Some comedians are on all the time. Jack Benny wasn’t one of them.
For proof, a couple of examples can be found in the New York Sun, one of the papers which sent a reporter to interview Jack upon his arrival in the Big Apple. The unbylined reporter is a little annoyed by the lack of humour. He has a point. It isn’t like the press just happened to be at Grand Central Station. They were told, either by movie studio publicists or Benny’s own people, when he would arrive. Jack’s on the promotional trail. Since he’s working, he should have at least bothered to have a quip or two instead of being indifferent about the whole thing. Perhaps he was just weary from the long train ride. On the other hand, a comedian shouldn’t have to be on all the time, and constantly yuck it up with jokes.
This story is from December 12, 1940.
JACK BENNY HERE, SHY ON BON MOTS
Reporters Beg in Vain for Just One Witticism
Jack Benny, the Prince of Funsters, arrived at Grand Central from Hollywood today with all the hilarity of a scene from the Spanish Inquisition.
Hearing that he would stay at the Sherry-Netherland, they reminded him that last night his radio-foe, Allen, said that once he left that hotel because they refused to launder his Kleenex. Then, hazel eyes aglow in anticipation, they waited for a bon mot, their chubby pink fingers holding pencils over copy-paper.
“I’ll probably say something about that on my program,” he said.
The reporters made a few efforts to get the comedian to say something about Allen, then in desperation recalled that Linda Darnell, also of the movies, arrived yesterday with a lot of allergies.
“What are you allergic to, Mr. Benny?”
“Allen,” quipped a witty reporter.
“Ha, ha, yes, Allen,” said Mr. Benny. “And food. It makes me fat.”
After a few dark moments, Mr. Benny said: “I don’t think comedians are funny any time except when they’re working. The funny guys on trains and at parties are non-professionals.”
Mr. Benny, however, got into form a few minutes later, carrying suitcases for the benefit of photographers. This got a big laugh from some women who came to meet his wife. Then, too, he playfully shoved a girl in the back. More mirth.
Mr. Benny hasn’t seen his new picture, but he said he had heard Allen was terrific. He cursed that fact, but added that he and Allen are friends.
“I find that I’m best at preparing material early in the morning,” he said. “I’m fresh then.”
Maybe it just wasn’t early enough.
Benny returned to New York two years later. The Sun had this to say on December 10, 1942:
BENNY IS HERE WITHOUT AD LIB
Comedian Tells Reporter to Think Up Quip.
Jack Benny is one comedian who doesn’t believe in squandering his repartee at places such as the gaunt ramp in Grand Central where the Twentieth Century Limited comes in from Hollywood. Arriving there today for a tour of eastern Army camps, he ad-libbed only once, calling his Negro radio-mate Rochester, “Rotch.”
Mr. Benny said that he would be in the East for eight or ten weeks, after which he would return to Hollywood and begin his twelve-picture program as an independent producer, working through United Artists. He said that he didn’t expect too much difficulty in getting stories and players because of the war.
“I have myself for six of the pictures,” he said, “and I shouldn’t have any trouble getting girls.” His arrival caused the usual miniature bedlam which envelops the arrival of a film star, complete with press agents, newspaper persons, redcaps, rubbernecks and assorted citizens.
Wearing Trench Coat.
Mr. Benny said that he would try to sleep at some places if he had time. He was not told that the messenger’s name was Allen, which might have occasioned a quip, because of his radio feud with Fred Allen.
Mr. Benny, in a trench coat, posed with his wife, Mary Livingston, in a mink coat; their adopted daughter, Joanie, and Rochester, also in a trench coat.
Asked by a reporter if he would say something funny for his public—an admittedly unfair question at 9:30 A. M.—he said: “Think up something. It’ll probably be funnier than anything I can think up.”
The reporter couldn’t think up anything, either.