Thursday, May 7, 2009

Madeline Kahn: Progress Report 3

Frequent co-star Dom DeLuise

Just as I complete the book proposal for the authorized biography of Madeline Kahn, the need for speed (or at least for efficient time management) is made apparent once again. One of Madeline's close friends and most frequent co-stars, Dom DeLuise, has died, and I never got to interview him. DeLuise and his wife, Carol, brightened many an evening for Madeline, whenever she was in L.A., and Dom and Madeline shared an interest in opera. (Predictably, perhaps, DeLuise's "interest" was really an outsize passion.) I'm sure they could have helped me to draw a more rounded portrait.

But I'm sorry to see Dom DeLuise go, for reasons that have nothing to do with the biography.

When he was at his best, he captured that giggly giddiness that I've seldom felt since childhood: the sheer helpless­ness of having laughed too hard for too long. What's striking is that, for most comics, the surest way to lose a laugh is to start laughing: if you think you're funny, no one else will agree. (This is the reason my stand-up career doesn't even get past the dinner table.) DeLuise was exceptional, because he gave the impression that he was already hysterical before a sketch began, very much in on the joke and out of control. In reality, he must have calculated some or most of his effects, yet you couldn't see it. His abandon was infectious, and soon enough, you'd be laughing, too.

Thanks to my research on Madeline Kahn, I've caught up with DeLuise's performance in Gene Wilder's film, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. He plays an Italian opera singer who is, of course, a spy, and in the funniest scene in the picture, he squares off against Professor Moriarty (the great Leo McKern). In seconds, the two criminal masterminds are fighting like pre­schoolers. If you haven't seen the movie (which also features some wonderful musical numbers for Madeline), hop to it! It's a great way to pay tribute to a funny man.