Sunday, 12 July 2015

Am I Blue?

There was a running gag on the Jack Benny radio show about his eyes. “Oh, they’re blue, aren’t they?” Bea Benaderet or some secondary character would remark. “Bluer than the thumb of a cross-eyed carpenter,” Jack would reply, or say something descriptive along those lines.

One thing people never accused Jack of being on the radio (or TV) was blue, a quaint term these days referring to un-family friendly material. Part of the reason was simply because the FCC wouldn’t permit it even if it slipped past sponsors or censors. But there was no FCC on the Las Vegas strip and it appears late in life, Jack’s material changed a bit.

But judging by this story from the Associated Press, Jack knew his audience very well and it wouldn’t let him get away with too suggestive material. He talked about it in this interview which also touched on his phoney age. It must have seemed to Jack like “39” was Mount Rushmore—it was carved in stone and there wasn’t much he could do to change it. And if it got laughs (and I suspect it still did), why change it?

This story appeared in papers on February 15, 1968.

Jack Benny, Once Again, Is 39

AP television-Radio Writer
NEW YORK (AP)—The world's oldest 39-year-old man—or perhaps its youngest 74-year-old—had a birthday Wednesday, but he was much too busy to pay much attention to it.
"I say I’m 39," said Jack Benny with mock severity. "And anything else you want to guess is entirely up to you."
Jack was stopping over briefly in New York, en route from a concert with the Boston Symphony to a night club date in Miami. He will be one of the guest stars next Sunday in an NBC special saluting his homestate of Illinois, and he recently finished shooting a special comedy program to be shown on March 20, also on NBC. He is now busy polishing up some material for use during a four-week engagement in April at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
Even after a half century in show business, he still prefers the tensions and excitements of the theater.
"A few years ago when we were doing the television series we had a show in which I was finally going to celebrate my 40th birthday," Jack recalled. "Before we got it on the air, we started getting all sorts of mail and there were even editorials in important newspapers, all asking me not to do it. They said that 39 had become a symbol of youth and determination for many people, and they wanted me to stay 39.
"Well, it was too late to drop the show, so we went ahead and showed it But then we dropped it, forgot it and I went back to being 39."
Benny wears his calendar years lightly. He maintains his enthusiasm for his music and for playing in concerts. He practices the violin for a couple of hours daily, even when he is away from his Los Angeles home. And he works constantly over his comedy material.
Jack discussed the current use of controversial topical material and the injection of risque material into comedy routines.
He is the acknowledged master of timing, and his own style is built around the stingy, vain and somehow lovable character he has been playing for more than 30 years.
"I've never gotten laughs by zinging anybody else," he said. "There is a rapport with an audience, and you’ve always got to be careful not to spoil it. With an audience it is important to be especially careful with the first couple of jokes. Hope has his way, and I have mine, which is usually getting into things by explaining why I happen to be on stage or why I'm doing a TV special."
"It's a strange thing about risque material," he continued. "Occasionally there may be something that might be considered risque in material I might use in a night club—never on TV, of course. But critics are always writing about how clean my material is. I’ve got a hospital thing that I do that certainly might be considered risque, except that when I’m talking, it is about how much all these things cost, and everything else seems to slip by unnoticed."
Benny, in his only special of the year, will share honors with Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson and "a cute singing group that you have to put in shows these days for the kids in the audience."

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