Friday, May 30, 2008

"That's HEDLY": Harvey Korman, 1927-2008

I suppose I shouldn't be too worried that Harvey Korman is gone: Something or other is bound to make me laugh in the same way: overwhelmed by schtick, almost-sniggering asides, eyeball-rolling indulgence--all with a wit as keen as his timing, and a mad love for dopey laughs. What a cliché it is to state the importance of laughter--but I've never let the descent into the facile and the trite stop me before, and I certainly won't now, as I attempt to wave goodbye like a starstruck kid to Harvey Korman--a man whose very name verges on funny--that "K," that perfect "Harvey"--I'm smiling already.

I couldn't wait to see him on Carol Burnett's show. He gave me permission to laugh, even though I was a punk teen in the '70s, and adults--and by extension anything that would make them go haw-haw-haw--were supposed to be square hypocrites--and of course we are--OK, I am. But Harvey entered laughing--at least in his eyes, at the corners of his mouth--especially if he were approaching Tim Conway (oh, man: another genius for another day). And I didn't have to be hip; thanks to his sly generosity, I could laugh at stuff that--well, whaddaya know?--was straight out of Your Show of Shows, down to the on-air crack-ups. A long laugh-line stretching like an ample Borscht Belt all the way to Harvey.

I could blather on, but who needs it? What matters is that permission. Harvey always let you in on the joke--but he was never cute about it. He helped you keep up, grinning a little when you got it, hamming it up until you didn't. And at the end of the trail is Blazing Saddles, always funny, endlessly quotable, and Harvey'd up just right. And I also won't geek all over your shoes by ticking off his many moments in that film. I know we'd all rather let Harvey take care of it himself.

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