In which I would like it a little cooler please


I would like to carry on talking about that book from the American Face Brick Association. Really. You have no idea how much delight I find in every page. It’s just that I have bigger problems right now. I don’t mean bigger problems like we all have from it being 2020, what with it being 2020 and all that. This is the year where there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll come back from a half-hour walk to the news that “Medusa is real and she’s stolen the Moon”. This is why I make my walks at minimum 35 minutes, and you’ll notice, nobody’s stolen the Moon yet. (CHECK BEFORE POSTING) I don’t expect thanks; I’m gratified to know I’m doing my part.

But the core of my problems right now come from the heat wave. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, unless you’re my love, who’s sitting on the other side of the table and terrifying me by reading something I wrote and pointing out where I stole jokes. Here, though, we’ve got a heat wave. Apart from a well-received bit yesterday where a cloud passed in front of the sun, it’s been about 140 degrees Fahrenheit every afternoon for a week. In the evening it drops to a balmy 160.

It is so hot that I feel a bit too warm. I have to explain why that means anything. I am one of those people known in the medical lingo as “a bit cold”. I would like the temperature raised a little bit in almost any circumstance. I’m the person you see sunbathing, wearing long cargo pants and a hoodie to the beach in July. There have been campfires I’ve accidentally stepped into and thought, “this could be hotter”. I set my half of the electric blanket so high my love has to leave the bed, go into the other room, and still sleep without a blanket. And I’m still not convinced the blanket is on. That is the warmth I need. And this heat wave I think is a bit too warm.

It’s a difficult heat wave to exaggerate. This is hard for me because 85% of my personality is exaggeration, with the rest being “pop culture reference I’m trying to tamp down because everyone else makes the same references”. Which is hilarious because most of my references are to, like, nice cracks Fred Allen had about Billy Rose’s Aquacade in the 1939 World’s Fair.

But still. Like, our neighbors mowed the lawns just ahead of the heat wave, so their lawns are these neat uniform brown patches of dead grass. Ours looks like my beard, in comparison, although with more plantains. I mean the plantains are in the lawn. I can’t mow the lawn, though, because the grass has melted. In the relative cool of evening I could squeegee the lawn, except the squeegee also melted and ran down the storm drain.

We made a pitcher of ice coffee, and set it back in the fridge, where it caught on fire.

My daily walk? The one that I make long enough we don’t have to worry about Moon theft? I have to take that later and later, in the hopes of finding cool. Monday I had to take it about 11 pm. Tuesday I had to walk after midnight. Yesterday’s walk I had to take so late it was actually 2 pm today. It is not pleasant out there.

It’s not so hot in here, because it’s too hot in here. Our house, in the past, was owned by many people who meant well but had no idea what they were doing. At least one of them painted all our windows shut. Every summer I target one window with hammer and chisel and crowbar and pry it open and about half of the time I even succeed. This year I got a second window in the dining room almost ready to open, and I would have succeeded too, if the window handle had not melted off in my hand.

Anyway I know people talk about using atom bombs to break up hurricanes. I want to know where the research is into using atom bombs to break up high-pressure systems. Trust me, I normally oppose using atom bombs for any purpose besides making a merry little strategy game suddenly all serious. But this has been going on a week now.

So given how I’ve been talking like this: why are my friends going back and fact-checking whether it could literally be 140 degrees here? I mean … am I not being clear enough I’m exaggerating? Or am I surrounded by friends who are going to take me seriously until I cut that out?

It’s got me burning up, I tell you.

Statistics Saturday: The Humor Of Fred Allen So Far As Anyone Remembers


Small wedge with Allen's quote about `I've discovered why they call [television] a medium: because nothing is well-done'; an empty quarter; a bigger wedge of Kenneth the Page, on 30 Rock, looking at the photo Fred Allen autographed to him; then an even bigger empty space.
Not pictured: that line about a committee being a group of men who individually can do nothing, but who collectively can decide nothing can be done, because I want a better reference than Brainyquote saying he said it. The television-is-a-medium thing at least he said on The Big Show, for the 5th of November, 1950, at just past 1:00:08 and you can check.

Reference: History of the Second World War, Basil Henry Liddell-Hart.

