What's So Special About The Number 40

If you’re an urban dweller, a sub-urbanite or a plugged-in rural person between the ages of sixteen and sixty, the word ‘40’ could, in most cases, conjure up an image of a 40 ounce bottle of Miller Highlife, perhaps Colt 45 malt liquor, or my old favorite ‘from the block’, Cold Duck.  Ironic that it be so, because it is each young man’s virgin experience with alcohol which is the mighty crapshoot moment that might open the Pandora’s Box into a lifelong bout

Alvin Childress as ‘Amos’

with alcoholism. Ironically our main character, aptly named 40,

Lorenzo Eduardo as 40’

or ‘40-ounce’ (played by), is a struggling actor and former alcoholic whose demons are never far from the surface.  It certainly doesn’t help his crusade for sobriety when he has to constantly deal with the antics of his cousin and 'Ace-boon’ companion Leroy (Horace Glasper), as well as the ‘dumb as a brick’ Diesel (Denzel McCants).  In addition, he has to deal with recurrent characters like building superintendent and neighborhood fence, Ralphie (Ralph Correa), the masked barber, his psychotic agent Ruprecht, Leroy’s needy girlfriend Lynette, loan shark Big Meat and a host of others.  If this were “The Amos n’ Andy Show”, 40 would be the level-headed Amos, while Leroy would be a consolidation of the conniving ‘Kingfish’ and gullible ‘Andy’.


The Straight Guy

Given this list of characters it would be safe to characterize ‘40’ as ‘the straight guy’.  In fact, there can be no mistake about it.  ’40 oz’ is the straight guy – Leroy is the clown. Oddly enough, in our current politically correct environment, if you Wikipedia or just Google ‘the straight guy’, you’ll get pages and pages of gay/straight references before you get to the comedy reference.  However once you do find the generic definition you’ll read something like: Somebody has to set up the joke so the funny guy can deliver the punch line. That's the Straight Man. He rarely gets the funny lines, but has to have impeccable timing and delivery

Bud Abbott [right] sets up comedy partner Lou Costello

so that the comic (the other half of a comedy duo) can hit it out of the park.  That sounds about like 40.  You might also find the quote: "Well, the straight guy is never given enough credit...[Bud] Abbott gets no credit for framing a gag, for the architecture, for the support, for the drive. He does everything except the punch-line; he's amazing." — Mel Brooks Much like Abbott and Costello, you can expect ‘the comic’ Leroy to get the lions share of the laughs.  But you can rest assured that many of those laughs will be set up by the comedy teams ‘straight guy’, 40 Ounce.

Histories of the Number 40

In contemplating the question of what is inferred by the name ‘40’, we should also ask ourselves, what is the significance of the ‘number 40’ historically, culturally and in terms of numerology.

Here Are Some Examples:

Religion

  1. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days

  2. Moses lead the Hebrews through the desert for a generation,

  3. 40 years

  4. The Great Flood of Noah lasted ’40 days and 40 nights’

  5. The Catholic Lent is 40 days

  6. Muhammad was 40 years of age when he received revelation from the archangel Gabriel

Science

  1. Minus 40 degrees Celsius is the same temperature as Minus 40 degrees Farenheit

  2. The planet Venus returns to its original point of origin every

  3. 40 years

  4. A woman’s average term pregnancy is 40 weeks

  5. The atomic number of ‘zirconium’ is 40

  6. Celestial object M40 is in the Ursa Major constellation.  The definition of ‘Ursa’ means ‘bear’, which is an accurate description of our character 40 Ounce.  Cuddly like a bear.

Common cultural terms

  1. A rancher has his cattle on the ‘back 40’

  2. There’s the saying, ‘Life begins at 40’

  3. There is the term ‘40 winks’

  4. Trade unions fought for and won the 40 hour work week

  5. We have the musical Top 40

  6. The literary classic “Ali-Baba and the 40 Thieves”

  7. E40 is one of the first ‘independent of the record labels’ rappers

  8. The .40 caliber is the hands down favorite small arms round by military, police and criminals alike

It is apparent that the number ‘40’ has had cultural, and even scientific significance since the
beginning of recorded history and before.  We’ll never know whether the manufacturers of Colt 45 were trying to imply something mystical by choosing a 40 ounce bottle for their malt liquor or just looking for a nice round figure to market their new product.  They could have introduced the 45-ounce bottle as well.  The consummate ‘in-da-hood’ beverage, Olde English 800.  But either way, their choice was extremely successful, and it certainly made Reed McCants choice of a name for his character an easy one.  After all, 40’s name could have been ‘the malt liquor bull’, ‘the champagne of bottled beers’, ‘big Schaefer’, ‘Mr. Schlitz’, ‘O-E’, or ‘Rheingold dude’ – none of which rolls off the tongue quite as easily as ‘40’.  Nor do they have its current social significance especially as it relates to the rites of passage of young urban males.


