When I saw A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I was reminded me how much I prefer anything live to anything recorded. As in, I might really enjoy a live music event and yet have no desire to buy the CD.
It’s funny because I grew up on TV. In our house, it went on when the first person got up in the morning and didn’t go off until the last person went to bed.
I don’t think I saw a live performance of anything until my dad took me to see George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” when I was about 10. (If you’re going to corrupt your child, you might as well do it with a comedic master such as Carlin.)
I’ve seen bits of the film version of AFTHOTWTTF over the years, and I sat down and watched the whole thing before seeing it on stage. I thought it was a big meh.
But on stage? It was hilarious.
Why the difference? I think it has something to do with the vulnerability. There are no second takes, no do-overs. There’s so much more at stake, and that makes comedy funnier and tragedy scarier. In a good production, the audience is rooting for the actors, willing them to succeed. They’re invested in the outcome, and that creates a dynamism that’s lost on film.
Live performances also require a scaling down which, when done well, intensifies the action. In the film, some of the funniest parts were the elaborate film tropes that couldn’t be approached in a theater.
I also think the difference has to do with genre. A Funny Thing Happened is one part farce, one part Vaudeville, and three parts Plautus. I’ve never read a whole Plautus play, because they didn’t seem funny to me. But maybe they're funny on stage. At this point, I think I’d go see something Vaudevillian if it were possible.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs at North Coast Rep through August 12.