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History of Stage and Screen: Top 5 Comedy Teams of All Time

Updated on February 4, 2019
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history; and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Hand Bill for Ed Gallagher and Al Shean
Hand Bill for Ed Gallagher and Al Shean | Source

Vaudeville and the UK Music Hall

Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean

This former vaudeville act, also known as a "double" at the time, appeared in some of the black and white films of the 1930s and 1940s.

I first saw them late one night in an entertaining movie and kept their act in the back of my mind, because I found them humorous and because I had seen the musical Minnie's Boys and learned about the vaudeville act's connection with the future Marx Brothers comedy team.

Within a few weeks of seeing the film with Gallagher and Shean, I read one of the many good books about Groucho Marx that includes many of his letters and memos from a lifetime career. It was there that what I'd learned was confirmed - that Mr. Shean was Groucho's uncle, his mother's brother (I'd thought the hair looked familiar).

Dr. Demento has played recordings of the singing and spoken word number Mr. Gallagher And Mr. Shean over the years as an example of best comedy acts and has made it available on CD collections from his radio show.

These gentlemen are like Abbott and Costello, but with music and a bit more wit. Their work is thoroughly enjoyable. Here is a sample of their act:

.

Mr. Shean-

Oh Mister Gallagher, Mister Gallagher
When you get home you'll get a great surprise
When your ship is drawing near
it will make you shed a tear
to see the lights of New York shining in the sky

Mr. Gallagher-

Oh Mr Shean, Mr Shean
I have made that trip so I know just what you mean
But there's one that shines so bright
it's the brightest one in sight

Mr. Shean -

Statue of Liberty, Mr Gallagher?

Mr. Gallagher -

Coney Island, Mr. Shean!

Occasionally on Youtube

Groucho & Jackie Gleason do Gallagher and Shean (Groucho's Uncle Al) -- Jackie Gleason Show with Groucho Marx. Return to 1967 Saturday night 7:30 to 8:30 pm eastern time for The Jackie Gleason Show. This sketch was performed October 14, 1967.

Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Young Marx Brothers and parents.Two very young Marx brothers portray Gallagher and Shean (their Uncle Al). From a collection exhibited at "Minnie's Boys" in the mid-1970s, Reynoldsburg OH.
Young Marx Brothers and parents.
Young Marx Brothers and parents. | Source
Two very young Marx brothers portray Gallagher and Shean (their Uncle Al). From a collection exhibited at "Minnie's Boys" in the mid-1970s, Reynoldsburg OH.
Two very young Marx brothers portray Gallagher and Shean (their Uncle Al). From a collection exhibited at "Minnie's Boys" in the mid-1970s, Reynoldsburg OH. | Source

The Marx Brothers

In the musical "Minnie's Boys", we learn that the comedian Mr. Shean was their uncle, their mother Minnie's brother.

The rest of Al Shean's family was also funny, including the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo; all sons of Minnie (Al's sister), who pushed them into show business.

If you ever get the chance to see the musical Minnie's Boys, you'll see the history of their characters unfold onstage. I was pleased to see it performed live several years ago.

Radio, film, books, TV shows - the Marx Brothers were everywhere. Visit their tribute website: MARX BROTHERS.

Minnie's Boys Act I Finale:

Minnie's Boys on Broadway

VIDEO CREDIT: WALTER WILLISON & FRIENDS - YouTube -- In memory of Stephen Brockway, January 8, 1973 -- June 11, 2012. Stephen Brockway [Chico], James Donegan [Zeppo], Gary Littman [Julie], and Jamison Stern [Harpo] bring down the house with "Where Was I?", music by Larry Grossman and lyrics by Hal Hackady

Early Laurel and Hardy
Early Laurel and Hardy

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy

Stanley Laurel was from England and was a good friend of Jerry Lewis in his later years. Oliver Hardy was American.

Laurel and Hardy

Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy worked in vaudeville and in early film. Today, many people take on the persona of Stanley in comedy clubs and on stage and particularly in a one-man show once frequently performed by Brent Spiner (Data of Star Trek®).

World famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury has also included Laurel and Hardy in some of his short stories, including The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair --

In this story a young couple visit the long staircare in California down which a piano chased the comedy team as they tried to move it upstairs in a famous film sequence. The ghosts of Stan and Ollie seemed to both haunt and bless the couple - she playing Stan and he, Oliver - until she should could no longer commit to the relationship. Years later and both married with a child, their families pass each other on the Champ D'Elyse in Paris. As they pass, she tousles the top of her hair and he flutters his tie while no word is spoken.

In another sci-fi tale, a sort of hologram of the comedy team travel from world to world, spreading laughter. To be remembered through science fiction is a particular honor.

"The Music Box" (piano) 1932 and today

If you have the chance, see the 2019 film "Stan and Ollie", starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. The actors recreate many of the original duo's classic film sketches so well that I thought I was watching the original comedians. The film features the agonizing obstacles they faced together to save their friendship as well as the act.

The Lumberjack Song by Monty Python members.
The Lumberjack Song by Monty Python members. | Source

Royal Canadian Farce

Britain's Monty Python

This ensemble filmed Monty Python's Flying Circus for TV in Britain and America in the 1970s and went on to make several hilarious films thereafter.

This comedy team's skits are classics and their albums are heard on the Dr. Demento Show and on CD.

Many of this comedy team met at upper class universities in the UK and went on together to film:

  • And Now For Something Completely Different
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian
  • Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Carol Burnett Show Members

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman

There is no one else like the team of Conway and Korman and unfortunately, Harvey died a few years ago, while Tim suffers from dementia in the late 2010s. Late night reruns keep their comedy alive.

Tim (original name Tom) Conway was discovered by Steve Allen on a local Cleveland show and went on to entertain audiences in McHale's Navy and as an accident-prone ensign. he joined The Carol Burnet Show and perfected such talent as falling up a flight of stairs in slow motion and playing a midget.

Harvey Korman was showcased on the hilarious Danny Kaye Show in the 1960s, worked on The Carol Burnett Show and Tim Conway's TV comedy shows, and made films with Mel Brooks, including Blazing Saddles. Mr. Brooks had played The 1000 year Old Man on the old Syd Ceasar Show and the Steve Allen Tonight Show.

Both comedians won several Emmy Awards and other honors, and Mr. Korman was recognized as well for portraying Bud Abbott in a drama about comedians.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS

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