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Before Laurel and Yanny, There Was Laurel and Hardy

Ellen Levitt

Posted on May 20, 2018 21:41

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The recent audio experiment "Laurel and Yanny" has given the legendary comedic duo of Laurel and Hardy a boost in interest. A little overview of their hilarious film work!

The recent audio experiment that asked people if they heard "Laurel" or "Yanny" has become a quirky pop culture sensation, spurring a variety of debates and frivolous memes and videos. It has become the subject of numerous news stories and articles, and may be destined to become a bizarre footnote in history. 

But it is also sparking interest in the decades-old comedic duo of Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were two very funny men whose best work dates from the late 1920s through the 1940s, especially in the form of two-reel short films. They also appeared in feature-length films, and one of the best known is "Babes in Toyland." 

Laurel and Hardy are standouts in the tradition of humorous twosomes: others include Gallagher and Shean of the silent film age, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin of filmdom, Bob and Ray, and later duets such as ethnic stoners Cheech and Chong, Penn and Teller (with their magic act) and others. The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers had much in common with them as well. Laurel and Hardy humor was quite physical and full of sight gags, but also relied on a certain amount of whimsical dialogue. 

Both were known for wearing bowler hats, getting into ridiculous situations, and bickering. They appeared as a team in 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length films. Many of their most beloved films were made for the Hal Roach studio, where they even had cameos in a few Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts. Each comedian had also appeared in earlier films on his own, but they are best known for their combined efforts.

One of the funniest shorts in their canon is "The Music Box" in which they attempt to move a piano into a home. The piano zips down a set of stairs, they fall into a fountain, they have various other mishaps while doing their work. The short film also showcases their personalities and gimmicks. The humor is broad and innocent compared to modern comedies, but it is still a delight to watch. The late silent film "Big Business"  in which they try to sell Christmas Trees is also a silly romp. Laurel and Hardy films often featured a tune written expressly for them, a perky number called the "Cuckoo Song" and "Dance of the Cuckoos."

Laurel and Hardy still inspire fandom; an appreciation society called Sons of the Desert has promoted their offerings for decades and is named for one of their films. UCLA has a well-regarded Preservation Fund as part of their Film and Television Archive. There is even a stand-along website devoted to the duo. 

Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed Laurel and Hardy and like many kids, I referred to them as "Fatty and Skinny." Their silly humor still strikes a chord, and thanks to Laurel and Yanny, they're back in the public eye.

 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on May 20, 2018 21:41

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