Thursday 25 May 2023

Please, No More Fleas

Tex Avery’s first flea-on-stage was in Hamateur Night (1939), a fine Warner Bros. short. Avery demonstrates some fine timing as a flea performer drops through a trap door after a lousy act and the emcee (and the audience) waits and waits and waits for it to land.

Years later, Avery gave us The Flea Circus (1954), where he followed his usual method of having as many variations of a gag that he could fit in. In rapid succession, we get flea performance gags, with the insects as little dots on a stage.

In this one, Tex and writer Heck Allen reuse the idea of a flea performer dropping. This one is a dancer, tapping away to “Old Folks at Home/Swanee River” until (s)he falls through a crack in the floorboards.

Unfortunately, Avery’s in way too much of a hurry. There’s a slide whistle, a glass crash sound, the curtains close with a plop and it’s on to the next act. In Hamateur Night, the drop wasn’t the gag. The gag was how long it took the flea to crash-land.

Other gags:

A flea marching band. It marches.That’s the gag.

Flea acrobats that form various shapes. The last one looks like an outline of Red.

A flea sword swallower hiccoughs to complete the act.

A flea pianist falls into a spittoon with a splash.

Then we get to the point of the cartoon—the flea clown (who sounds like Droopy and sings “Clementine” like the future Huck Hound) is brushed off by la femme flea danseuse as being a, well, a clown, after being booed by the audience.

MGM seems to have had an obsession with French-accented characters in the mid-‘50s; Tom and Jerry cartoons feature one, too, all voiced by Francoise Brun-Cottan. She is Fifi the flea in this short. Avery, for reasons known only to him, attempted sappy love stories on occasion, though he tries to end them with an outrageous gag (in this cartoon, one he used in Little Johnny Jet, released in 1953).

Maybe some people find the cartoon charming. I’ll take Hamateur Night, thanks.

Mike Lah, Walt Clinton, Bob Bentley and Grant Simmons provided the animation.


  1. What's so great about Fifi? All the female fleas are exactly alike save for their hair (Betty & Veronica Syndrome).

  2. Applause, applause, vociferous applause…