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Viola Spolin

Arts Days: November 07, 1906: Play Acting
As an actress, director, and drama teacher, Viola Spolin used simple skits and other exercises to train actors to perform in believable ways. Her methodology formed the core of what we call “improv” today. Improv wasn’t originally focused on comedy, but evolved over time and today is generally defined as comic skits made up on the spur of the moment.

Watch a performance by acclaimed Chicago-based theater group, Second City, and see improv in rapid-fire action. Spolin, the “Grandmother of Improv,” helped devise ways for actors to warm up, focus, play, and make the connections needed to be spontaneous and hilarious.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Theater, America

Jon Stewart hosting the Daily Show

Arts Days: July 22, 1996: Breaking News
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show unites host Jon Stewart’s sardonic brand of comedy with the topical news of the day. Every night, Stewart and his merry band of “reporters” relate the news, freely mixing in factual information with hilarious asides. All the while, these comedians mock common news conventions, like the suit-clad “talking head” behind a desk.

But wouldn’t you know, the “infotainment” program is viewed by many devoted fans as their main source of actual news. They even rely on The Daily Show for their news more than a newspaper or traditional news show. Yet as the lines blur between comedy and news, Stewart and company say they only want to be funny—not to replace traditional news.
Television, Innovators & Pioneers, Comedy

Bert Lahr after being hit in the face with pie

Arts Days: July 17, 1913: Banana or Coconut Cream?
The practice of “pieing” in film got its start in the 1913 movie A Noise from the Deep. Actress Mabel Normand hit co-star Fatty Arbuckle in the face with a pie—no word on what flavor it was.

Throwing a pie in someone’s face was just a physical stunt done to get audience laughs. Actually, it became something of a cliché in the days before talkies because it was done so often. But over the years, the act has sometimes taken on political overtones, with pies being tossed in the face of some politicians, corporate executives, and others perceived by the pie-thrower as being wrong about an issue and in need of a public humiliation.
Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers

Neil Simon

Arts Days: July 04, 1927: Simon Says, “Laugh”
Playwright Neil Simon is perhaps the person most responsible for celebrating the comic craziness of New York City with his entertaining stories of human trials, tribulations, and, of course, neuroses. In plays such as Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Odd Couple, Biloxi Blues, and more, Simon invented characters you simply can’t forget—whether they’re caught in hilarious situations or heartbreaking ones.

His valentine to New York aside, Simon is also the writer who has done the most to capture on the page and on the stage what it’s like to be a 20th century Jewish American, like himself. A nominee for 17 Tony Awards® and the recipient of three, Simon was also a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1995.

Oh, and one more thing. In 1966, Simon is the only playwright to have four productions on Broadway running simultaneously.
Theater, Playwrights & Plays, Broadway, Comedy

Vaudeville Theatre

Arts Days: February 28, 1883: Make ’em Laugh, Make ’em Cry
Vaudeville was a type of variety show with a bunch of back-to-back quick skits: A singing, tap-dancing man up first, then a dog riding a bike, then a few folks doing a comedy routine. And on and on for hours. If you could spin plates, sing well, or imitate various animal sounds, you, too, might have wanted to jump up on stage!

At its peak, thousands and thousands of performers worked the vaudeville circuit—a series of shows held at venues around North America. With everything from Yiddish theater to minstrel shows and contortionists to jugglers on the bill, vaudeville showcased the cultural diversity of 20th century America.

But vaudeville could not compete with the “moving picture show”—the form of entertainment we now call movies. Vaudeville shows went into a steep decline as movies became more popular.
America, Art Venues, Musicals, Theater, Comedy

Porky Pig and Daffy Duck

Arts Days: January 06, 1936: Be-Be-Be-Before the Bunny
Moviegoers were introduced to an adorable pink, pudgy, stuttering, Porky Pig in the Warner Brothers cartoon Gold Diggers of '49. Porky was the first animated character created by the studio and was featured in numerous cartoons and shorts, including regular roles in both the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. He is best known for his signature line that closes all of his cartoons, "Th-th-th-that’s all folks!"
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Molière

Arts Days: January 15, 1622: The Prince of French Farce
French playwright and actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name Molière, is considered one of the greatest masters of Western comedy.

