JAIL HAIL

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN -

Stir Crazy (1980) Se­lected by Si­mon Crook, colum­nist Gene Wilder’s char­ac­ter in prison-com Stir

Crazy is a to­tal man-child, plonked in a lethal en­vi­ron­ment, his in­no­cence a comedy weapon that never stops fir­ing. In the film’s fun­ni­est scene, Skip Don­ahue (Wilder) and Harry Mon­roe (Richard Pryor) are hav­ing lunch in the re­fec­tory when Gross­berger (Er­land van Lidth) thun­ders in: a Kong-sized se­rial kil­ler so ter­ri­fy­ing half the hall emp­ties. In Skip’s obliv­i­ous head, how­ever, he’s just a gen­tle giant in need of a cud­dle. Ev­ery cell in your body screams, “Don’t!”, but up he gets, slowly dances over, as­sumes a ridicu­lous kinder­gar­ten­teacher stance and says, “Hell-ooo!” like he’s greet­ing a ham­ster. Gross­berger’s Godzilla roar im­me­di­ately sends him scur­ry­ing back to his seat.

You can see the gag com­ing a mile off, but that’s the point. As a screen comic, Wilder had Rolex tim­ing and a comedy sixth sense. What he re­alised was that what re­ally counted wasn’t the joke it­self — it was the gap­ing space left between set-up and punch­line. While this scene is a great ex­am­ple of his slow-bait tech­nique, watch any of his come­dies for proof he’s the Pi­casso of the comedy pause. In fact, head onto Youtube for an en­tire com­pi­la­tion ded­i­cated to his knack for a well-timed si­lence, some­thing that makes bad gags good and great gags un­for­get­table.

So yeah, Gene Wilder had us at hell-ooo. And while he might be gone, thanks to the movies we never have to say good­bye.

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