I’m in the mood to share some more old-time radio. This is an episode of Vic and Sade. It’s a strange show. It was for most of its run a daily, 15-minute program. It’s classed as a situation comedy, although it’s not what you would imagine from “radio sitcom from the 1930s and 1940s”. You might get that from how its Wikipedia page insists one of its catchphrases was “Is there a perfumed lady, heavily veiled and greatly agitated, hiding under the davenport?”. (I do not remember hearing this in any episode I’ve listened to. This might be instead a “memorable quote” from the show. However, I haven’t heard all the three hundred or so episodes that survive. Perhaps something happened.)
If I must describe it briefly, I’d say it’s “three people obsessively talking almost past one another”. It’s a small cast — Vic, Sade, and their son Rush — talking about what’s of interest to them. Often it’s some trivial daily event. Sometimes it’s a project that’s become urgent to one of them and uninteresting to the rest. It’s not a program to dip into casually. Something in it will be amusing if you listen to it while doing other stuff, sure. But it’s one of those shows that presents itself as deeply mundane. It keeps piling on the day’s premise until you reach the point of noticing they’re having a crazed conversation. There’s no guessing where that moment will hit for you. But it’s there.
Vic and Sade was written, all three and a half thousand episodes, by Paul Rhymer. Rhymer had left the newspaper business when the Bloomington (Illinois) Pantograph learned he was interviewing people who didn’t technically exist. Radio probably fit him better. He had a knack for writing people who are ridiculous yet not quite unbelievably so. People who could plausibly make a catchphrase of “You’ll send your undershirt to Detroit parcel post”. And he could string together words in that way that makes every sentence more interesting than it has to be to hold its information. It’s hard to pin down a punch line. Any sentence might suddenly strike you as the funny part, and you’re right. There are reasons most of the series was done without a studio audience.
And the episode I mean to have highlighted above — called “Rush’s Speaking Acquaintances”, based on Rush’s obsession of the day — gives a glimpse of one of Rhymer’s talents. He could compose funny names that are actually funny. The show would collect legions of discussed and typically-offscreen characters, all with names that feel off without ever quite being distractingly impossible. You don’t know how impressive this is until you’ve paid attention to people making funny names. Mix in some absurd touches and discuss without anybody quite finding their point, or convincing anyone else of it. It’s almost a course in how to write character-driven comedy.