He studied acting and writing at the Collège de Clermont, a prestigious school in the heart of Paris. After graduating, he worked as an actor and playwright, dedicated to exploring new comedic ideas.

Molière wrote farces that exposed the hypocrisies and follies of French society. His fresh comedic style caught attention and praise from the French aristocracy, including King Louis XIV, who dubbed Molière's acting troupe "Troupe du Roi" (The King’s Troupe) and commissioned him to be the official author of court entertainments.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Playwrights & Plays, Europe

Mel Brooks

Arts Days: June 28, 1926: Blazing Laughter
He acts. He directs. He writes movies and songs. And he makes us laugh!

Mel Brooks is one of the funniest, most versatile fellows ever to grace a movie screen or write a tune. The shows he’s created, like The Producers and TV’s Get Smart series parodies everything from Adolf Hitler—yes, Hitler—to TV detective shows to scary movies. Brooks’s longtime creative partnership with actor Gene Wilder paved the way for some of his most popular comedies including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

Most importantly, Brooks used satire to push comedy a little bit further than anybody had before, sometimes leaving audiences a little bit shocked—but always laughing.
Broadway, Comedy, Musicals, Movies & Movie Stars

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: June 05, 1956: A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
Oh boy, did people go nuts when Elvis Presley appeared on this variety show hosted by “Uncle Miltie” (a.k.a. comedian Milton Berle). Performing his hit “Hound Dog,” Presley gyrated his hips, swung his arms, and caused kids in the studio audience to scream with delight. However, many parents and press members were scandalized by Presley’s performance; news reports the next day complained that his moves were “obscene.”

Overnight, the rising star earned the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” Other TV hosts capitalized on the brouhaha Presley’s appearance had caused by booking him on their shows. Allen, who promised a “cleaned-up” version of Presley’s act, had him singing “Hound Dog” to an actual dog, which Presley went along with in a good-natured way.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Television

Jester Sommers

Arts Days: June 15, 1560 : A Motley Fool
When you’re the guy charged with making the King of England laugh, you’d better bring your A-game to work every day (the king was known for ordering jail time or even execution for pals, servants, and wives who displeased him).

Jester William Sommers evidently knew how to tickle the king’s funny bone by entertaining him with jokes, stunts, and gossip. The court jester’s role was part stand-up comedian, part confidante; a good “fool” could also share bad news with the monarch that no one dared to for fear of being punished. It’s believed that Sommers had, by royal decree, a lot of leeway with Henry VIII. You see, he might be performing a skit for the king, but would tuck in a useful tidbit, sometimes in the form of a riddle, about something going on behind the king’s back.
Comedy, History

Bob Hope

Arts Days: May 29, 1903: You Gotta Have Hope
The man with the famous ski-jump nose knew how to make them laugh. British-born Leslie Townes Hope—whose stage name was Bob—was one of the first stand-up comedians, mastering the art of writing and delivering jokes with impeccable timing. Nobody had more one-liners at the ready; nobody was better at poking fun at himself to get a laugh.

Over the course of his career, Hope, a 1985 Kennedy Center Honoree, would find fame on the vaudeville circuit, the radio waves, the stage, the silver screen, and on TV. He made more than 50 films, many with close friend Bing Crosby. Bob Hope died at the ripe old age of 100.
Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars

Charlie Chaplin

Arts Days: April 16, 1889: The Little Tramp
Charles Spencer Chaplin was only 14 when he got his first role in a play, and he liked it so much that he soon hit the vaudeville circuit as a comedian. In 1913, he started making silent movies, developing instantly recognizable characters like “the Little Tramp.” He starred in early cinematic masterpieces like City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator, in which Chaplin combined humor with pointed commentary against the politics of Adolf Hitler, who was rising to power as the film was made.

