Thursday, April 7, 2022

Copperman's Travels by E.J. Copperman (No. It's not about traveling.)

 One lucky commentor will win a copy of WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION by E.J. Copperman!

 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Our friend E.J. Copperman (aka Jeff Cohen) is a fan favorite here, in part because his books always leave you laughing. And honestly we can all use more laughter these days, right? Today, he's celebrating the publication of his third Jersey Girl Legal Mystery, WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION, about which Publishers Weekly said, "Vibrant characters, a suitably complicated plot, sparkling dialogue, plenty of laughs, and some shrewd observations on L.A. and the film industry make for a rollicking good time. Copperman knows how to entertain." (That's a starred review, btw.) 

Along with his books, what else is guaranteed to give you a laugh? Jeff's going to tell us.


In the 1941 Preston Sturges classic Sullivan’s Travels, a director of film comedies wants to break into the serious side and make a Statement with his next film, O Brother Where Art Thou, a title the Coen Brothers borrowed some 59 years later. He thinks that an artist shouldn’t be demeaning himself with silly antics and should be improving the world with his Art.

Suffice it so say he goes through some things to reach the conclusion that maybe laughter isn’t such a bad calling after all. (If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading right now and go watch it.)

I’ve been going through something a little like that lately, on a much smaller scale. Comical mystery novels are, let’s say, not the most respected branch of the library, and after 20 years (give or take a month) in the biz it tends to get to a writer. So I thought maybe I should be thinking about the bigger picture. Make a statement. Not forgo the jokes necessarily, but have more of a point.

 

Luckily I got over that particular neurosis fast enough and so the third Jersey Girl Legal Mystery, Witness For the Persecution, was published… let me check here… Tuesday. And it has little on its mind other than to get you hooked and hopefully make you laugh while you’re guessing whodunnit. Or even if anyone dunnit.

But that did make me think about the past two years and how difficult they’ve been for virtually every human on the planet. Has comedy been enough to get us through it? I can only speak for myself, and my experience has not been nearly as horrific as others’, but I have a much lower tolerance for Serious than I did before, and I didn’t have that much before.

If I don’t see something funny at least once a day, I start to get the bends. It’s not a pretty picture.

So here are some works of art (small “a”) that have helped get me to today. Maybe you’d like to take a look yourself, or suggest something else that might lighten our mental loads. I’ll be watching the comments.

The Marx Brothers. They’re pretty much my religion. I don’t put on a Marx movie as often as I want to, but that’s only because I live with other people who are, in the eyes of society, more normal than I am. If you’re only watching one I’d recommend any of the last three Paramount features: Monkey Business, Horse Feathers or Duck Soup. The laughs never stop. Except when Harpo sits down to play that stupid harp. (If you have no tolerance for the harp, go with Duck Soup.)

Ted Lasso. Yes. The feel-good show of the pandemic. But it’s also hilarious. The characters of Roy Kent and Coach Beard alone are good for at least five out-loud laughs per half hour. The fact that the show has uplift and characters who are legitimately trying to do the right thing is icing on the cake. And I love icing. Although I’ve been told recently that icing and frosting are not the same thing.

Mel Brooks movies. Start with Young Frankenstein. It’s as close to perfect as a comedy film has ever been (even with a couple of scenes that are… um… less woke than they might be. But always in a good cause. The cast is actually perfect; no one else could have done any of the roles as well. Then move on to The Producers – the original, not the musical, which was great onstage and not fabulous on film – and if you aren’t easily offended, Blazing Saddles. There are plenty more but that’s enough to start.

30 Rock. If you’re not averse to seeing Alec Baldwin these days, check it out. The comedy is so off-kilter that there’s really not much else like it, and all the characters have a heart. It’s just that sometimes you need to look a little harder for it. That Tina Fey has a future in comedy, I think.

Schitt’s Creek. The Ted Lasso of 2020. The first season, I’ll grant you, takes a while to find its voice and its heart, but once you hit the episode where Eugene Levy actually defends Chris Elliott, it’s all pure pleasure from there. Funny and touching.

