Over the far side

October 05, 1994

Dying's easy. Comedy's hard.

We were reminded of that aphorism of the stage with the news that Gary Larson, creator of the immensely popular cartoon strip, "The Far Side," was retiring at age 44. After 15 years of the daily grind, Mr. Larson said he feared that if he continued much longer his work would "ease into the Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons."

For those not familiar with Mr. Larson's body of work, they were like any of the best newspaper funnies in that they brightened the day a bit. What made his different was that the reader often found himself wondering, "Who thinks up this stuff?"

Like the best humorists, Mr. Larson tweaked those little mysteries swimming in each of our heads that we wrongly think are ours alone.

Haven't you ever wondered, for example, what barking dogs are saying? In a "Far Side," "Professor Schwartzman" with his "canine decoder" revealed it to us. It's only "hey, hey, hey, hey."

We've all pondered the split-second nature of fate. According to Mr. Larson, it's simply God at his home computer, finger on the "smite" button.

As the plug was being pulled on the Far Side, we noted another item about NBC-TV halting the new "Martin Short Show" to re-tool it. Mr. Short is a comedian known for outrageous characters like cowlick-haired Ed Quigley. Mr. Short's daft comedy, forged on shows like the cult hit "SCTV" in the mid-1980s, doesn't translate easily to the mainstream. The most durable comedies on TV are of a softer style: M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld. Same with the lasting comic strips: Peanuts, Hagar the Horrible, B.C. Great works all, but they rarely push the envelope of their audience's "comfort zone."

Gary Larson often does. His cartoons can be distressing, like a bad car wreck that you strain to see anyway. We lament the fact that we won't be able to get our "Far Side" fix after Jan. 1, except in the form of calendars and other commercial tendrils that the comic has spawned for its syndicator.

We can only wonder if Mr. Larson will acknowledge the end, perhaps a panel of his brain lounging poolside. Just as we were lamenting the loss of his work, another news item noted the 25th anniversary of the British hit that took America by storm in the 1970s, "Monty Python's Flying Circus." It was a comforting reminder that God at his celestial computer always has ready for our entertainment edgy, creative minds a few bricks shy.

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