Woodstock is earnest, one might even say heavy. Its Boomer elders carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The style here is sincere to stodgy; responsibility rules. Flippancy and wisecracking are frowned upon. A famous long dead resident, Marco Vassi, dubbed it “the town without foreplay,” but that was back when sex was in fashion. Today it might be called “the town without a warm up act — and no laugh track.”
A glance through the Letters pages of Woodstock Times will tell you much of what you need to know about the Most Famous Small Town in the World: there are not a lot of laughs here. The letters are mostly about politics or certified good causes. Their tone is serious, somber, occasionally vicious, often indignorant.
We are not happy when we write our screeds to a long suffering WT editor. The flaneur stops reading when the tone gets strident and high minded, and looks around for a good cheap laugh.
Aside from flying visits by professional ticklers, the funniest resident of Greater Woodstock, in the flaneur’s admittedly faulty memory, was the Brooklyn-born Irish writer Malachy McCourt, who did a SRO show in Town Hall for the Library Forum series a decade ago.
For a long while, Al Mamlet was the funniest man in the hamlet. Before him, Les Visible challenged Political Correctness on his cable show. And Ed Sanders’s acerbic wit could peel paint. These worthies were quick with one liners and put downs, like Sanders’ assessment of conservatives as “bitter shitters.”
But the flaneur craved silliness. He yearned for the ridiculous, for the wit of Alan Ayckbourn or Charles Ludlam, the sublime door-slamming precision of the great Georges Feydeau. Once you’ve seen true farce, tv sitcoms are a snooze. But farce is harder to stage than Shakespeare, so the flaneur scrolls Netflix looking for the sons and daughters of Lenny Bruce: stand up comics who fill theaters by speaking truths we don’t hear anywhere else — Louis C.K., Doug Stanhope, Bill Burr, Jim Jeffries among others.
Hester Mundis has made the flaneur laugh for over 40 years, since she raised an ape named Boris in her Manhattan apartment. She was then an editor and novelist (Jessica’s Wife), who, upon entering a party, would survey the room and comment, “So this is what I’ve got to work with.” She and her husband Ron Van Warmer — long associated with WDST — lived for many years in a big house in West Shokan. Hester hit her stride when she became chief writer for the late Joan Rivers, and also warmed up audiences for Joan.
Their approach to humor, from gag writing to delivery, made them a perfect match. Hester seldom appears. To enjoy her, you must know her, or read her books. Unlike many comedians, Hester is “on” almost all the time. Her wit bubbles up from some inexhaustible source.
Mikhail Horowitz is Court Jester to area culturati and those with I.Q.s above their body temps. When he does his shows at Unison Learning Center and Bearsville Theater with his sidekick Gilles Malkine, he packs them in — and keeps them, pardon the cliche, rolling in the aisles. Horowitz has been doing stand up since his days as one half of a duo, Null and Void, in the ‘70’s. He develops new routines every season, all of them dependent on the literacy level of the audience — spoofs of famous poems are a specialty. As often as he can, he brings music into the act, playing a mean flute, with Malkine on guitar, and sometimes a guest.
A flute is the only thing he’s mean with. Unlike many comics whose humor is pressed from bile, Horowitz is a mensch — a gentle, well published poet who has made his own niche in comedy. Many, including the flaneur, have urged him toward television; he would have been a sensation on Letterman, but he demurred. If you want to watch him on screen, get his and Malkine’s DVD, “Too Small To Fail.” The flaneur is grateful for small sillinesses, and the way Horowitz keeps his eyeglasses balanced on top of his head like horns during a routine is marvelous.
Walking Man sculpture by Alberto Giacometti.