The Stan Freberg Show: The Fourth Show, with yogurt and soap


The Lux Radio Theatre was a longrunning radio specialty. The show presented hourlong, audio-only renditions of popular movies. The compression for time, and the adaptation to reflect that everything has to be audible, make for sometimes fascinating differences. There’s a version of The Wizard of Oz where the Cowardly Lion is played by … I don’t know, but it sure sounds like Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger; the singer declaring you’re a mean one, Mister Grinch) to me. And it’s not bad, but it highlights how Burt Lahr was just an enormous fuzzy ball of lovability. The adaptation of Jack Benny’s then-infamous (and not that bad) flop The Horn Blows At Midnight dropped the framing device and improved the film by at least one full letter grade. For a dozen years it was hosted by Cecil B DeMille, who performed just as you might imagine if you were writing a comedy sketch about an old-time Hollywood director introducing movies he didn’t make. By the mid-40s DeMille stepped down and William Keighley and then Irving Cummings took over hosting duties. But the DeMille thing is what’s being riffed on here, the fourth episode of The Stan Freberg Show, originally aired the 4th of August, 1957.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. Freberg talking with a bongo player who’s sensitive to how loud the show is. The sensitive bongo player’s from Freberg’s Banana Boat (Day-Oh) record, which was also released in 1957 and is how I know he’s a bongo player; that information’s not given here. I don’t know whether the record or the show came out first and so which was promotion for or callback to the other. Freberg expressing fear that he might be mistaken for a commercial might reflect how the show hadn’t got a sponsor, which you’ll notice now, and would become a minor recurring theme in the show’s run.
01:23 Great Moments In History. The story behind Paul Revere’s Ride. The punchline is the same as the story behind Barbara Fritchie, in the second episode. Historical researcher Robert E Tainter is mentioned again, described as having to mail his piece in.
02:24 What Is Yogurt? If there is a funniest-in-retrospect bit of comedy, it’s people not understanding foods that have since become commonplace. Recommended other examples of this genre: articles from the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 explaining what a “bagel” is; the way “pizza” was a reliable laugh line about something someone might eat from about The Honeymooners through the Kinks’ Soap Opera album.

Anyway, this is just a way to get Peggy Taylor in early to sing “I Like The LooksLikes Of You”. I’m assuming that’s the title of the song. Searching on the lyrics didn’t pin down, for me, a clear idea of what song this was.

05:15 Hi-Fi. Doctor Herman Horn explains Hi-Fi. It’s a fine bit of nonsense, with a bunch of weird sounds and odd explanations. I love the low-key nerd correctionism in Horn warning that “Hi-Fi” is two words and he won’t tell you again, which he doesn’t.
11:00 Lox Audio Theater. The melodrama Rock Around My Nose, all about the terror of a man who can’t get close to his son. If you’ve wondered where the phrase “nose full of nickels” come from, you’re fibbing. (The particular cadence for chanting “nose full of nickels” reminds me of a running gag on The Jack Benny Show. I don’t know whether that’s a deliberate reference, a coincidence, or if both are a reference to something I’m not getting.) I love the line about how “that 73 cents bothered me”.

The sketch has an example of that motif where the child is “really” a cranky old man, part of a line of jokes that would include Baby Herman, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Of course, the kid is really played by June Foray, which makes the sketch sound even more like a Aesop and Son piece from Rocky and Bullwinkle Daws Butler (whom, an anonymous commenter points out, is using the Elroy Jetson voice).

The close of the sketch, in which all the actors start fighting, is a direct riff of the close of Lux Radio Theater episodes. Those always featured, of course, the cast talking about what a great time they had and how they use Lux Soap all the time.

The close teases that the next adaptation will be Love Thy Neighbor. This is conceivably a reference to the 1940 Jack Benny/Fred Allen comedy based on their famous radio feud. I wouldn’t think so, since the movie was 17 years old at that point and I can’t imagine it lingering in the public consciousness, but I’ve been proved wrong about Fred Allen’s lasting reputation in recent weeks so what do I know. And Freberg and his writers might not have cared if they referenced anything anyone recognized as long as they were amused. But I’d bet on it just reflecting that it’s funny to say “love thy neighbor” in the midst of a brawl.

22:25 The Yellow Rose of Texas. Adaptation of Freberg’s 1955 The Yellow Rose of Texas record, in which the lead singer squabbles with the drum player. This record was also one of those referenced in the cold open to the first episode of the series.
27:12 Closing. The bongo player has fully sampled the show and concludes it is loud.
27:50 Closing Music.