In most cases, one of the names in the above list evokes humor or even laughter without the first joke being told.  Ironically, choosing the order of the names for a comedy team ‘plays second fiddle’ to what actually might sound funny to an audience.  The name ‘40’ is obviously the serious (even legitimate street name) while ‘Leroy’ is the humorous moniker.  Ironically, the phrase ‘40 ounce’ refers to a measurement of weight and our character is obviously a man of weight and girth.  The film genesis of the ’40 and Leroy’ comedy team in the movie “Cuttin’ Da Mustard” is quite revealing as to the relationship of this duo.  Members of 40’s acting class gather for their Saturday morning class and as chaos slowly begins to reign over the gathering, it becomes obvious that the main instigator is an interloper – Leroy.  When members of the class inquire who the obnoxious stranger is, the embarrassed 40 must admit that it is his cousin Leroy and that his ‘moms’ made him bring Leroy along – obviously to get Leroy out of her hair for few hours. 


The Slow Burn

Comedy Duo Names – Who’s On First

However the name ‘40’ does fit into the mold of what is an acceptable name for half a comedy team.  Comedy team names must be memorable - and at least one of the names must have a comical tinge to it. 

Examples

  1. Abbott and Costello (Abbott is serious and Costello is funny)

  2. Laurel and Hardy (Hardy sounds like hearty or hearty laugh)

  3. Martin and Lewis

  4. Clark and McCullough

  5. Willie Tyler and Lester

  6. Stiller and Meara

  7. Aaron and Freddie

  8. Olsen and Johnson

  9. Burns and Schreiber

  10. Heckle and Jekyll

  11. Skiles and Henderson

  12. Mack and Myer (for hire)

  13. Allen and Rossi

  14. Fred and Barney

  15. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

  16. 40 and Leroy


40’s frustration over his cousin’s apparent stupidity reveals the main component to the 40’s relationship to Leroy.  This is what is known in comedy as ‘the slow burn’ – which is simply a growing, festering, seething frustration that grows into a parabolic explosion of rage, and thusly laughter.  This comedy ‘technique’ goes back to the days of early silent comedy producers Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, and most specifically to a classic film comedian named Edgar Kennedy. 


Kennedy was an original Keystone Cop who had a successful series of film shorts in the 1940’s. The running gag was that Kennedy was continually frustrated by the sloth of his lazy, non-working brother-in-law.  However his most famous ‘slow-burn’ routines were highlighted in the

‘Slow burn’ specialist Edgar Kennedy

Little Rascals series in which he played Kennedy the Cop, and also in the classic Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup” in which he played the peanut vendor whose kiosk is burned to the ground by Harpo Marx. 


Another of the famous ‘slow-burn’ specialists was the late, great Moe Howard of The Three Stooges. Moe’s slow burn generally began by him asking the other Stooges to explain themselves, but then exploded into a poke into eyeballs of brothers Curly and Shemp, or ripping the hair out of Larry Fine’s head.  Unlike the uber violent and vengeful Moe, our 40’s slow burn usually ends with him just screaming
‘damn’ at the top of his lungs or throwing Leroy out of the room. 


Futility is Comedy “Well Stanley, …here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” —Oliver Hardy


Much like the ‘slow burn’, life’s frustrations and general futility are, for better or worse, huge components to the comedy equation.  From Chaplin’s Little Tramp to Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields.  The genesis could be traced back to the completely forgotten but arguably one of the greatest comedians of all time, Bert Williams.  W.C. Fields said of this

Moe Howard [center] was a notorious ‘slow burner’

black comedian, “He’s the funniest man I’ve ever met, and he’s also the saddest man I’ve ever met”.  
For Williams, emulating life’s frustrations was in itself a major key to comedy.  (That would be an entire article in itself).  In the 60’s film comedians like Jerry Lewis, clown Emmett Kelly, or perhaps an early Woody Allen owe their success to their ability to evoke the emotion of utter frustration and futility.   In recent times comedies like ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin” (40 again), and Hollywood’s general cavalcade of ‘schmucko/jerk-off’ movies are a Bonafide testament to the comedic relevance to futility in comedy.  However between 40 and Leroy, 40 much more so than Leroy, represents the frustration component simply because 40 has real, attainable aspirations, and any viewer of “40 and Leroy – Crazy in New York” knows, Leroy has absolutely no chance of success, other than dumb luck itself.

The great and almost forgotten Bert Williams


Director, creator Reed McCants admits that extending the frustration element to more than one member of the comedy team is not always unusual.  “Let’s look at The Stooges or Laurel and Hardy” says McCants.  He also keenly points out “the frustration comedic element can depend largely upon the
economic times, especially if they’re rough times”.  “The Great Depression brought a lot of film comics who showed the frustrations of the masses as the basis of their comedy”. “Economic hard times are certainly here again for a lot of folks, so it’s only natural that 40 and Leroy mirror that to a certain extent.  But once again, since 40 is the one with the aspirations, he is the one who most viewers will likely relate their own frustrations to.  But happily, they will also rejoice in 40’s successes. They will also rejoice in Leroy’s successes but they will always attribute his success to luck – 40’s success will always be about hard work”.

What's so special

W.C. Fields and Charlie McCarthy

about the number 40, you ask?  Humor simple, plain humor – and from there, a secret view into the lives of young males trying to make a way for themselves in the ever-changing urban landscape.  Hopefully as “40 and Leroy” gain a greater fan base, the name ‘40’ will evoke not only humor, aspiration and sense-of-purpose, but will remind each of us that if we work hard enough and are resilient enough, we just might make it – even if we have to deal with our own wacky cousin Leroy.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy


Written By: Brian Holt

Producer of 40 and Leroy Web Series

 

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