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Waiting for Elmo and the New York Critics with Parodies Inspired by Samuel Beckett

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(L–R) Charlotte Rae and James Greene in "Endgame" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

The works of Samuel Beckett have left a lasting mark on our culture. At their best, they inspire existential contemplation, deep introspection, and a heartfelt interrogation of the human condition. But Beckett lovers are quick to point out that his work is meant to be quite funny (or at least as funny as contemplating existence can be). And as one character in Endgame points out, “nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” So in honor of our critically acclaimed production of Endgame, which plays the Kirk Douglas Theatre through May 22, 2016, we’ve gathered together a list of parodies inspired by Samuel Beckett. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the myriad of Beckett parodies inspired by his work are love letters of the highest order.

1. Waiting for Elmo

This fun-loving lampoon of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is part of Sesame Street’s Monsterpiece Theatre and is “a play so modern and so brilliant that it makes absolutely no sense to anybody.” At only three minutes long, Waiting for Elmo may be a substantially smaller time commitment than its source material, but it still manages to capture much of the spirit of Beckett’s original work.

2. The Onion

"In what was surely a conscious decision by Mr. Beckett, the white, uniform, non-ruled pages, which symbolize the starkness and emptiness of life, were left unbound, unmarked, and untouched..."

In 2006, to honor of the centennial of Beckett’s birth, the satirical news publication turned its sardonic sights on the playwright’s fondness for minimalism. “Scholars Discover 23 Blank Pages That May As Well Be Lost Samuel Beckett Play” is completely false and more than a little unfair, but we can’t help but suppress a snigger at their gumption.

3. The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Becket as Found in a Dustbin in Paris in an Envelope (Partially Burned) Labeled: Never to be Performed. Never. Ever. Ever! Or I’ll Sue! I’ll Sue from the Grave!!!

While the verbose title of this 2001 parody may cause the hackles of some Beckett aficionados to rise, this odd love letter to the Irish playwright is surprising affectionate. Made up of a cycle of vaguely absurdist short works delivered at patter-song pace, its aim is to evoke some of Beckett’s best qualities—his unflinching eye, his dark sense of humor, and his hope—while exploring issues that are unequivocally American.

4. Waiting for Guffman

This 1996 Christopher Guest film takes more than its name from Waiting for Godot. Just as Beckett’s tramps continually wait to keep an appointment with a man who may or may not exist, Waiting for Guffman follows a small-town theatre company as they patiently—and impatiently—wait to be reviewed by a New York film critic who has more than a little bit in common with Godot.

5. The Actor’s Nightmare

In 1981, Christopher Durang made every actor’s nightmare a reality for one very unlucky accountant in this short comic play. An unassuming and clueless man named George finds himself onstage—in front of a paying audience—and forced to perform a play that he has never rehearsed, heard of, or agreed to be a part of. What is the play? Checkmate—a fictional combination of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Happy Days, and Endgame (trashcans included!).

6. McSweeney’s

"London, 1954. One of the earliest known parodies of Beckett’s existentialist classic was penned by the venerable drama critic Arthur Bryce."

On the Occasion, give or take, of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first staging, in Paris, of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a few representative selections from the annotated Treasury of Waiting for Godot parodies” is a list of fictional parodies of Beckett’s work, delivered with McSweeney’s signature tongue-in-cheek drollery. But who wouldn’t want to watch Waiting for Bedpan?

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