Galaxy Quest. It’s not just for Star Trek fans, but it treats them with respect. The wonderful ensemble cast is playing, well, an ensemble cast of a TV space opera that went off the air quite some time ago, but is picked up by actual ETs who have seen their show and think it’s a documentary. They need help with an intergalactic bad guy. What could go wrong? The characters aren’t just types and the pacing is excellent. You’ll forget your troubles for a while.

His Girl Friday. I don’t know who it was, but someone at RKO took a look at the classic stage and film satire The Front Page and realized exactly what was wrong with it. They changed the reporter leaving to get married into Rosalind Russell, then hired Cary Grant to be her unreasonable editor trying to keep her from bolting, and in a stroke of genius decided they were a divorced couple who really wanted to get back together. The dialogue comes at lightning speed and don’t for a second sleep on silent-film stalwart Billy Gilbert, who shows up in two scenes and steals the movie, proving he can be hilarious talking, too.

My Favorite Year. Co-written by psychologist and mystery author Dennis Palumbo, this could fall under the category of Mel Brooks-adjacent movies. Brooks’ company produced this hilarious fictionalized memoir of his time on Your Show of Shows shepherding somewhat troublesome guest Errol Flynn, here in the guise of “Alan Swann,” played with great relish by Peter O’Toole, one of the many Oscars he should have won. With a stellar comedy supporting cast including Selma Diamond, who actually wrote on Your Show of Shows.

I could go on. But I’d like to hear your suggestions for the next time life is overwhelming me. Where should I turn for a badly-needed laugh? 


You can find out more about EJ Copperman/ Jeff Cohen and WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION at his website. You can also friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter as @ejcop.

58 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, E.J. . . . perhaps you could tell us a bit about it?

    Your suggestions are perfect for lots of chuckles . . . being a fan of screwball comedies, I’d add “It Happened One Night,” “Bringing Up Baby,” and “His Girl Friday” . . .

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    1. Wait! Look up! "His Girl Friday" is there! I agree with the other two, but hey I did say I could go on. Thanks for asking about WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION. It's the third Jersey Girl Legal Mystery and it saddles Sandy Moss with a client she doesn't want--an egotistical, unreasonable film director charged with murder after a stunt performer on the set of his action movie falls into a ravine doing a stunt. I'd tell you more but I've almost written the same number of words here that are in the book.

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    2. I guess my brain was still sleeping . . . I actually meant to say "Hired Wife" [another delightful 1940 Rosalind Russell comedy] . . . .

      Thanks for the information about WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION . . . I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  2. E.J./JEFF: Welcome back to JRW and congratulations on your newest book. I enjoy reading humorous mysteries, and fortunately some conventions, like LCC, give out Lefty Awards for best humorous mystery.

    I love Cary Grant movies, so would add both The Philadelphia Story & Arsenic and Old Lace to the list of go-to movies.

    I don't have cable TV or many streaming services so I am less up-to-date on newer shows. I did get a trial earlier this year and loved Only Murders in the Building. Steve Martin & Martin Short are a great comic pair and Selena Gomez was a pleasant surprise.

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  3. Those are fabulous - especially Duck Soup! Thanks for the early laughs. I'll add Monty Python anything, but especially Life of Brian and the Holy Grail. I can watch them repeatedly.

    And I'm glad you stuck with your strong suit. Good choice!

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  4. You simply cannot go wrong with Galaxy Quest!

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  5. Hi Jeff,

    Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House - good movies.

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  6. That's a wonderful review Jeff, congratulations! Speaking of Steve Martin, The Father of the Bride had me cackling all the way through the movie. And also, Peter Falk in THE IN-LAWS was hysterical!

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    1. All the suggestions in all the comments could easily have been on the list. And yes, Falk WAS a riot and a half in "The In-Laws" (don't watch the remake). Did you know he didn't want to do the "serpentine" scene and Alan Arkin had to talk him into it?

