“The Shakespeare of his Time” – Neil Simon

Neil Simon, playwright of the upcoming “The Sunshine Boys“, wrote more than 30 plays and almost as many screenplays. He has received 17 Tony nominations and 3 wins, and has the most combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.

Simon grew up in an unhappy home which led him to seek refuge in movie theatres, where he most enjoyed watching early comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy. These films were often his inspiration:

“I wanted to make a whole audience fall onto the floor, writhing and laughing so hard that some of them pass out.”

Neil Simon (Wikipedia)

He began writing in high school then moved to news and then television in his early adulthood, working with the likes of Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen.

It took Simon three years to write his first play, “Come Blow Your Horn,” but writing it was a turning point in his career: “the theatre and I discovered each other,” he said.

Four years later (1965), “The Odd Couple” won a Tony Award and launched Simon into the spotlight as “the hottest new playwright on Broadway.” In 1966, he had four shows playing simultaneously at Broadway theatres.

Many of Simon’s plays are set in New York City, and themes typically include martial conflict, infidelity, adolescence, death, and fear of aging – serious ideas that Simon manages to convey through humour.

“When I was writing plays, I was almost always (with some exceptions) writing a drama that was funny… I wanted to tell a story about real people.”

Neil Simon (Wikipedia)

Early critical response to Simon’s work was mixed, but attitudes began to shift after his Pulitzer Prize win in 1991 for “Lost in Yonkers”. In addition to being called “the Shakespeare of his time” by Lawrence Grobel, Broadway critic Walter Kerr says this about why Simon’s work is often underrated:

“Because Americans have always tended to underrate writings who make them laugh, Neil Simon’s accomplishments have not gained as much serious critical praise as they deserve. His best comedies contain not only a host of funny lines, but numerous memorable characters and an incisively dramatized set of beliefs that are not without merit. Simon is, in fact, one of the finest writers of comedy in American literary history.”

Walter Kerr (Wikipedia)

Come see one of Neil Simon’s greatest comedies, “The Sunshine Boys“, at the Best Western Plus Cobourg Inn & Convention Centre January 17 – February 2, 2020. Nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 1973, this show is sure to have you laughing from start to finish!

Featured image from New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain]