Laughing Through 2020

Most everyone agrees: 2020 was a difficult year. People have had their lives uprooted in one way or another, more time spent at home, more Zoom calls, and there are the masks, lots of them. While 2021 looks optimistic, we are only in the beginning months.

With so much time on our hands over the last year, people have found inventive ways to pass the hours. Videos on YouTube and TikTok are ample proof of that. One of the treasures to come from this is the weekly Silent Comedy Watch Party, which is nearing its first year anniversary. Every Sunday, the hour-long YouTube streaming program showcases two or three silent comedy shorts, accompanied by pianist Ben Model. For those who need a good chuckle, this is proof that humor is the best medicine for trying times.

Model is no stranger to film preservation. He has created musical scores for hundreds of silent films over the last thirty years, and is the resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (NY) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre. May of those scores have been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies and released on DVD/Blu-Ray. In addition, he has released a series of rare silent titles with his independent label, Undercrank Productions, including films preserved by the Library of Congress.

The Silent Comedy Watch Party began as a way to showcase some classic shorts during his down time as the Pandemic shuttered movie theaters and live performances. His co-host for the program, Steve Massa, is also well recognized in silent film circles for his series of books on the subject, including Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad, and The Forgotten of Silent Comedy, Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy, and Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. He has organized comedy film programs for the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

Every Sunday, online audiences are treated to comedy shorts with live piano accompaniment from Model’s home, and detailed introductions and discussions by Model and Massa. The list of comedians range from the expected geniuses – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and Langdon – to the more obscure names such as Alice Howell, Harry Watson, Jr. (Musty Suffer), Billie Ritchie, and Louise Fazenda. For many, this program can be seen as a weekly college course in silent comedy, hosted by two people who really know their stuff.

It’s doubtful that either of them expected to be doing this for more than a handful of programs, more of a way to pass the time and showcase a few films that they held dear. Now close to a year into it, their efforts are still going strong. It’s a great diversion for a Sunday afternoon, and is a way to discover new comedy shorts while revisiting some of the classics.

And let’s face it; we all need to laugh right now.

New and past episodes of Silent Comedy Watch Party can be found at​.


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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website,

David Welling is a Houston-based writer, artist, and graphic designer. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.

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