Friday 2 June 2023

Brooklyn's a Funny Woid

Listen to old-time radio comedy/variety shows and you’ll find laughter or applause any time Brooklyn is mentioned, especially on programmes based in New York. In fact, people like Bob and Ray, Fred Allen and Henry Morgan did jokes about studio audiences guffawing about the borough.

Evidently, cartoon writers thought whatever anyone found funny about Brooklyn was transferrable to their medium, the same as jokes on the radio about Cucamonga.

An example of that comes from the Columbia/Screen Gems studio. In Kongo-Roo (1946), writer Cal Howard, director Howard Swift and background artist Ed Starr start the cartoon with a pan across a painting of nature. The camera pans past a sign that sets up the gag.

The camera stops on the gag sign. Okay, it’s not “Brooklyn.” But it’s a sign over a flat bush. Get it? Flatbush! It’s in Brooklyn!

And here’s the gag topper. A tree pops up, accompanied by the usual Screen Gems spring sound effect.

Look! The tree is growing in a flat bush! It’s like that novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Get it? Brooklyn! It’s a funny woid!

Actually, if I may go out on a limb (a limb of a “flat bush” in this case), there’s almost nothing funny about Columbia’s Phantasies or Rhapsodies or whatever series Kongo-Roo is in. The cartoon has a weird ending, with characters shrinking and being eaten by an ostrich, and gags that go for Warner Bros. zaniness (the old one with “No Sale” signs in the eyes shows up here, while the hunter turns and talks to the audience like Elmer Fudd would).

Grant Simmons is the credited animator, with layouts by Bill Weaver, who worked for Ted Eshbaugh in New York at one point. Eshbaugh was a block and a half from Times Square, which is not in Brooklyn.

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