Musical Comedy: John Waters on “The Girl Can’t Help It”

JWThis post is intended as supplemental material for the course “Sounds of Laughter: Musical Comedy in the United States”

For Week 7 of the course, I focused on the concept of camp and showed a documentary clip about Little Richard. However, that clip only mentions Richard’s style and sexuality in passing. After some searching for supplemental material, I was delighted to find a clip of John Waters (who I consider to be the epitome of camp) discussing the influence of the film “The Girl Can’t Help It” (1956), featuring Little Richard and other early rock and roll musicians. His entire analysis is amazing (I highly recommend watching the whole thing), but there are several excerpts pertaining specifically to camp and musical comedy.

01:54-next — the scariness of Gene Vincent and racial associations

03:26-next — the ridiculousness of having rock and roll take place in nightclubs

03:57-next — introducing Little Richard’s style and significance (and mustache)

04:50-05:53 — racial tensions, appeal to white audiences, crossovers, and covers (still focused on Richard) (“a cover of real life!” – meaning a whitewashed version of the musical original)

16:17-next — the most amazing “meeting your idol” story of all time (re: Waters interviewing Little Richard)

18:17-19:35 Richard’s style and sexuality in the context of 1950s [I showed this clip in class]

BONUS: The full film is available on  YouTube. I read the Wikipedia plot summary and used the list of songs performed to find the parts of the movie that Waters’ references (I’m not enough of a film buff to sit down and watch the movie in its entirety – even Waters expresses frustration at how the movie cuts away from the performances and “back to the plot”).

See Also:

Week 7

Gene Vincent on YouTube

Little Richard on YouTube

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist, Instructor, Writer

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