Editors Note: The great Otto Petersen passed away today. Otto was an outstanding comedian, and on a personal note, he was becoming a regular contributor to the interrobang. Earlier this year he reached out to us asking to write stories for us, and submitted two before he passed away. The first, about his favorite movies, was published on March 17, 2014, “Otto Petersen Picks 1974 as the Greatest Year in Film.” The second, is this one. Thanks Otto, we were honored to work with you, if only briefly.
My name is Otto Petersen. I am a ventriloquist. I was born too late. I should have been here for Vaudeville. I like to think I would have been friends with W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers and my personal heroes Laurel & Hardy.
I have always loved the clowns. People who could get a laugh without saying a word. The golden age of comedy is what they called the 1930’s. The entire country was in The Great Depression, so they needed really great clowns to keep their spirits up so they wouldn’t throw themselves off a building. They had The 3 Stooges, The Marx Brothers. W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy.
Today we are a nation of fat, spoiled, ungrateful douches with short attention spans. We have too much. So Bill Maher and Ellen DeGeneres is good enough. They are today’s so called greats, in the past they would not cut the mustard.
Laurel & Hardy worked for the Hal Roach studio and were pretty much left alone so Stan Laurel, the genius of the team, could go wherever he needed comedy-wise. Stan began over in England in music halls, probably doing some sort of silent act. He came to America with The Fred Carnot troupe. Charles Chaplin was also in the same bunch.
Laurel & Hardy made silent films, although they are not mentioned along with Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. When ‘talking movies’ came along, Keaton and Lloyd faded into history, while Chaplin kept doing silent films for a number of years. But Laurel & Hardy were just getting started, so from 1929 till 1939 they churned out all these amazing comedy shorts and feature films. The art of slapstick is often looked at as dumb– Laurel played an idiot, sort of a man-child– but he was one of the greatest comedy minds ever. Not only did he write for him and Ollie, he would give gags to “The Little Rascals” who also worked for Roach Studios.
Just watch 1932’s “The Music Box.” In it, the boys have to move a piano up a flight of stairs… that’s it. That’s the entire plot. But it is the funniest 20 minutes of comedy ever put on film. There is clever and there is funny. Seinfeld is really clever. Curly is funny. It’s almost like they are not doing the same thing, yet they are.
When I was a small boy I got ahold of a man’s fedora hat which I made wet, then shaped it into a derby then froze it. I went to my mom to show her ‘Look ma, I’m Laurel & Hardy!’. She screamed ‘Get that frozen thing off you head you idiot, you’ll wind up in the hospital!’. When I finally got a real derby I wore it every day for 10 years.
The 3 films to watch from that period to laugh hard are “Sons of the Desert” with Laurel & Hardy, “Duck Soup” with The Marx Brothers, and “It’s A Gift” with W.C. Fields. The golden age of comedy. Or just wait for a new Ben Stiller film, or better yet throw yourself out the fucken window.
The short 3 reel comedy is about 22 minutes, the same as a sitcom. It’s the perfect burst of comedy. It’s right.
When I was a kid old comedians and monster movies is what fed me. I have a dummy, George, and it’s a comedy team. So in my own way I’m part of this tradition. I have never had a day job and have been working since I’m 14, and I’m working now. So my life was changed by seeing people like Laurel & Hardy on TV and saying ‘Wow, those guys actually lived once’.
Heres a few early pictures of me & George with the derby I talked about.
I still have the derby at home. Its very beat up.