It would be well beyond facts to make the claim that every comedian is also inherently musical. However, I expect the exceptions would be a meager number when compared to those comedians who are, or in the case of comedians of yesterday, were endowed with significant musical abilities. Consider Steve Martin, today as much musician/banjo player as comedian. Even the recently departed Phyllis Diller played piano, apparently well enough in her younger years to consider a career in music. And what about Charlie Chaplin, who wrote music for his films?
This consideration of comedians as musicians is prompted by a postcard I recently pulled out of a box of Mexico memorabilia. It pictures a mural called "Comedians of the 20th Century." I'm not sure who painted the mural, but I believe it might be in San Miguel Allende. Pictured, from left to right: Will Rogers, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Cantinflas, Rafael Mendez, Buster Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy. Conducting, of course, is Charlie Chaplin. I'm not sure who the harpist is, but perhaps it is Harpo Marx. There's plenty of detail here to keep one engaged for quite some time. I especially like the humor of the group's name: Orquesta Tipica Sexteto de Diez (Sextet of Ten).
It was no less than Charlie Chaplin who crowned the Mexican comedian Mario Moreno, better known throughout Latin America as Cantinflas, "the world's best comedian." I think the title of best "musical" comedian might have to go to Danny Kaye, but perhaps Cantinflas would have run a somewhat close second. The musical scene in the 1952 Cantinflas movie, "Si Yo Fuera Diputado (If I Were a Deputy)," is pure joy. Here we find Cantinflas slipping past security to get backstage at a concert hall. The police are in hot pursuit, eventually leaving Cantinflas no where to go except, unwittingly, onstage. He's trapped, with no choice but to conduct the concert.
Hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as I did.
James Baker - host and producer of Itinerarios: Music with Latin American Roots.