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  Funnyman Dense Of Humour
Year: 1967
Director: John Korty
Stars: Peter Bonerz, Sandra Archer, Carole Androsky, Larry Hankin, Barbara Hiken, Gerald Hiken, Nancy Fish, Budd Steinhilber, Ethel Sokolow, Marshall Efron, George Ede, Jane House, Herb Beckman, Manuela Ruecker, Roger Bowen, Mel Stewart, Lucille Bliss
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Perry (Peter Bonerz) is a comedian who works with The Committee improvisational troupe in San Francisco, but he feels he is starting to languish in his life that’s really not going anywhere, simply living for the stage in the comedy club and neglecting the rest. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy his occupation, indeed there’s nothing he would rather be doing, yet today, having split up with his girlfriend who moves out, he is more rudderless than ever, though he lacks the gumption to take the bull by the horns and make a serious decision about big questions such as what does he do with his career and should he settle down with the right woman for good? Of course, first he must find the right woman…

Funnyman is not to be confused with the British horror of the nineteen-nineties Funny Man (note the space), for this was a more counterculture affair from the sixties, and American to boot. It was dreamt up by director John Korty and his star Peter Bonerz, a man who may have enjoyed a long career in the entertainment industry, going on to sitcom fame with Bob Newhart after this and directing many episodes of television shows, but to many people he will always be the source of juvenile amusement because of his name, which genuinely was what he was born with. You could argue with a moniker like that he was made for humour, and perhaps he would as well, but you’d find damn few laughs here.

The main problem was that the comedy was improvisational in the same vein as its lead character’s vocation, so we saw plenty of scenes of Perry on the stage plying his trade with his co-stars, but if any of that raised a titter at the time, it certainly didn’t now. The style has never gone out of fashion, and proves a training ground for the quickest of wits, but not everyone who tries it is a Paul Merton or Ryan Stiles, as was very much in evidence in what could best be described as quaint, mildly surreal material that was unlikely to have anyone roaring with mirth, and even the audience laughter in the film sounded halfhearted or at most polite. Maybe they were seated far away from the microphones.

What Perry wishes for is a chance to show what he’s got in a killer solo show, but he’s stuck with having to pay the bills with advertising jobs, providing voices for cartoons. Now, these lead into animated sequences of paper cut-outs set to Bonerz’ stream of consciousness ramblings, all supposed to be selling an insecticide spray, and are interesting because they plainly were the groundwork for Korty’s cult favourite cartoon Twice Upon a Time which also used that technique, though to far more ambitious effect. That said, these parts last a minute or two put together, and then we’re back to the soul-searching of Perry, with asides like him winding up the client to ascertain his rebel status.

In the meantime, various women arrive and leave in his love life, none of whom seem particularly objectionable but for reasons best known to himself he cannot choose one to stay with for any great length of time. Maybe Korty wanted to offer roles to as many of the actresses of his acquaintance as possible, but it does render Perry frustrating to watch when he never alights on anything that satisfies him; there’s drama in that certainly, but when this was intended to be comedy the cracks provided by a cast making things up as they went along were starkly revealed within minutes of the film beginning. It’s all very well concocting stuff on the hoof, but there comes a time to decide if any of it was worth using.

On this evidence, the answer was a resounding “no”. Bonerz was an engaging enough presence, but he just didn’t amuse in the way the movie seems to think he does, and by the time we reached his prized solo show the results were more experimental theatre than a real knee-slapping, sidesplitting good time, which only had you wondering if he wouldn’t be better off acting from someone else’s script (quite aside from the fact the show used camera tricks that would never succeed in a theatre situation, so even that was a cheat). By the point Perry’s existential angst has taken over completely, at least the pretence that he was a funny man was dropped and he wanders the quiet, out of the way regions of America in sequences a little more stimulating than what had gone before, purely thanks to a glimpse of the nation at that moment in 1967. He makes friends with a Japanese-American and his family, then falls for a nude model, which had Funnyman as one of the first American non-porn films to feature nudity. Which was more interesting than much of the rest of it. Music by Peter Schikele.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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