All my recaps of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

Something For Fans Of Bad Stuff


Comics Kingdom runs a bunch of vintage comic strips. Among them they’ve got the original, 1930-era Thimble Theater. That’s from the time when Elzie Segar introduced Popeye to his comic strip. The current storyline is the one during which Popeye really took over. He’s going up against the Sea Hag, that’s just all about Popeye. None of the former cast is ever going to be the protagonist again.

Thing is, the last couple weeks, they’ve been running something extra. Whatever source Comics Kingdom has for the daily strips has included a weird little extra. It’s billed “Kabibble Kabaret — By Hershfield”. It’s from humorist Harry Hershfield, who created the ancient comic strip Abie the Agent and who apparently ran this in Chicago papers in 1922, and New York City newspapers from 1926 to 1935. And this little panel, a quick little daily joke, is exquisitely bad.

They’re mostly hacky, ancient jokes about what an awful thing marriage is, like:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do couples profit by their mistakes? – J.J.Z.

No = LAWYERS

Some are almost incomprehensible anymore, like this one originally from the 8th of January, 1930:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do women like cavemen? – N.Z.

Most men are afraid to prove it

What Hershfield and the totally non-made-up N.Z. are getting at is this old idea of the different types of seductive men. One of the types was the forceful-brute-caveman type. I know this because I like silent movies and there’s a streak of comedies wherein, like, Harold Lloyd has a fantasy of dressing up like Fred Flintstone and dragging off a Jobyna Ralston-class actor. It’s solidly funny because, well, Harold Lloyd could be funny putting on his glasses. Here, well, it’s just weird. Lloyd probably should’ve used it on a Nola Dolberg type instead.

In the main feature, among other stuff, a cop that's lost at sea with Popeye declares, 'Well, blow me down!' And Popeye says, 'Quit stealin' me stuff - ya ain't no sailor.' In the Kabibble Kabaret, 'Dear Mr Kabibble, Shall I leave my husband while he's rich? - K.V.. Answer: That will make him the world's richest man.' Yeah.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre and Abe Hershield’s Kabibble Kabaret for the 14th of January, 1930, rerun the 27th of June, 2016. Putting aside everything else, it’s pretty great that Popeye has been in the comic strip not quite a year at this point and in the third panel he has to tell the cop to stop stealing his lines. It’s neat seeing how modern-meta they could be back when you didn’t know how much they did that. (Sad to say the cop seems to be dropped after this story. He’d be the most interesting character in Thimble Theatre if he didn’t have the bad luck to be up against Popeye. You have to feel for him. It’s like being stuck in Wings with Paul McCartney sucking up all the oxygen.)

I have been cutting down on how much stuff I read for its ironic value. Too much snark is a bad thing for the soul. But this — this really hits some magic combination. The jokes are escapees from Fred Allen’s Graveyard of Dead Jokes. The social mores have shifted enough it’s hard to get why many of them are supposed to even parse as jokes. And they’re told so compactly that rather than having telegraphic snap they read almost like gibberish. Take this:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Shall I give my husband a lecture when he comes home late? – T.R.

He probably came from one — they go on for days sometimes

It’s like they’re designing this specifically for me to find it compelling.

And I will admit there’s a couple salvageable jokes there, or ones that I can imagine working with the right delivery. And the occasional one that I think just works as it is, eg:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Is love what it used to be? – N.K.

Why, what was it?

Still, though, overall. Wow.

Fred Allen: People He Didn’t Expect To Meet


[ One of the soundest bits of comic advice I ever received, back as an undergraduate, from Ken Goldstein, fellow undergradute whose comic talents I admired was, “Funny names aren’t.” He added the reservation, “Unless you’re Groucho Marx.” I accepted this at the time, since the evidence seemed overwhelmingly on his side. But in those days I — and, I believe he — didn’t have such easy access to old-time radio, or I believe he’d have allowed that Fred Allen could provide funny names. His mock names have a wonderful-to-me crackle to them. I don’t know that he ever described his process for creating them — although he did often rely on the mixing of the highbrow and the low, as in “Socrates Mulligan”; or juxtaposing the fancy and the meek, as in “Delsarte Trundle”. Here’s another excerpt from Treadmill To Oblivion in which he talks about the hazards of such names. ]

People claiming that their names had been used in the news burlesques, and that they had been held up to ridicule, were always threatening to sue. To eliminate this annoyance we invented a set of names to use for comedy characters. Names like Tomtit McGee, Beau Bernstein, Falvey Nishball and hudreds of others. I thought we were safe coining these synthetic cognomens until one sumer up in Biddeford, maine, an old gentleman, a total stranger, stopped me on the street and said, “Mr. Allen, I heard my name on your program last winter. Who sent it in to you?” I said, “What is your name?” The old gentleman answered, “Sinbad Brittle.”

