Friday, March 03, 2006

"I have lots of stories about famous people that involve me in some way."

Just a reminder that Shout! Factory has released another Dick Cavett Show collection, the one we've really been waiting for: "Comedy Legends." The twelve hour-long episodes all feature the now-legendary Cavett format: instead of the host dominating the episode and occasionally deigning to interview somebody who's plugging a movie, Cavett does his opening monologue and then devotes the entire show to in-depth, lengthy discussions with the guest. The fact that anybody could have taken an hour on network television to let an elderly comedian talk about his life and career seems almost bizarre now (nowadays they wouldn't even do this kind of thing on public television, where Cavett eventually wound up). As the reviewer notes, this works better with some guests than others, and sometimes has varying results with the same guest: the 1969 interview with Cavett's idol Groucho Marx, which opens the set, is a classic, but Groucho's return appearance in 1971 shows him in poorer health and more inclined to rant about the declining culture (referring to the stage show Oh, Calcutta!, he says: "I heard it was filthy, so I didn't go"). But the best of the episodes -- the first Groucho show, the Jerry Lewis show -- are terrific. The low-tech-ness of it is appealing too; you can sometimes see the boom mike in the shot, and the Lewis interview it punctuated by police sirens outside ("I meant no harm!" Lewis shouts).

Lewis's appearance reminds me that, according to my father, he was the best guest-host the Tonight show ever had when he hosted it in fall 1962; Dad said Lewis was so uninhibited and unpredictable -- as a performer and an interviewer -- that the networks were scared to give him his own talk show.

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