Remembering Ronnie Corbett

Ronnie CorbettI just found out that Ronnie Corbett died. He was 85 years old, so it isn’t a big surprise. I know him from some movies, most notably one of my favorite undervalued films, Fierce Creatures. Before I go on, let me just say that people ignore this movie because it wasn’t A Fish Called Wanda. But it is wonderful. And the reason it is so wonderful is because its filled with so many great characters, like Corbett.

Here is a brief scene from it. Corbett is at the beginning and the end of it. The idea is that a Rupert Murdoch like character has purchased this little zoo so John Cleese is put in charge of making it profitable. He wants to make the zoo “dangerous” and so get rid of all the nice animals like the anteater. So the staff stage a bunch of fake accidents to get him to keep the animals. Eventually, he falls in love with the animals and the zoo. It’s totally my kind of movie: silly but extremely sweet.

Mostly, I know Ronnie Corbett from the sketch comedy show The Two Ronnies. But it wasn’t the show so much. It was that every episode had an “armchair monologue” where he would tell a joke. But the joke didn’t matter. It was just an excuse for him to be amazingly funny getting around to telling the joke. In this case, it is the parrot joke, which is one of those great jokes you can tell your grandmother.

But most of the lead up to the joke is about Ronnie Corbett’s wife. Why? Who knows?! That’s what’s so great about these bits. But it is interesting to noted that they married 30 May 1966, which means that they were just about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Corbett was diagnosed with ALS just one year ago today, and he died, as is appropriate, surrounded by his family.

Death is not such a bad thing. But it is sad when a great person like Ronnie Corbett is taken from us.

14 thoughts on “Remembering Ronnie Corbett

    • That’s brilliant. I had never seen it. That’s one thing about Corbett — he was amazingly short. What’s great about the skit is how it indicates that the English were dealing with their class issues. Americans still can’t face it and so would not, in general, find it funny. Of course, today, they probably wouldn’t find it that funny in the UK either. The two countries now have the same kind of class system that has enough flexibility to trick most people into thinking that there is no class system. Although I think if you look at actual economic mobility, the UK is slightly better than the US. Now that’s funny!

    • Google says he was 5’0″ which probably means he was more like 4’8″. But being a short man, I love successful short men. Terry Jones was the shortest and most passionate of the Pythons. Those two things tend to go together because, like women, short men are ignored by default. When you find a successful short man or any woman, you know they are almost certainly more capable than their tall male counterparts. I’ve always thought Cleese was overrated. But even still, when it came to traditional comedy (eg, Fawlty Towers), no one was better. But it’s very strange: short men tend to be friends with other short men, and tall men tend to be friends with other tall men. I’d love to see a study of it, but I don’t think it is all in my head.

      But I’m not sad that Corbett is dead. He had a long and glorious life. He greatly enriched the lives of millions of people. Not many people get to have lives like that.

      • Terry Jones…I know him the most for his excellent documentaries that he does. I wish he did more.

        I also had no idea he was short. The things you learn…

        • Well, it’s funny. If you look at the pictures of them, you will see that the two shortest guys were writing partners, as were the two tallest guys. The three shortest guys (Jones, Palin, and Gilliam) formed a block — basically the ones who wanted to do something really new. It’s also funny that the big conflict was between the tallest guy (Cleese) and the shortest guy (Jones). Of course, now Jones claims they always got along, but being a Jones kind of passionate guy, I know that’s not true. And Cleese’s calm resistance would have driven me crazy. But I think it is that very conflict that made the show and the movies so great. And yes: Jones’ documentaries are great. So are Palin’s. Palin is supposedly the nicest guy of the bunch, which is cool because that doesn’t usually go along with being brilliant. And even though Jones is my favorite, I think Palin is probably the most brilliant of the bunch. But the best example of what Palin and Jones could do is found in “The Cycling Tour,” which I think is the most underrated Python episode.

          • He probably doesn’t want to remember the fights. Or thinks they were less serious. Most people try to forget conflict after enough years have passed.

            One of these days I need to devote a weekend to binge watching the entire series. I have watched all of the movies but not the series.

            • There’s also a cultural side of it. Jones is Welsh and is probably from a family that yells a lot. Cleese is from a family that is more upper class British where showing emotion is considered gauche. Terry Gilliam has said that Jones is always certain he is right in these arguments, even when he isn’t. I believe they are close friends, so he was razzing him. I feel the same way: what’s the point of arguing about something if you aren’t going to take a stand. Just the same, I’m probably more like Michael Palin when you get down to it. Maybe it is more that I grew up in a family of Terry Joneses.

              Now I’ll have to make a video just to see what I’m like at my most intense.

        • Yeah, he’s a respected academic historian. My favorite will probably always be Chapman, though. I’m a sucker for the straight man in any comic routine, and he was one of the greats. He could be the butt of the joke both as an Everyman type (like in “Brian”) or as a fatuous ass. The famous “burn the witch” scene in “Grail” features fabulous work from everyone (Carol Cleveland doesn’t get enough credit!) but to me the funniest line in it is the zinger: “who are you who is so wise in the ways of science?”

          Also Chapman was by far the most depressed of the group, and that’s always the one I dig most. He had to deal with being a closeted gay man in a sick and repressive society — although none of his teammates in Python were bigots who cared about his sexual tastes. What they minded was his heavy drinking (like depression, an issue with which I have more than a slight familiarity.)

          I never knew Robert Reich was short until I saw his documentary! And I’d enjoyed his videos for years!

          • It is very sad how many people alcoholism has taken from us. :(

            But I never was much of a Chapman fan. I think I liked Eric Idle the most for a while and now just enjoy all equally.

          • Regarding Reich being short: I’ve thought about creating a page, “The Hall of Short,” where I would place mini biographies of great short men.

            I think Carol Cleveland gets a lot of credit from Python fans. But you are a bit confused. It was Connie Booth who played the witch. She, of course, would go on to co-write and co-star in all of Fawlty Towers. Cleveland was the twin sisters at the Castle Anthrax.

            I think Chapman came into his all after he gave up drinking. His work in Holy Grail is not that great. But he is amazing in Life of Brian and Meaning of Life. His speech in the latter about how he can buy a condom because he’s a protestant is one of the funniest things in the film.

            When I was younger, I used to really like them using him to interrupt scenes. Like the gossipy hermits sketch where he closes down the whole production because it is “too silly.” But other than being the default leading man, it has never been clear to me what he added to the show. The other Pythons claim he didn’t talk a lot, but when he did say something it was usually bizarre and brilliant.

            • Well I was wrong! Turns out he wasn’t closeted, he was out and vocal. Pretty gutsy for the time.

              • He was closeted early because I remember the other Pythons saying they had no idea. Of course they didn’t care. It was his drinking, which seems to have peaked during Holy Grail that was the big problem. I remember one of the guys talking about wherever they were in the world, Chapman would almost instantly have some beautiful local man at his side.

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