Chaplin formed United Artists with other stars of the day to secure more control over their work. He wrote scripts and soundtracks, directed himself and others, and generally worked in most every aspect during those early days of film. Charlie Chaplin was one of the world’s first real movie stars and is considered one of the greatest creative talents of 20th century film.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars

The Play That Goes Wrong

2700 F St.: The Play That Goes Wrong
What would happen if Sherlock Holmes and Monty Python had a Broadway baby? You’d get New York and London’s award-winning smash comedy! Called “the funniest play Broadway has ever seen” (The Huffington Post), this classic murder mystery is chock-full of mishaps and madcap mania. Welcome to opening night of The Murder at Haversham Manor, where things are quickly going from bad to utterly disastrous. With an unconscious leading lady, a corpse that can’t play dead, and actors who trip over everything (including their lines), it’s “comic gold” (Variety) sure to bring down the house.
Theater, Comedy

Washington National Opera: Daughter of the Regiment

2700 F St.: Washington National Opera: Daughter of the Regiment
Young and beautiful Marie was found as a baby near a French regiment camp. And today she lives her life as the regiment’s resident mascot, singing songs and boosting morale wherever she goes.
Opera, Europe, Comedy

Performance Guide: EGG-tion Hero
See that egg? The one in the museum gallery guarded by two boring attendants? It's very expensive and no one is allowed to touch it. But just when the job of these attendants starts to feel extra boring, they're needed more than ever! Will they succeed at keeping the egg safe? Join Dutch theater/dance company Maas in a charming production for young audiences featuring miming actors, a chase scene, and a hysterically egg-cellent time.
Physical Activity, Comedy

Get'm

Performance Guide: GET'M
Three television hosts prepare to go live in the studio. The problem? There's only one microphone! Witness the great laughs these so-called "mature" presenters go to hold the attention. Dutch theater company Bontehond presents this imaginative production in the spirit of "Tom and Jerry" and "Looney Tunes," featuring silly misunderstandings, a fantastic puppet show, and some hilarious hide-n-seek.
Physical Activity, Comedy

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Cuesheet: The Adventures of Robin Hood
He robs the rich and gives to the poor. He sneaks around Sherwood Forest with his band of merry men. It’s a tale that has been told a thousand times, but never quite like this!
Theater, Folklore, Comedy

Mariinsky Ballet's Swan Lake

Cuesheet: Mariinsky Ballet: Swan Lake
Russia’s historic Mariinsky Ballet—one of the most influential classical companies for more than two and a half centuries—returns to the Kennedy Center with the romantic masterpiece Swan Lake, in which the forces of evil are no match for true love.
Dance, Comedy, Choreographers, Music, Composers

GOLD

Cuesheet: Cas Public of Canada: GOLD
Canada’s Cas Public dance ensemble uses everyday sounds and objects to explore the joy, humor, and mischief of childhood—performed to Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s famous recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Dance, Comedy, Choreographers, Music, Composers

Mariinsky Ballet: Raymonda

Cuesheet: Mariinsky Ballet: Raymonda
Raymonda is set in medieval Hungary and follows a countess torn between her betrothed, a crusading knight, and the arrival of a handsome warrior.
Dance, Comedy, Choreographers, Music, Composers

The Joffrey Ballet: The Nutcracker

Cuesheet: The Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker
The Joffrey Ballet brings the magic of the holiday season to life with heroic toy soldiers, sword-fighting mice, and a glittering journey to the Kingdom of Sweets.
Dance, Comedy, Choreographers, Music, Composers

Ballet West: The Nutcracker Working Rehearsal

Cuesheet: Ballet's West's The Nutcracker
Ballet West brings the magic of the holiday season to life with heroic toy soldiers, sword-fighting mice, and a glittering journey to the Kingdom of Sweets.
Dance, Comedy, Choreographers, Music, Composers

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