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Lahr and Buscemi: Who You Callin' Funny-Lookin?

John Lahr's first book was a biography of his father, Bert Lahr, Notes on a Cowardly Lion.

It's one of the very best showbiz biographies.

His next book was a bio of the British playwright, Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, another stellar book. Not a bad start, eh?

I read both books when I was in high school and have occasionally read Lahr’s criticism since (the collection Automatic Vaudeville is worth picking up if you ever run across it). I'm always curious to hearwhat he’s got to say.

So...he’s got a website. Check it out.

And dig this 2005 Steve Buscemi profile:

Nothing about Buscemi’s physical presence suggests the poetic lineaments of masculine film glamour. He is pale, almost pallid-as if he’d been reared in a mushroom cellar. In a certain light, he can look cadaverous. His eyes are large and bulgy, with a hint of melancholy. When he smiles, his mouth displays a shantytown of uneven, uncapped teeth. And yet that unprepossessing ordinariness is what makes Buscemi captivating as a performer. It gives him the unmistakable stamp of the authentic, and it helps to explain his emergence over the past two decades as an icon of independent films. (Buscemi himself understands the value of his rumpled looks. When his dentist suggested fixing his teeth, he told her, “You’re going to kill my livelihood if you do that.”) “Steve is the little guy,” says the director Jim Jarmusch, who cast Buscemi in his 1989 film “Mystery Train.” “In the characters he plays and in his own life, he’s representing that part of us all that’s not on top of the world.”

…Onscreen or off, Buscemi is never ostentatious. Still, with his simplicity and restraint-an emotional as well as a physical minimalism-he manufactures a truthfulness that always surprises. At lunch, as he tentatively told the story of his working-class upbringing (his father was a sanitation worker, his mother a hostess at Howard Johnson’s), he cast an unexpected light on his own edgy inhibition. We were talking about the terror he’d felt at nineteen, when he first thought of moving from Long Island to Manhattan to try to be an actor. What held him back, he said, was “this feeling that you don’t deserve to be heard, that you don’t really have anything to say or a point of view that’s interesting, because you haven’t been properly educated. I was very intimidated, basically feeling culturally inferior.”

When Buscemi acts, his thinness and his slouch-which seem a product of that original shame-only heighten his odd presence, which is a topic of conversation in many of the seventy-eight movies he’s made since his first major role, in “Parting Glances,” in 1986. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Fargo” (1996), the other characters repeatedly make fun of Buscemi’s Carl Showalter, a dopey kidnapper turned killer. When Frances McDormand’s beady-eyed, homespun policewoman presses a hooker for a detailed description of Showalter, whom she has recently bedded, all the girl can say is “The little guy was kinda funny-lookin’ … He wasn’t circumcised…Funny-lookin’ more than most people, even.”


Yeah, so just who you callin’ funny-lookin’?

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