[ And while I’m here, I’d like to point out “synthetic cognomen” as a great combination of words, and a suitable name if you want something with a bit of a science fictional flair. ]

Fred Allen: Audience Participation


[ This is a bit from Fred Allen’s book Treadmill to Oblivion, a radio-business memoir which includes generous excerpts from scripts, and a lot of talk — including quite some sulking — about the struggles he had against, particularly, the advertising men who ultimately controlled his program. This is an excerpt from his discussion of the Average Man’s Round Table, a segment from the hourlong program he did for Texaco, partly about how the willingness of the average person had chained with the coming of radio. His complaint may strike you also as being a perennial; however, the phrasing of it is, I think, exquisite, particularly in the latter paragraph here, and shows off why Fred Allen with a good head of steam was such a well-regarded comic writer. You could teach a course in comic writing just from his selection of adjectives. ]

The coming of radio, and his access to the microphone, resulted in the average man’s discovery of his ego. In vaudeville, years before, a magician had his trouble coaxing a member of the audience up on the stage to witness the magician “sawing a woman in halves” or “impaling a small Hindu concealed in a wicker basket on the point of a blunt sword”. The magician spent many minutes pleading, and assuring that nobody would be ridiculed during his performance, before one lone person would overpower his modesty, mount the stage and stand terrified before the audience.

Today, the Man in the Street does his broadcast hiding in a doorway. He is afraid to show himself in public. The minute his microphone is sighted a motley throng is on him. Soiled matrons eager to divulge how they first met their husbands. Tottering old men outfrailing each other to get to the mike and explain how they became ancient. Gamy adolescents vying to flaunt their arrogance.

Fred Allen: Correcting Alphabet Soup


Fred Allen is a comedian I didn’t discover, outside his famous quips about how committees work and about television, until I was well grown and listening to a lot of old time radio. He’s not remembered as well as his rival Jack Benny, and if you wish to point out Jack Benny isn’t well remembered I’ll come over there and spit on your driveway. Besides, Fred Allen did get a cameo in an autographed photo on 30 Rock last season.

Most of his writing defies quotability, as he liked to be very timely, and enjoyed commenting on the other comedians of the day, and so he has to be flanked by footnotes. But some bits carry through, such as this one from the Salad Bowl Revue of October 6, 1933, which is available on archive.org as part of their old time radio collection, and which I believe to be out of copyright. I can’t convey Allen’s voice in print, and unfortunately there aren’t even any good cartoons that parodied him, but he came from Boston so take your guesses and this really is what YouTube is for.


Announcer:

And now Mr Allen’s help and advice on etiquette:

Good night, ladies and gentlemen. Well, our etiquette department is going like a blacksmith’s clientele in a one-horse town, and a postcard tonight comes from Professor Merrill G Clark of Detroit, Michigan.

Professor Clark says, quote, “I am an English professor at a local college and always have trouble eating alphabet soup in restaurants. Invariably the waiter serves me a plate of alphabet soup containing grammatical errors which he expects me to swallow. I have taught English for so long that a grammatical error even in this form upsets me internally. What should I do?” Unquote.

Alphabet soup has always been a problem to grammarians, Professor Clark. Many professors finding errors correct the soup and send it back to the chef, giving him some homework besides. Other teachers send for soup censors supplied by the makers of the illiterate broth. The censors will gladly remove any objectionable words that may have formed in your soup; but generally, by the time the censor leaves your soup is cold and, while you may enjoy a grammatical triumph, gastronomically you are defeated.

The best thing to do is to order your alphabet soup with the H’s dropped and eat it as English mutton broth. Since fully sixty percent of the soup consumed in this country ends up on men’s vests anyway, you are really swallowing nothing but your pride and forty percent of the liquid insult.

If you, too, have a problem in etiquette lying unsolved in your dumbwaiter, ladies and gentlemen, why not send me the spare parts of a possible faux pas and I shall be glad to spank my mind in an effort to help you as I know I have helped Professor Clark tonight?


A bit of Internet searching reveals to me there was a Canadian diplomat named Merrill G Clark, but I can’t figure out when he lived, or if there were any reason that Allen might have heard such a name, or whether he just made up something that sounded plausible and not distracting.