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    2. Did not know that, thank goodness he was in it!

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  7. Congratulations on the new book! I hope you have truly moved past the moment of insecurity because the world really, really needs people who can make us laugh.

    I love your recommendations, and agree with Edith's addition of anything Monty Python, and Lucy's mention of THE In-LAWS. (I'm almost embarrassed to admit how often my husband and I have called out "Serpentine!" randomly over our 35 years together.

    Jumping a few decades ahead, my husband and I have a special fondness for the two Chevy Chase FLETCH films -- they are stupid yet full of fun. And jumping to TV, we have found that one of the free streaming services carries the original British version of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY, which is always good for a few laughs.

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    1. Oh! that's where "serpentine" comes from! I vaguely remember the scene but I couldn't recall the who or the why. Thanks.

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    2. I adore that scene Susan! So funny that I made my sister and b-in-law watch the movie with us a few years back. They didn't get quite the giggle I did, but I thought the serpentine scene was hilarious!

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  8. Galaxy Quest for the win!! Also, original Ghostbusters, Spaceballs, Groundhog Day, Stripes, Caddyshack. Any of the pairings of Cary Grant with Katherine Hepburn. Laugh-in, any Smothers Brothers routines/appearances/shows. And that's just for starters--laughter does indeed help keep me sane. One of my personal pandemic favorites was OLIVE & MABEL.

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    1. Great additions, Flora! They also reminded me that I would add the original Men in Black and Beverly Hills Cop to the list.

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  9. Thanks for the laughs, Jeff, both this morning and all through the pandemic when I listened to your Haunted GuestHouse mysteries while gardening. Laughing like a ninny with earplugs--I'm pretty sure I also provided some amusement to the neighbors. So double the entertainment!

    I had no idea where the title for O, Brother Where Art Thou came from! Another laugh-a-minute movie--who knew the Odyssey could be such prime comic material? Only in the hands of the Coens, right?

    Ted Lasso gave us all hope, and tickled our funny bones at the same time. Jason Sudekis gave us such a gift, and at the perfect time.

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    1. Oh, and I meant to add Grace & Frankie to your excellent list.

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  10. Everybody's adding such good suggestions! But I will admit I'd never heard of Olive & Mabel before. Have to check that out.

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  11. Jeff, welcome! First thing, I must read your books. I love to laugh.

    The film choices above are stellar and I have seen almost all of them. I'll look for the TV shows, none of which I have watched.

    Mel Brooks is a genius. I do want to add "What's Up Doc?" with Barbara Streisand. My favorite comedy for years! And, "The Great Race" with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, Natalie Wood and Peter Falk. "Push the button, Max!"

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    1. Oh gosh, I STILL say "Push the button, Max" whenever button-pushing is warranted. Most people look at me funny.

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    2. Me, too! Such a funny Jack Lemon character! Peter Falk, who knew? Tony Curtis with the twinkle in his eye! OMG

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    3. If I quote that movie it's, "Hey Perfesser!"

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  12. Jeff, welcome back.

    As a Jersey Girl I love your mysteries. They bring me home. Laughter is so important - when I really need one, I'll re-watch the first episode of Monk, or the Miami Vice pilot. Strange choices? Maybe, but I know where the laughs are and they never let me down!

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    1. Monk is a favorite - always good for laughs!

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  13. Welcome, Jeff! I think comedy is essential to life. I love all of Mel Brooks' films, especially "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." And I think "Galaxy Quest" is pure fun.

    Stan Lee said, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end."

    Amen to that.

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    1. Great quote, Liz. Perfect for anyone who doubts the importance of laughing.

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  14. Jeff,

    Welcome to Jungle Reds! I think I have seen all of the mentioned above except for a few. As I recall, I tried to watch Girl Friday and it was not accessible (NO SUBTITLES). I'm trying to remember other comedic movies. UPSTART CROW on Acorn or Britbox was funny. FAWLTY TOWERS was funny. There were funny scenes from RUMPOLE OF THE OLD BAILEY. The British sitcom ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS was hilarious. There were many silent films with Charlie Chaplin that were funny.

    HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, with Matt McCoughany (sp?) was hilarious.

    TED LASSO is hilarious. I have been watching it on my Apple TV / iPad.

    When my Mom and I went to the Left Coast Crime conference in Vancouver, I remember we met you. That seems a lifetime ago before the pandemic started.

    Look forward to reading WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION.

    Diana

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  15. Jeff, agree completely on your main point and the suggestions here. Loved the first Jersey Girl and seem to have missed the 2nd, so now I have 2 of your books to find immediately - . Yay! But no one ha mentioned my all-time favorite for when laughs are needed- Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Watched it recently with all friends, after a long time...and it still works perfectly.

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    1. I meant "OLD friends" not "ALL friends". And plan to watch Court Jester soon too.

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  16. Oh, I LOVE Sullivan's Travels, it's one of my very favorites. SO funny, and so wise. And for obvious reasons, it reminds me of O Brother Where Art Thou, with George Clooney, which is HILARIOUS. (He turned into a TOAD??).
    What's the movie where...Jack Lemmon? And..who? Walter Matthau? As a sports photographer who pretends to be hurt?
    And The Court Jester, of course. And MY Cousin Vinny.
    Stop me. xxx
    HURRAY for the new book!

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    1. Hank, did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou is the Odyssey story? So many elements twisted to fit the story, in a fascinating way.

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    2. Oh, yes! It’s amazing! Every time I see it I find more… What is your favorite one?

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    3. The Sirens, hands down!

      What's yours?

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    4. That's The Fortune Cookie, Hank! Great movie!

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  17. Nothing better than laughter, if you ask me. Maybe it's too early in the day for my brain but I am thinking of a few different Beevis and Butthead episodes that I just loved. I'll definitely look for your books, Jeff, and maybe even watch a few of the movies you suggested. I thought The Great Train Robbery was very good with some sly humor.

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  18. Oh yeah, His Girl Friday is overdue for an outing.

    Meanwhile, absolutely anything from the Carol Burnett troupe.

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  19. Welcome back, EJ/Jeff!

    I thought I was caught up on all the books you’ve written under your different names, but I didn’t know about the Jersey Girl series. More reading pleasure in my future!

    I’m living with some challenges right now, and silliness and humor are helping me to cope. I’ve watched most of the movies and TV programs mentioned here, and I thoroughly agree that they are good choices! I’m from a family that loves silliness and laughing. We make recommendations to each other on a regular basis. One sibling recently mentioned the British TV comedy Miranda, starring British comedian Miranda Hart, and I’m now watching it for the second time. Do not watch it if you’re eating or drinking anything because you might choke! Watching this program has had me laughing so hard that I thought I might stop breathing! Hart was on Call the Midwife for a little while, playing a clumsy nurse who was from a wealthy family. At that time I didn’t know that she was also a comedian.

    Keep laughing!

    DebRo

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  20. Popping in late-ish because my mornings have become considerably more complicated now I'm sitting for Youngest's blind and deaf 15 year old Shih Tzu who wears diapers. (I just realized I'm not actually dog-sitting, I'm running a doggie nursing home.)

    My situation would make a fine comedy if it weren't actually happening to me.

    Triss mentioned my absolute favorite when I want to laugh out loud - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The girls and I were lucky enough to see the play/musical (play with music?) in the summer of 2019, and was crying from laughing too hard.

    Another favorite of mine that I haven't seen here yet - City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal and the amazing Jack Palance, who turns out to be the perfect straight man. Just thinking about the scene where they bury the horse gets me started.

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    1. I knew I forgot something! Thinking of Billy Crystal--The Princess Bride!

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    2. Right, Flora! Right Julia! Billy Crystal. So talented!!

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  21. Congratulations on the new book. I've just added the series to the TBR pile because I love well done comedic mysteries.

