On June 16, 1890, the world became a much better place.
Margaret Jefferson gave birth to a boy who grew up to become Stan Laurel.
I have many comedy heroes, but none of them can lick Stan's boots, let alone eat his hat – which the man himself did in Way Out West.
Many of the famous physical routines in Laurel and Hardy films were devised and directed by Stan. Like all great slapstick, there is a deceptive lightness of touch in Stan's work. An example, again from Way Out West. Stan and Ollie (attempting to quietly break into a saloon in the dead of night) manage to accidentally hoist a loud mule onto the upstairs balcony of the saloon. Nothing in the history of comedy has come close to that level of imagination and genius. Watch it. The mechanics of the event are rooted in absolute logic, yet result in nothing less than comedy nirvana. Stan Laurel could distil the complicated and make it seem credible. He made the ridiculous real. Like a satirist. And he also ate a wax apple under the scornful gaze of Ollie's wife. Enough said.
In his ingénue demeanour, in that classic Stan Laurel character, we get good intentions gone wrong; we get child-like wonder and a gentle determination to do right and we get the antithesis of Groucho's leery cynicism – a beautiful reminder that comedy need not be cruel, need not be smug and need not cite irony as some specious justification.
And we see too, in those Laurel and Hardy films, that no matter how often Stan caused Olly grief (and it was often), no matter how often things went awry, he and his big pompous sidekick would stick together, to try again next time. Happy birthday, Stan.
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