A MASTER OF NONVERBAL HUMOUR
As Victor Hugo once said, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human
face”, and up to now nobody has been able to do this better than Charlie Chaplin. He brightened the lives of Americans and British through two world wars and the hard years in between. He made people laugh at a time when they felt depressed, so they could feel more content with their lives.
Not that Charlie’s own life was easy! He was born in a poor family in 1889. His parents were both poor music hall performers. You may find it astonishing that Charlie was taught to sing as soon as he could speak and dance as soon as he could walk. Such training was common in acting families at that time, especially when the family income was often uncertain. Unfortunately his father died, leaving the family even worse off, so Charlie spent his childhood looking after his sick mother and his brother. By his teens, Charlie had, through his humour, become one of the most popular child actors in England. He could mime and act the fool doing ordinary everyday tasks. No one was ever bored watching him-his subtle acting made everything entertaining.
As time went by, he began making films. He grew more and more popular as his charming character, the little tramp, became known throughout the world. The tramp, a poor, homeless man with a moustache, wore large trousers, worn-out shoes and a small round black hat. He walked around stiffly carrying a walking stick. This character was a social failure but was loved for his optimism and determination to overcome all difficulties. He was the underdog who was kind even when others were unkind to him.
How did the little tramp make a sad situation entertaining? Here is an example from one of his most famous films, The Gold Rush. It is the mid-nineteenth century and gold has just been discovered in California. Like so many others, the little tramp and his friend have rushed there in search of gold, but without success. Instead they are hiding in a small hut on the edge of a mountain during a snowstorm with nothing to eat. They are so hungry that they try boiling a pair of leather shoes for their dinner. Charlie first picks out the laces and eats them as if they were spaghetti. Then he cuts off the leather top of the shoes as if it were the finest steak. Finally he tries cutting and chewing the bottom of the shoe. He eats each mouthful with great enjoyment. The acting
is so convincing that it makes you believe that it is one of the best meals he has ever tasted!
Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed and produced the films the starred in. In 1972 he was given a special Oscar for his outstanding work in films. He lived in England and the USA but spend his last years in Switzerland, where he was buried in 1977. He is loved and remembered as a great actor who could inspire people with great confidence.