My kids borrowed It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on DVD from the library and we really enjoyed it. It had Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman, Terry Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Jimmy Durante, Spencer Tracy, Dick Shawn , Jim Backus, Marvin Kaplan, Arnold Stang, Peter Falk, Andy Devine, Carl Riner, and cameos by Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Norman Fell, Buster Keaton, Doodles Weaver and the Three Stooges! It was a “Who’s Who” of comedy in 1963.
Well, it got me thinking. If that movie were remade today as the “Who’s Who” of comedy in 2016, who would be in it? Just twenty-five years ago, in 1991, there were still many great comedians in their prime: Steve Martin, Whoopie Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, Carol Burnett, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Dan Akroyd, Tim Allen, Leslie Nielson, John Candy, John Belushi, Billy Crystal, Rodney Dangerfield, Chris Rock, Rosanne, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Danny DeVito, Tim Conway, etc. But most of these guys are now beyond their prime or dead.
In 1963 there was a surplus of extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime comedians. There were even some who deserved a role in Mad, Mad World but didn’t make the cut – Don Rickles, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Wynn, Joe Flynn, Bob Hope, George Burns, Phyllis Diller, Madeline Kahn, Carl Riner, Slim Pickins, Mel Brooks, Lucile Ball and so on. Most of them had a “niche” and only played one type of character, but did it to perfection (like Phil Silvers and Don Rickles). In short, they were bombastic clowns, and we loved them for it.
Here in 2016 I’m really at a loss to come up with ten truly great natural comedians. I don’t mean “who makes me laugh on TV” because that’s a whole different animal. Charlie Sheen, for example, was funny on his show but I would never put him in the same league as Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal or Jack Lemmon. Compared to Milton Berle, Dick Van Dyke or Robin Williams he’s not even in the top 1,000,000. Only the great ones can give us those classic TV moments the way Lucile Ball, Tim Conway, Carol Burnett or Robin Williams did. We need more clowns!
So here it is 2016. Who would you cast in a remake of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (directed by Steven Spielberg of course).