to get the dog’s name. ‘Mr. Ben’ is a good name for a dog; we didn’t want Fluffy or Puffy or whatever.”
At the end of the show—which is where this audio clip begins—Marshall keeps on talking, over a black screen, speaking at length (5 minutes) about the techniques of Carl Reiner. What he says is entertaining, loving and enormously educational about writing against a deadline. Fascinating stuff. (At the very least, you’ll hear a good story about Murray the Cop‘s nose.)
BACK TO POST 1 True, this notion is a derivative of a Lenny Bruce quote–“Satire is tragedy plus time”– but when you listen to the clip, you’ll hear Marshall give him full credit.