Wednesday 8 March 2023

Have You Heard The One About...

Pop culture references always provide laughs.

That was certainly true in the days of old-time radio comedy shows. The new “step-down” Hudson? Prime gag material. The government creating two Thanksgivings because of politics? Same thing. La Brea Tar Pits? Los Angeles studio audiences guffawed over that.

It’s no wonder, then, that every comedy writer put those into the mouths of their on-air bosses. So what if every other show used the same jokes? Laughs were guaranteed.

Unoriginality may not have bothered audiences, but it bugged critic John Crosby. His syndicated column of November 15, 1946 doesn’t exactly lament the obsolescence of one joke at the hands of the U.S. government, and goes over some favourite topics that filled the comic airwaves.

The Death of a Joke
On Oct. 14, the day President Truman announced the end of price controls on meat, a joke died. The meat shortage joke, which had carried many a comedian through the summer and fall, went to its reward. There are so few jokes on the air that it deserves an obituary. No historian could possibly have a complete collection of all the meat jokes but here are a few from my private collection that weld have to do without from now on.
Bob Hope show: "You have to be a contortionist to buy meat these days. You have to be under the counter and over the ceiling, at the same time."
Fred Allen show: "I hear people are going over to Canada just to eat meat." "Yes, today to get a steak you not only have to have money. You have to have a passport."
Jack Haley show: "How thin are your lamb chops?" "We have to put suspenders on the paper panties."
Joan Davis show: “My customers are so hungry they're snapping at the ducks on each other's discharge buttons."
Fred Allen show: Sen. Claghorn: "Down south we eat anything we can overtake."
Bob Hope show: The Democrats had to do something about meat. The Republicans were ready to cook their donkey for them."
While the meat-shortage joke will leave a great hole on the air, there will be plenty of jokes left to last us through the winter. Below I have arranged a file of them under their respective subject headings. There are enough there, I think, to keep any comedian warm through May.
Fountain Pen Joke
Joan Davis show: "I'm too young to die. I've got a fountain pen with a lifetime guarantee."
Titus Moody on the Fred Allen show: “I been down in the well—writing a letter."
Jack Benny show: "Could I have your autograph? Just step over to this bucket of water. I want to try out my new fountain pen.”
Tommy Manville
Bob Hope show: "The theaters are so close together in New York so Tommy Manville won't have to walk so far when he's shopping."
Same show: "He has a new contract—selling rice to Tommy Manville."
Humanities Joke
Rudy Vallee show: "You are a member of the human race?" "Yes, but I haven't paid my dues."
Judy Canova show: "I'm only human." "You're exaggerating."
Red Skelton show: “Three times my mother had to buy me back from the dog catcher."
Judy Canova show: "You know when I was four years old my father took me to the zoo." “What happened?" "They rejected me."
Anatomy Joke
Breakfast. in Hollywood show: "And here's Jack McElroy, an outstanding figure. Most of it stands three feet out ahead of him."
Hildegarde show: "What's a woman—a rag, a bone, a hank of hair." Woman: "If you're speaking of me, you left a few things out."
Eddie Cantor show: "What are those strings hanging from your shoulders?" "Those are my arms."
Marriage Joke
Eddie Cantor show: "My best friend ran away with my wife and I miss him."
Petrillo Joke
Eddie Cantor show: "I’ll never forget, marrying an orchestra leader. He said I do. Then I said I do. Then Petrillo pronounced us man and wife."
And, of course, there’s always Joe Miller. If you think Miller is dead glance at some of these specimens:
Johnny Morgan show: “What do you think of bathing beauties?” “I don’t know. I never bathed any.”
Red Skelton show: “I was so nervous I put my pants to bed and hung over the chair all night.”
Duffy’s Tavern: “That was one of my father’s jokes.” “What are you—one of your mother’s?”
Judy Canova show: “Grandpa ain’t opened his mouth in three days.” “Why not?” “Willie hid the cuspidor.”
Eddie Cantor show: “You’re lucky to have a new washing machine. All you had before was that old tub.” “Sir, you’re speaking of the woman I love.”
That ought to get us through the winter. This summer we can look forward again to Brooklyn Dodger jokes (“Brooklyn is a ball club entirely surrounded by alibis.”) and bathing suit jokes (“My bathing suit cost $100—the material was $600 a yard).

The rest of the Crosby columns for the week.

November 11th: the familiarity of the concept of Dennis Day’s new sitcom is analysed. We’ve transcribed it at the bottom of this old post.

November 12th: two shows about dealing with problems, one realistic and the other a garden-variety soap opera.

November 13th: odds and sods, including irony about one of the most popular commercial jingles of the late 1940s—the Chiquita banana song.

November 14th: a look at the new cast of the Kraft Music Hall with the departure of Bing Crosby to ABC and recorded shows, and a blackface show on Mutual based in the South.

You can click on them to make them easier to read.

1 comment:

  1. If not for Jack Benny, I might not have ever known about Petrillo, two Thanksgivings, or Georgia having three Governors at the same time.