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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

One Leg Too Few

Last night on his Showtime series, "Inside Comedy," David Steinberg interviewed Eric Idle and Bob Einstein. The latter told some hilarious anecdotes about working with Redd Foxx, as well as the origin stories of his Officer Judy and Super Dave characters. But I was struck by something Eric Idle said when Steinberg asked who inspired the style of Monty Python. While the usual answer has been Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and the rest of the creators of the BBC's "Goon Show," Idle mentioned how much he'd admired Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Cook and Moore were pushing the comedy envelope for several years before Python formed, mostly with their series "Beyond The Fringe." I didn't become aware of them until 1973, when my parents took me to see "Good Evening," their Broadway sketch revue. One of the sketches that stayed with me from that show was One Leg Too Few, in which a one-legged man interviews for the role of Tarzan. I always thought they had written it specifically for the Broadway run, but I was wrong.

They were doing One Leg Too Few as early as the 1961 version of "Beyond The Fringe," and continued to do it for nearly three decades, including a 1976 appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and at the 1989 Secret Policeman's Ball. Cook, who wrote it in 1960, called it one of the most perfect sketches he performed in. Through all those years, though, they never changed a word -- because they didn't have to. Although the sketch starts out as if it's going to be a physical piece, with Moore hopping around the stage on one leg, it is the precision of Cook's lines (and his dry delivery) that make One Leg Too Few a comedic masterpiece.