A Movie A Day #240: The Funny Farm (1983, directed by Ron Clark)

Mark Champlin (Miles Chapin) is a fresh-faced, aspiring comedian from Cleveland who drives across the country, listening to tapes of Steve Martin.  He arrives in Los Angeles, hoping to become a star.  Despite being too naive and trusting, Mark starts to find success in the cut-throat entertainment industry.  Soon, he is performing at the Funny Farm, a comedy club owned by Gail Corbin (Eileen Brennan, giving the exact same performance that Melissa Leo gave in Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here).  Mark befriends the other comedians, finds love, and hopes for his big break.

There have been several movies and television shows about the drama that goes on behind the scenes in the world of comedy.  It’s rare that they ever turn out well.  For every successful movie about the struggle to make a living by telling jokes, there are a hundred movies like Punchline or this one.  Whereas Punchline tried to pass Sally Field off as an up-and-coming stand-up comic, The Funny Farm was full of actual comedians.  Almost everyone in the film is playing a thinly disguised versions of themselves and snippets of their acts are used throughout the movie.  (Probably the best known member of the cast is Howie Mandel.)  Unfortunately, none of their acts seem to be very funny.  Miles Chapin comes across like every forgettable comic who ever bombed on The Tonight Show.

Eileen Brennan does a good job as the club owner, even if she is underused.  There is also a good scene where the younger comedians meet a legendary, older comic who turns out to be a racist asshole.  During this scene, The Funny Farm actually has something to say about the way comedy progressed and changed over time.  Otherwise, The Funny Farm is forgettable.

Music Video of the Day: The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit (1982, dir. ???)

Ummm…let’s just go through this thing.

The video starts off and we see two people playing drums. They pretty much sum up Tight Fit prior to this success of this song: studio musicians.

When this song took off, Steve Grant, Denise Gyngell, and Julie Harris were put out there as a front for a group that existed in name only to promote the song. Much like Bucks Fizz was manufactured to get a song on Eurovision before ending up as a thing, Tight Fit started out as a name in front of session singers. Then they had some actors/singers put out in public before Grant, Gyngell, and Harris became the standard lineup. They were originally there to be pretty faces to sell the song, but when it was found that they could actually sing and people liked them, they kept them around, and an actual group was born. They went through several changes, and over the years we appear to have them back together with Grant, Gyngell and Harris owning the rights to the songs, group name, and presumedly this very video. I’m just going to assume that the people in this video are Grant, Gyngell, and Harris. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Now we cut to Steve who is decked out like Tarzan Boy.

Am I the only one who looks at this guy and thinks of Peter Williams’ Apophis from Stargate SG-1?

It’s probably just the makeup.

Now we meet the gorilla. At least I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be a gorilla.

I’m not sure whether that’s Denise or Julie, but she seems intrigued at the sight of the gorilla. Yes. And no, I didn’t know this song had anything to do with that till I watched this video. I’m still not sure it was supposed to have anything to do with that.

Anyways, she looks through her binoculars and sees the Anaconda 2 monkey.

She also sees Steve reminding us that he wasn’t just a singer and dancer, but also a model.

After a few more shots, we finally see the lion.

I know it would have been too dangerous, but I just watched Prince Charming by Adam & The Ants where they seemed to have gotten a real panther. This is a little disappointing.

The flamingo on the other hand, didn’t need to be real. That’s okay with me.

Now it gets weird. Why are Denise and Julie moving the grass with machetes in time to the song? I wouldn’t ask if this music video didn’t go the direction it does.

Denise and Julie get ready to try and trap the lion, but…

with a swinging Steve…

and a little magic, the net gets thrown on them.

No one touches Steve’s lion, but him.

Before long, it’s a party. Where they got the couch? Who cares.

It’s a party where somebody is gonna get laid, as the gorilla shows up to take either Denise or Julie away.

I love the look this guy gets on his face. For this video, with the looks Steve gets on his face, it’s perfect! He’s not gonna waste his closeup.

She’s way too happy to be going off somewhere with a gorilla.

And Steve is looking really happy sucking on that straw.

Then the guy down-front seems to think the video is over before it is, and the lady who went with the gorilla is seen crossing in the background towards the right.

I feel enlightened now that I have seen this video. I’m sure that original writer, Solomon Linda, and George David Weiss, the one who adapted the original tune into The Lion Sleeps Tonight, fully intended the song to be about getting up close and personal with a lion, going off to party with a gorilla, lying on a jungle couch, and drinking from a crazy straw.

Sadly, Linda died in 1962 without having really gotten much from this song. The version most people are probably familiar with is the one done by The Tokens in 1961. It was later used in The Lion King, which is where things get messy. It appears after a fight that included Pete Seeger, Rolling Stone, a movie, and a lawsuit, his family now receives royalties for its use in the past and from its worldwide use from 2006 onward. A bit of a happy ending after such a long fight that at least included the song living on and became a classic even if Linda was not around to see it become as famous as it is today.

It’s nice to come across one of these songs that didn’t have somebody show up recently to claim that it was violating their copyright on something people not only thought was in the public domain, but had become an unofficial anthem for an entire country–Down Under by Men At Work. Here, these are the descendants of the person who made this song possible.