Nichols and May
When I was a kid I’d always see comedy albums by Nichols and May in the cut out-bins and eventually I became curious about them after hearing their classic Telephone routine on the radio. Mike Nichols played a hapless man, stranded and down to his final dime, trying to use a pay phone with disastrous results. Elaine May played three different telephone operators, none about to give him his dime back.
In the landscape of 1960s comedy, Mike Nichols and Elaine May were quite unique. They were more “sit down” comics than stand-ups, and their sophisticated dark satire was more about motivation, psychological set-up—and torture, usually directed at the male characters—than of going for easy laughs and gags. Which is why, of course, the comedy recordings of Nichols and May are still so highly regarded today. All comedy snobs will eventually discover the genius of Nichols and May. It’s the canon!
In this black and white kinescope of Nichols and May doing their classic “$65 Funeral” skit on the Jack Paar Show, we get a rare glimpse of their particular chemistry and comic magic as they take on an industry that was then very much in the news due to Jessica Mitford’s best-selling book, The American Way of Death, which Paar alludes to in his introduction. Check out their timing! They’re both wonderful here, of course, but in my opinion Elaine May was the Tina Fey of the 60s, a comparison which should flatter both.