Sometimes all it takes to make something funny is to give reality just the tiniest nudge. Take for instance, reporter Wally Ballou touring the historic Sturdley House, home of Fabian Sturdley, which was going to be torn down to build a combination bowling alley and car wash before a group of civic-minded citizens banded together to save it. A tour of the Sturdley House takes approximately four and a half minutes and you can see Mr. Sturdley’s collection of National Geographics as well as his picture of a blank Mount Rushmore. Not too many of those around.
That, of course, comes from the comedy duo Bob and Ray. After more than forty years of working on radio together they were separated in 1990 when Ray Goulding passed away. Bob Elliott continued working, including appearing with his son Chris Elliott. Bob played Chris’s father on the show Get A Life. That sounds like a premise for a Bob And Ray bit: What’s it like playing your son’s father on television?
Their wit was dry as a bone and I think that’s what keeps me going back and listening to it. Or reading it since a lot of it works just as well in print—their book From Approximately Coast To Coast…It’s Bob And Ray includes some great bits, including an interview with historian Alfred E. Nelson whose history of the United States mistakenly puts the Civil War in 1911. Nelson admits that’s a mistake and goes on, “I could have checked by asking almost anybody. But, here again, when I sit down at the typewriter, I just like to take off and go. Know what I mean?”
In a genuine interview with Mike Sacks, collected in Poking A Dead Frog, Elliott said, “We did what we wanted to do and we got away with it. And it was fun.”
Yes. Yes it was. Hail and farewell Bob Elliott.
As a final twist I first learned about them from a 1979 NBC television special. The clip below includes one of my favorite things ever, which starts at the 7:33 mark. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing skip to that. It’s four and a half minutes you won’t regret.
I watched the whole thing and although I love ‘Do you think I’m sexy’, I have to go with the Komodo Dragon, largest living lizard, skit. So beautifully dry. Sad that they are both gone.
The Komodo Dragon skit is one of their most famous and started on the radio and, yeah, it is deservedly a classic. What makes the television version of that skit even better than it was on radio is Elliott’s blank stare in response to the questions. Just a single look from his could say so much.
Thanks for reminding me of these comedies. I really enjoyed the ‘Do you think I’m sexy’ skit, because it reminded me of the disco years. My sister used to love disco and I didn’t, it was the dancing and repeating beat, which never seemed to end.
I didn’t understand humor until much later in my life. Now I enjoy it much more. I like the comedians from the 1970’s like Carol Burnett and Tim Conway. I find they don’t make comedy like that anymore, or at least not that I know of. In shows like Carol Burnett, they invested in costumes and stage crafting, one could tell they worked on the sets and invested in making them look real. Now I don’t see any of that, or if I see it it’s the manner of a short clip.
There was much greater attention to detail and the pacing was slower at least in part because I think they were used to playing to live audiences. And in those days there was no recording so there was no expectation that audiences would rewatch something. That, I think, caused the writers and performers to put in longer gaps to give jokes a chance to settle in.
And of course humor is a very subjective thing. There are things that make me fall on the floor laughing while my wife says, “Why is that funny?”
I’m very sad that Bob and Ray are both gone but happy that we’ve both read “Poking a Dead Frog,” Chris. Thanks for this wonderful tribute.
Once again we have proof that great minds think alike–and even read alike.