Monday, January 31, 2011

Rant #434: Two Comics Not Standing

Two comedians who reached the zenith of their craft in the late 1960s and early 1970s passed away last week.

David Frye was one of the top impressionists in the country, but was forever linked with Richard Nixon. During the Watergate era, he reached the pinnacle of success with his dead-on impressions of the scandal-ridden President.

He had everything down pat. The facial mannerisms, the way Nixon talked, everything. He was perhaps Nixon's greatest impersonator.

He had several best-selling record albums centering on his impressions of Nixon.

After several years at the top, Frye fell just as quickly as Nixon did.

He was so inextricably tied in with Nixon that when the President resigned and lived the solitary life for the rest of his life, Frye's career waned. He did other impressions, but none as well as Nixon.

He continued to perform, but was not the presence he once was--he was basically the Vaughn Meader of his day.

Charlie Callas is another story.

Callas began his entertainment career as a drummer, but the way he looked--wiry build, tall and lanky, almost like a human rubber band--made him the focus of the bands he was in.

His fellow musicians noticed that Callas had a knack for comedy anyway, and encouraged him to trade in his drumsticks for a microphone.

And he did to great acclaim.

When he wasn't appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show or on The Tonight Show or on every other major entertainment show of the 1960s and 1970s, he was drawing big crowds in Las Vegas.

He also appeared in a number of movies, never the star, but you knew he was in the movie by his presence.

Since the 1980s, he did mainly standup, and his star faded from television as the talk show faded. He was among the veteran comics who were basically squeezed out by the in-your-face, newer comics.

But he kept performing into the early 2000s, and had been in semi-retirement when he passed.

Both Frye and Callas left excellent legacies behind. Anyone who mimics a President has to take a listen to Frye's comedy albums, while rubbery comic actors like Jim Carrey certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Callas.

May they both rest in peace.

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