The Funny Side of Fatherhood

This Father's Day, as a tribute to fathers, we share funny stories about fatherhood. Host Debbie Elliott speaks with Murray Horwitz, former professional clown and director of the American Film Institute's Silver Theater. We hear comedy routines from Bill Cosby, Ray Romano, Chris Rock and Groucho Marx.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Some dads are funny but even those who aren't can be funny to talk about.

Mr. BILL COSBY (Comedian): All fathers fall asleep watching the television set. Haven't met one yet that didn't fall asleep with one shoe off, propped up on the sofa and just snoring. Three o'clock in the morning. And you come in the house and the television's set going...

ELLIOTT: On this Father's Day we invited Murray Horwitz to rifle through his massive comedy collection bring in some favorite bits of dad humor. Murray is the director of the American Film Institute's Silver Theater and Cultural Center. And although it may embarrass his kids to know end, he's also a former clown.

Mr. MURRAY HORWITZ (Director, American Film Institute's Silver Theater and Cultural Center): Actually, my kids love the fact that I was a clown. It's maybe the only thing they respect their father for.

ELLIOTT: We're always glad to have you on our program Murray.

Mr. HORWITZ: It's always good to be here, Deb.

ELLIOTT: So we're just going to let you run the show here. You brought some CDs and some LPs.

Mr. HORWITZ: Well, first before we get to some of the stuff that I brought, we started of course with Bill Cosby, who is legitimately, I guess, the dean of American comedians. But of course we turn to the godfather, Mark Twain, who has said a couple of wonderful things about fathers. A famous quote that has at least been attributed to him is that he said, When I was a boy of 14 my dad was so ignorant that I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in only seven years. I use that a lot with my children.

But there's another thing that's closer to the mark of the American take on dad that Twain said. He said, It is a wise child that knows its own father, and an unusual one that unreservedly approves of him. When it comes to this idea of dad as jerk, you know, dad as - as opposed to mom, who is a saint, there is a fair amount of comedy about that. Bill Cosby makes that dichotomy very clear.

Mr. COSBY: Mothers are beautiful. They are really beautiful. For one real reason. They cry for anything. Any reason, they cry, man. You could find a piece of wood in the gutter. A piece of old, raggedy wood. Just a piece of wood and take and - you don't even to wipe it off. Just take your little pen knife and put a knick in it. And just carry it on home to her. And say, look, mom, see what I made for you? Your mother will say, oh my God. You made this for me. Your just come here, I forgive you for everything. See. That's where mothers have it over fathers, man. 'Cause you take that same piece of wood, give it to your father. Dad, I made this for you. What the hell is this a piece of wood. You found it in the gutter. Get that thing out of here. Now that's why fathers don't get good presents, because they don't cry.

Mr. HORWITZ: You know, really one of the great things about American humor is the way it punches in stuffed shirts. And I feel like a traitor to my class by saying this, but no shirts are stuffed more full of stuff than fathers. You know, I mean it's somehow inevitable when you're a dad just against your own best instincts you come off very authoritarian and...

ELLIOTT: Because I said so.

Mr. HORWITZ: Yes, exactly so. And so a lot of comedy about dads is about fear, you know, that dad's going to hit you or something. And more in the old days it was like that. Now it's changed as the responsibilities and role of the father has changed because now a father takes care of his kids and is much more involved in housework than - and caretaking than - you know, it's hard to imagine a Groucho Marx talking about changing diapers, for example. But contemporary comedians talk about what it's like to be a father and do that sort of work.

Ray Romano has more to say about this than most fathers 'cause he has four kids, including a set of twins, or as Victor Borge said, they're twins, both of them.

Mr. RAY ROMANO (Comedian): Oh, diapers. Boy diapers. Different from girl diapers. We had the girl first. You get a very full sense of security when you change a girl diaper first, because it's never dangerous. There's nothing pointed at you. Oh. I - I learned the hard way. As soon as the boy diaper opens there's an infrared light on your head. Oh. You're target practice. You're - you're (unintelligible) that's what you are. They're good. They're sharpshooters. Twins are good because they compete with each other. Oh, nice shot. Nice shot. I didn't think you could reach him from there. Beautiful shot. All right. Watch this, I'll put his cigarette out now. Yeah.

ELLIOTT: Now, most of the selections that you've played for us are about fathers and sons, not so much about daughters and fathers.

Mr. HORWITZ: You're right. And I was really looking through my collection, I even called some friends. I said what about women, don't we have any women talking about their dads? And the answer was we - and I'm sure people are going to write in and I hope they do and say, well, you fool, you missed, you know, Lily Tomlin's this or Wanda Sikes' that. But also, women are more likely to talk about their moms if they're going to make fun of a parent, just as, you know, a son, a son's never going to make fun of his mom, or almost never make fun of his mom. But a father can talk about his relationship with a daughter. And Chris Rock does.

Mr. CHRIS ROCK (Comedian): I had a little baby girl, had a little baby girl. A baby girl. Got it? It's not a big deal. I mean even roaches have kids, right? But I - I had a little baby girl, right. It's amazing when you have a girl. 'Cause if you're a man it like opens up your eyes. And you know, I realize I'm the man in her life. And my relationship with my daughter is going to affect her relationship with men for the rest of her life. Okay? You know - no, no - and every many in here has, has dated a woman with some daddy issues.

Sometimes - sometimes I'm walking with my daughter. I'm talking to my daughter. I'm looking at her, I'm pushing her in the stroller and sometimes I pick her up and I just stare at her. And I realize my only job in life is to keep her off the pole. Keep my baby off the pole. I mean they don't grade fathers but if you're daughter's a stripper you - up.

ELLIOTT: Oh my. I'm not sure there's much to say after that one.

Mr. HORWITZ: I think we'd best leave that one alone.

ELLIOTT: How about if I just say Happy Father's Day, Murray Horwitz?

Mr. HORWITZ: Thank you very much, Deb.

ELLIOTT: Murray Horwitz is director of the American Film Institute's Silver Theater here in Washington. Let me give you a little plug here, Murray.

Mr. HORWITZ: Oh please.

ELLIOTT: This week you're running one of the world's premier documentary film fests, Silver Docs. So we especially thank you for taking the time to come down during this busy week and make us laugh.

Mr. HORWITZ: Thank you very much. It's always a pleasure, Deb. And you've made it a very happy Father's Day. I think you can never go wrong in American comedy with Groucho Marx, so we should let him have the last word or the last note. With Marvin Hamlisch at the piano here is Groucho very, very late in his career singing a - a Harry Ruby tune that is very appropriate.

ELLIOTT: Thanks, Murray.

Mr. HORWITZ: Thank you

Mr. GROUCHO MARX (Comedian): Years ago when there were many songs written about mothers. You know, like Mammy, An Island Must be Heaven, Mom They're Making Eyes at Me, My Mother's Eyes. But nobody ever wrote any song about fathers. Father was the town schlemiel, you know, almost everyplace. He was nothing.

(Singing) Today, Father, is Father's Day. And we're giving you a tie.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. MARX: (Singing) It's not much you know. It is just our way of showing you we think you're a regular guy. You say that it was nice of us to bother. But it really was a pleasure to fuss. For according to our mother you're our father. And that's good enough for us. Yes, that's good enough for us.

(Soundbite of applause)

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Debbie Elliott.

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