The Funniest Fruit: A Brief History of Banana Humor
Earlier this week Anthony Bourdain, the chef-turned-memoirist-turned-cleaver-witted-TV-personality, used his blog to criticize the James Beard Association's food writing awards, sparking a lot of chatter about the difference between food journalism (which involves research, interviews and verifiable facts, often about important issues) and food entertainment. Some days you will find the former in this space; today is not one of them.
Instead, in the spirit of April Fool's Day, we celebrate the silliest, pratfallingest, most prankworthy food known to man or monkey: the banana. No fruit is riper (ba-dum-tshhh) with comedic potential. Don't let Gallagher try to tell you otherwise.
Forthwith, a selection of great and groan-inducing banana moments in comedy history:
1917: The silent film The Flirt, starring Harold Lloyd, is one of many early cinematic uses of the ol' "shlub slipping on a carelessly tossed away banana peel" gag. You don't need sound to laugh at a waiter falling on his tuchus with a tray full of food. Hi-larious.
1922: Eddie Cantor sings, "Yes! We have no bananas" in the Broadway revue Make It Snappy, a song inspired by a shortage of the fruit. Never has food scarcity been so whimsical.
1969: The banana phone comes to Sesame Street, allowing Ernie to communicate with his Elephant pal and irritate his roommate, Bert.
1973: Woody Allen riffs on the banana-peel shtick, supersized in the futuristic slapstick comedy Sleeper.
Circa 1976: My older brother, Ryan, introduces me to the world's most annoying knock-knock joke, the one that ends, "Orange you glad I didn't say, 'Banana'?" I immediately try to tell it back to him, but it's just not funny when you already know the punchline.
1984: In Beverly Hills Cop, that wily Detroit detective Axel Foley (played by Eddie Murphy, in his funniest role since the video for "My Girl Wants to Party All the Time") eludes his clueless minders from the Beverly Hills Police Department by sticking a banana in their tailpipe.
2005: A fight involving a guy in a banana suit, staged for a low-budget TV shoot, gets "Banana Boy" and his buddies arrested in Glens Falls, New York (where I happen to be a newspaper reporter at the time). The young offenders are required to write essays, and get a lesson in free publicity.
The French, apparently, think fish is funnier than bananas. They call the day Poisson d'Avril and tape pictures of fish to each other's backs. Chacun son goût.