One bad thing about aging is that your cultural heroes start dropping like flies. It’s happened again: one of my comedic heroes, Neil Simon, has died at the age of 91. Simon has been making me laugh since I was 10 years old and that’s the straight poop, not hyperbole.
The Odd Couple was the first grown-up movie I remember seeing on the big screen. My mother took me and I laughed til my tummy hurt. I recall asking Mom if it was better to be a Felix or an Oscar. She paused to think before saying something like: “They both have good and bad qualities so it’s better to be a bit like both of them.”
I pondered this for a moment and asked “Is it like ordering Chinese food? You know one from column A and one from column B?”
“Something like that,” she said with a chuckle.
I told her I liked Oscar better and she said, “I know. I’ve seen your room.”
It was our very own Neil Simon scene.
Simon wrote some remarkable plays and movies including The Sunshine Boys, The Heartbreak Kid, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, The Goodbye Girl, and the autobiographical “Eugene Trilogy” of Brighton Beach Memories, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound. But Simon didn’t get the critical respect he deserved until his work took a more serious turn with the Pulitzer prize winning play, Lost In Yonkers. Critics often do not understand how hard it is to be funny. And nobody was funnier than Neil Simon.
One of my favorite Simon moments came from The Odd Couple in a scene where Oscar let Felix have it:
“You leave me little notes! ‘We are out of corn flakes. F.U.’ It took me 15 minutes to figure out ‘F.U.’ stood for Felix Unger!”
Funny deserves more respect. Repeat after me: nobody was funnier than Neil Simon.