It seems to me that there is a great amount of cynicism woven into almost every aspect of society these days. Perhaps it has always been so and I just hadn’t noticed it until recently. As an example I’ve noticed that some comedians use their jokes to pursue their own agenda. It has gotten so that you can hardly find a comedian or humorist who hasn’t an axe to grind in politics or some other area. They are either left-leaning, right-leaning, independent-leaning, or something-else-leaning.
I think that many of the comedians of yesterday just worked to be funny without trying to impose their ideology on their audience. I think of three comedians that have graced stage, motion pictures and television that have really impressed me with their comedy. There are more of course but I’ll name only three.
One of my favorite comedians was Jack Benny. I saw a really good movie on television recently starring Benny. It was a comedy and Benny came across as very funny. Aside from his movie appearances, Benny worked first in Vaudeville. He later was on Radio and even later on Television. Benny had an astounding sense of timing. Often he would delay the punch line and the silence would add tremendously to the comedic effect.
In his shows Benny was portrayed as a skinflint. In one of his acts a man stuck a gun in Benny’s back and demanded: “Your money or your life.” The silence was deafening. Just to think that a man was so stingy that he had to think a few minutes about whether to give up his money or his life is hilarious.
Another comedian I always admired was Bob Hope. My wife and I were fortunate to catch Hope’s act in Johnson City several years ago. On the road his programs usually included jokes about the people and characteristics of the location in which he performed. He gave local politicians and dignitaries a hard time but never came across as trying to put forth his own agenda. Hope will always be remembered as a man who took his shows to entertain members of the United States Armed Forces perhaps when they really needed a diversion from their difficult and dangerous work most.
I couldn’t write this column without mentioning Red Skelton. He was not only a great stand-up comedian, he was a clown as well. He also played a starring role in a number of movies. As I remember, he always ended his radio and television shows with the words: “Goodbye everybody, and may God bless.” Over his career he developed and played several colorful characters. Some I remember were Cauliflower McPugg, Willie Lump-Lump, Junior, the “mean widdle kid,” San Fernando Red, Clem Kadiddlehopper, and others. Red Skelton was a very funny performer. He used his clout as a great comedian to bring laughter to millions of folks during his performing years.
We sure could use some comedians like those three men in today’s entertainment industry.