The One Ronnie

Ronnie CorbettOn this day in 1795, the great historian Thomas Carlyle was born. His The French Revolution: A History was the basis for Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. He was a fascinating man. He is probably best known today for coining the term “the dismal science” for economics. And the way most conservatives approach it, it is dismal. The general idea is, “We can do nothing to limit suffering because markets must be ‘free.'” By “free” they mean skewed as to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor.

Paul O’Neill is 78 today. He was Treasury Secretary under Bush Jr. He’s important because he was fired by the Bush administration. No level of incompetence or corruption could get you fired from that administration. But O’Neill did the one thing you just couldn’t do: he told the truth. I don’t actually agree with him. He’s a budget hawk. But he countered the Republicans’ totally unjustified claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. So he had to go. Logic and reason are not allowed when one is down the rabbit hole.

Actor Jeff Bridges is 64. I like him well enough as an actor. However, it’s an outrage that he received the Academy Award for Crazy Heart. In that film, he played a tired cliche (the sympathetic drunk) in an entirely standard way. Steve Buscemi did a far better and more complex job in Trees Lounge. But whatever; the Academy is made up of a bunch of fools anyway. What really bugs me about Jeff Bridges is his voice acting work for television commercials. Bridges is worth something on the order of $30 million. Does he really need to take work away from all the really talented voice actors who are struggling just to get by? I think it is unconscionable. He should be a social pariah for that behavior.

Actor Marisa Tomei is 49. I have liked her in just about everything I’ve seen. I thought her performance in Slums of Beverly Hills was really subtle and wonderful. But I’ll always love her for My Cousin Vinny. In particular, this scene:

Other birthdays: film director Lloyd Bacon (1889); jazz guitarist Jim Hall (83); actor Max Baer Jr (76); and musician Jay-Z (44).

The day, however, belongs to Scottish comedian Ronnie Corbett, who is 83 today. On the show The Two Ronnies, he did these armchair monologues. The idea was that he would tell a joke, but usually the jokes were old and often not funny. What was funny was his monologue leading up to the joke. For Americans, they can be a bit hard to understand because he uses a lot of British jargon. Still, the humor comes through loud and clear. I never really liked the show, but I watched it just to hear these monologues. Here is “The Parrot Joke.”[1]

Happy birthday Ronnie Corbett!

[1] The other parrot joke he is referring to is as follows. It is taken from the website Planned Parrothood, but I’ve edited it to improve it. (I fancy that I tell the joke rather well.)

There was once a magician on a cruise ship who performed mainly sleight of hand tricks. He was part of the ship’s cabaret entertainment. He was actually quite a good magician, but his routines were regularly ruined by the parrot who was part of another performer’s animal act. The parrot would squawk at him from the side of the stage, revealing how his tricks were done.

“Awk, it’s up his sleeve! He put it up his sleeve!” the parrot would squawk.

Or it would burst out, “Awk, there’s a duplicate card! A duplicate card!”

Or, “Awk, he switched the lemon! Switched it for a prepared lemon!”

The magician was getting pretty sick of this and started fantasizing about killing the bird. The next evening right at the climax of his act, just as he was about to do his best trick—the slow motion card vanish, the ship hit an iceberg and sank in seconds.

Amazingly, the magician was the only survivor. As he was lying on a piece of driftwood in a daze, the parrot flew in from out of the blue and landed next to him. The parrot just stared at the magician. This went on for hours. It was like a staring contest: neither the bird nor the magician looked away.

After several hours of this, the parrot finally spoke, “Awk! I give up. What did you do with the ship?”

Here is the slow motion card vanish:

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