comedy central

Sorry, Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel was funnier

Stan Laurel’s comedy that remains fresher and funnier today than his British counterpart.

“Chaplin wasn’t the funniest. I wasn’t the funniest. Stan Laurel was the funniest.”

So said the great Buster Keaton at Laurel’s funeral in 1965. And while Charlie Chaplin has often been called “The King of Comedy”, I would argue that although he is a fascinating figure, it is Stan Laurel’s comedy that remains fresher and funnier today. This is perhaps why some of his most famous films are currently being being re-shown on UK television and why the bestselling author John Connolly has decided to base his latest novel, he, on the comedian’s amazing life story.

Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in Ulverston in the Lake District in 1890 to a theatrical family. Like Chaplin, he joined the famous Fred Karno troupe and in 1910 he and Chaplin sailed for America. However, while Chaplin was amassing fame and fortune making films, Stan Jefferson (as he was billed at the time) was still plugging away on the Vaudeville circuit. It was around this time that he changed his name to Laurel – his then partner Mae Dahlberg pointed out that having 13 letters in his name was unlucky.

It wasn’t until 1917, when Chaplin was already earning unprecedented amounts of money, that Laurel made his cinematic debut in a film called Nuts In May. But it would be another 10 years before director Leo McCarey paired him with a comic from Georgia called Oliver “Babe” Hardy. They went on to make 107 films together – though not all survive. The survivors are, however, almost without exception, still as fresh and as funny as when they were made.


Chaplin was spotted by film producer Mack Sennett in 1913 and was lured away from his position with the Fred Karno troupe to start making films for Sennett’s Keystone Film Company. In 1915, he joined the Essanay Company where he was paid $1,250 a week and a $10,000 bonus – astronomical money at the time. It was at Essanay that Chaplin consolidated his Tramp character and when he left Essanay to join the Mutual Film Company in 1916 (where he was paid $10,000 a week with a $150,000 bonus) the 27-year-old Chaplin became the highest paid entertainer in the world.

The actress Minnie Maddern Fiske wrote an article entitled The Art of Charles Chaplin, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly. The article promoted the idea that Chaplin was no longer a mere low comedian but was creating works of art. This was an idea that Chaplin relished and he began to create films that, rather than simply cramming as many gags in as possible, began to introduce notes of sentimentality and pathos. The Kid opens with the title “A picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear” and despite some brilliant comic sequences, the film seems rather mawkishly sentimental today.

The Kid (1921).

Laurel and Hardy’s childlike innocence has fared rather better. Their attempt to shift that piano up the steps in The Music Box or their rendition of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine in Way Out West still make us laugh. There is an essential warmth to the characters that, to me at least, Chaplin’s Tramp lacks. Perhaps it is because we know that despite everything, the pair are inseparable. Even if they fight (which they often do), they always end up facing the capricious world together.

Asked in his later years about his philosophy of humour (a phrase he would have hated) Laurel said: “Never, for God’s sake, ask me what makes people laugh. I just don’t know. To get laughs you just have to work hard all the time and learn how to do it in your bones.”

And work hard he did. While Babe was relaxing on the golf course, Laurel was at the studio editing or working out the next gag. He was also the de-facto director of their films made on the Hal Roach lot. But their move to 20th Century Fox in 1941 saw his creative role diminished and, consequently, the films after they left Roach are generally seen as rather second rate. Although their star waned somewhat in the 1940s, they toured the music halls of Britain and Europe in 1952 and 1953 to great acclaim.


After Hardy’s death in 1957, Laurel retired to an apartment in Santa Monica. Dick van Dyke, already a major star and admirer of Laurel and Hardy, found to his astonishment that Stan was listed in the phonebook and became a regular visitor. Laurel also painstakingly replied to his fan mail personally, typing out each reply despite his failing eyesight. Despite a rather chequered marital history (he was married a total of six times, including marrying and divorcing Virginia Rogers twice) he finally married Ida Raphael in 1946 – a marriage that lasted until his death in 1965.

Today’s comedians still look to Laurel and Hardy for inspiration. But the last words should go to the man himself. Music hall acts had what was known as “bill matter” – a small description of their act to go on the posters. Laurel’s bill matter from his professional debut aged 16 is perhaps his most fitting epitaph: “STAN JEFFERSON – HE OF THE FUNNY WAYS”.

David James, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.