    The movie that never fails to make me smile is a comedy by definition, I guess. It is Kenneth Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing." It is just so incredibly joyful and contains some serious eye candy.

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    1. Almost any version of Much Ado About Nothing will make me laugh--the language is divine! I first saw it performed (on tv) in the 1973 Joseph Papp production starring Sam Waterston as Benedict, but I agree that it would be hard for anyone to top Kennth Branagh's version/vision.

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    2. What a great suggestion! I just checked and it looks like it's available on Hulu.

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    3. And the music is wonderful, too!

      Flora: Waterston as Benedict. Wow, I may have to look that one up.

      Debs: I hope you like it. It is an incredible cast but one of my favourites is Michael Keaton's Dogberry. He's so good.

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  22. Welcome, Jeff! Congratulations on the book and thank you so much for the suggestions! In our house we've said that Schitt's Creek got us through the first year of the pandemic, and Ted Lasso at least part of the second. Maybe it's time for a re-watch.

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  23. Also a second season of Russian Doll (for those who like their comedy a bit darker) is coming April 20.

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  24. Jeff, I get so excited when I see that other people love the same comedy I do. First, Mel Brooks is the King of Comedy for my son and me. My son is now 34, but we started our mutual love of Mel Brooks when my son was as young as middle school. It's a great bond thave with my quirky son, for whom I enthusiastically encouraged the quirky. All the actors Mel Brooks used were brilliant--Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, and so many more.

    Then, you list Schitt's Creek and Ted Lasso, two shows that I want everyone to watch. I was just watching Ted Lasso again last night, and I swear there's something about watching it that take me into a feeling of where I want to be, always. I agree that Schitt's Creek took a bit the first season to find itself, and I'm sad that some people I know have given up on it before it hit its stride, because it is so amazing.

    What are my suggestions for you to watch, Jeff? I recommend The Good Place with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. I think it's one of those you have to stay with, like Schitt's Creek, and the payoff is lots of great laughter. I admit that I started watching The Good Place when it was originally running, but shortly after it went off, I binge watched the seasons on Netflix and couldn't get enough of it. I'd like to join Julia in a shout-out to the City Slicker movies. I loved those. And, what would life be without having had Monty Python and the Holy Grail to watch multiple times. I have to add Raising Arizona and A Fish Called Wanda and Burn After Reading to my favorite older funny movies list.

    Congratulations on your new book, Jeff, and thank you for keeping much needed humor in our lives.

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    1. You're welcome, Kathy. Thanks for saying that.

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  25. Jeff, so glad to hear that you're sticking to knockin' 'em dead with humor! You are so good at it.

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    1. and I second A FISH CALLED WANDA. And THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. And SOME LIKE IT HOT.

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    2. thanks for the reminder, Halloe! Loved all of these three films. Diana

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    3. You are too kind by half, Hallie. Thank you!

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  26. Hi Jeff!
    Happy Book Birthday!
    My contribution to the list of laugh out loud movies to watch is Miss Congeniality and the sequel. OMGOSH Sandra Bullock is a riot and I can relate to her klutziness! Thank you everyone for such good recommendations.Let the laughter continue!🤣

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  27. Carol Burnett. " That's a lovely dress." "Thank ya. I saw it in the window, and I had to have it." Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. And yes, The Great Race.

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  28. My personal favorite funny movie is Maggie Smith in the title role of "Keeping Mum". Kristin Scott Thomas, Patrick Swayze and Roland Atkinson are also very funny.

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  29. Abbott and Costello. My Dad liked them so much. Mom said when they were on vacation watching an Abbott and Costello movie, my Dad laughed so much he shook the bed. Newer shows are Psych and the short-lived Galavant.

    I like all of your series. Looking forward to the new book.

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  30. I did enjoy Galavant quite a bit. Not unlike Schmigadoon.

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  31. If someone has mentioned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I missed it..and another that most people don't think of as funny is RED, but it is...Thanks for your books as we all need a good laugh.

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