Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jack Benny and me

I have inadvertently written a "series" of blogs of late on my love affair with radio.

So, I thought I'd conclude it by telling you about my all-time favorite series -- radio, TV, or otherwise -- and my favorite comedian.

I speak, of course, of Jack Benny. If you are too young to know about Mr. Benny (I probably should be, but that's a different story), let me tell you this: in his day, he was bigger than the biggest celebrity you can name today. And more talented. And funnier. And smarter.

Jack was a master at comedic timing. I've never seen a performer milk a laugh simply by standing there. As George Burns once said, "Jack would stand there until you started laughing. If you didn't start laughing, the show was over."

He was a true genius, one-of-a-kind, the man who practically invented the situation comedy as we know it.

All the greats loved him -- Burns, Carson, Cavett, Hope, Newhart -- need I go on? His incredible career began in vaudeville and his popular radio (and later TV) series ran from the early 1930s well into the 1960s. He kept working right up until the last few weeks of his life. Trends came and went, but Jack's brand of comedy never got old. He proved that you don't have to pull down your pants -- either literally or figuratively -- to get a laugh.

In a fantastic blog post, TV comedy writer Ken Levine talks about Jack's ability to even get laughs out of his greatest professional disaster, a stinker of a picture called "The Horn Blows At Midnight." Again, he milked it for almost 30 years.

Another great thing about Jack Benny is he didn't care who got the laughs. He was nothing like his vain, miserly alter ego. Once, he opened a season of his radio show by having his cast do the ENTIRE episode by themselves. He only showed up at the end for ONE LINE.

Name a so-called "star" who would do that today...

As I told you before, I listen to Benny's radio shows at night when I can't sleep. Catch a few of them here, but skip forward to the episodes beginning in the mid-1940s, when the show really hit its stride.

To hear Mel Blanc tell it, Jack also had a heart of gold. That may be the best part of it all.

Take a listen sometime, or do a "Jack Benny" search on YouTube.

Just for fun, here is a clip of Benny's "mystery guest" appearance on the popular CBS game show "What's My Line?"

As the cartoon character The Brain would say, "Now THAT'S entertainment, Pinky!"

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