Humor is often under-rated as a character strength. Yet there’s nothing quite like it to sharpen your focus (to get the joke), release hormones like oxytocin, boost the immune system, promote zest and optimism, and sometimes just help you cope with life’s adversities.
Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye, in their classic take on “When the Saints Come Marching In,” brilliantly demonstrate what we are talking about. Singing the tongue-twisting added lyrics provided by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine, they serve up a comic brew that can keep a smile in your heart for a long time. It’s also fun to share with family and friends and, in fact, everyone.
Louis Armstrong’s sense of comedy was essential to his showmanship, indeed to his sense of identity. It’s revealing that when he applied for a passport for his 1932 European tour, he identified himself as “actor and musician.” He once stated his goal as follows:
” I never tried to prove nothing, just always wanted to give a good show. My life has been my music; it’s always come first, but the music ain’t worth nothing if you can’t lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for that audience, ’cause what you’re there for is to please the people.”
Here is the link to the video clip of Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye on An Hour with Danny Kaye, telecast on October 30, 1960. It is a variation on the routine they did in the movie The Five Pennies of the year before–a biopic in which Kaye plays the title role of Red Nichols, the cornet legend, and Armstrong plays himself. As a guide, here is an example of their split-timing banter. Both men clearly enjoy “playing with” music and ideas.
Nichols: Do ya dig Rachmaninoff?
Armstrong: On and off.
Armstrong: Of course a-koff!
Nichols: Ravel and Gustav Mahler?
Armstrong: Yeah, but don’t forget Fats Waller.
The nice thing about videos is that you can start and stop them if you miss something–and you won’t want to miss a word of this clever duo!
In 1954, Louis Armstrong joined Robert Merrill, baritone of Metropolitan Opera fame, at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. In a hilarious role reversal, Armstrong sang “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci and Merrill did his rendition of an Armstrong favorite, “Honeysuckle Rose.”