George Carlin and Danny Kaye.

When on Thursday I read in Slate that one of George Carlin’s main idols had been Danny Kaye, I thought, “How odd.” But then I remembered that a few days earlier, the following video had crossed my desk. Even in a week when George Carlin videos have been flying around the globe, this one stood out as awesome. Beautifully written, impeccably delivered, you could put notes and rhythm behind it and it would make a tremendous piece of musical-theater patter:

In fact, if you did set it to music, you might end up with something very much like this—Danny Kaye’s “Tschaikowsky,” the song with which he stole the musical Lady in the Dark out from under star Gertrude Lawrence. Written by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin for Lady in the Dark‘s score, the song culminates in Kaye’s singing the names of 54 Russian composers in 38 seconds. You can hear it

by clicking right here.

Incidentally, in the worthwhile Kaye biography Nobody’s Fool, Martin Gottfried writes:

…[Lawrence] had the leading role and the evening focused on her. Young Kaye had only “Tschaikowsky” to make his mark, but for Lawrence it was as if the loss of full audience focus for even a moment would mean the end of her recognition altogether.

It eventually settled into a duel of stage “business”—any kind of moment while the other was singing…Once, while Kaye was performing “Tschaikowsky,” Gertie put a cigarette in a long holder and lit a match, holding it until it nearly burned her fingers. Then, as he continued singing, she lit a second match.

On another occasion, she wore a bracelet that had little bells on it. Not content with the visual distraction of its glitter, she actually shook the bracelet while he was singing.

It didn’t work. Kaye became a star. And George Carlin found his inspiration.


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