Woody Allen Tells a Classic Joke About Hemingway, Fitzgerald & Gertrude Stein in 1965: A Precursor to Midnight in Paris

The char­ac­ter we know as “Woody Allen,” the per­sona we see in his films, the stam­mer­ing neu­rot­ic weighed down by exis­ten­tial angst and a des­per­ate horni­ness laced with intel­lec­tu­al­i­ty, was cre­at­ed not in his movies, but in his stand-up, record­ings of which have been in and out of cir­cu­la­tion since 1964. (They’re now avail­able here.)

The direc­tor is report­ed­ly even more embar­rassed of these record­ings than his films–and any­one who has seen his sit-down with crit­ic Mark Cousins can attest, he can’t even stand to watch his films–but maybe that’s about the per­for­mance itself, and not the mate­r­i­al.

I say that because in the clip above, a rou­tine that Allen loved enough that he often used it to end his sets in the 60s, we can see the nascent idea for his Oscar-win­ning 2011 film Mid­night in Paris.

Riff­ing on The Lost Gen­er­a­tion, he imag­ines him­self back in time, carous­ing with Hem­ing­way, Gertrude Stein, Picas­so, F. Scott and Zel­da Fitzger­ald, and famed Span­ish bull­fight­er Manolete. It’s a one-two-three-and punch­line joke we won’t ruin, but it’s inter­est­ing that con­scious­ly or sub­con­scious­ly, this idea returned some five decades lat­er to be fleshed out into one of Allen’s best late-peri­od films. Was he always think­ing of this rou­tine as a some­day film? In inter­views from the time of the film’s release, he nev­er men­tions the stand-up bit.

Cre­at­ing art is often like com­post­ing, and one nev­er knows what might float to the top after years of influ­ences and absorp­tion. Lis­ten­ing to his stand-up, one can find the joke that he recy­cled for Annie Hall (“I was thrown out of NYU my fresh­man year, I cheat­ed on my meta­physics final in col­lege, I looked with­in the soul of the boy sit­ting next to me.”).

There’s also this rou­tine about a scary sub­way ride:

The scene was lat­er recre­at­ed in Bananas with a young Sylvester Stal­lone.

Allen’s pre-film career, when he was writ­ing for tele­vi­sion and his own stand-up, when his goals were to “write for Bob Hope and host the Oscars” makes for fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing, and we’ll leave you with this his­to­ry from WMFU. Nerdist has more thoughts on the rela­tion­ship between The Lost Gen­er­a­tion joke and Mid­night in Paris here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Woody Allen Lists the Great­est Films of All Time: Includes Clas­sics by Bergman, Truf­faut & Felli­ni

Woody Allen’s Type­writer, Scis­sors and Sta­pler: The Great Film­mak­er Shows Us How He Writes

Watch an Exu­ber­ant, Young Woody Allen Do Live Stand Up on British TV (1965)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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  • Kathleen Dixon Donnelly says:

    Great bit. Nev­er heard it before. Sounds as tho he is doing a par­o­dy of The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Alice B.Toklas [by Gertrude Stein]. Except she nev­er punched any­one in the mouth…

  • William says:

    I believe Woody was refer­ring to Hem­ing­way’s lean­ings toward dip­so­ma­ni­a­cal pugilism dur­ing those “rough years”, and how Gertrude Stein final­ly told him she could do any­thing he could do just as good he could do it.

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