Vic and Sade: A Box Of Old Letters


So years and years ago two then-friends played a little prank on me. One said hello to me, and we chatted a bit about the day and how it was going. Twenty minutes later the other said hello to me, and used the same prompts, and got the same conversation out of me without my noticing.

I was listening to the Retro Radio Podcast of Vic and Sade and last week they had a thoroughly delightful episode. If you don’t care to deal with your podcast software — and I admit, given that I’m on iTunes, I’m quite fed up with mine — here’s a link to the file from archive.org. And I should have it embedded to play below, if I can remember how to do that right.

It’s the Vic and Sade episode of the 26th of September, 1944. And it’s got a classically simple premise. Uncle Fletcher has made Russell the present of a box of old letters. They start off magnificently mundane and petty. And then writer Paul Rhymer brought his absolute freaking genius to something that makes my anecdote something on point. I know that Vic and Sade isn’t to everyone’s taste — it’s not a program to listen to casually, and the comic style defies the picking-out of specific punch lines — but this one just sang.

(In other Vic and Sade podcast news, Jimbo over at The Overnightscape Underground has had a bunch of small episodes of the Vic and Sadecast the past couple weeks. I would like to share the URL for that, but iTunes isn’t letting me, because iTunes.)

Vic and Sade: When The Building Falls In


Do you remember being bored? I mean, boredom is still with us. But it’s attenuated now, chopped up into small bits of boredom between something exciting happening on Facebook or watching the spectacle of the Future Disgraced Former President’s self-immolation or the like. And a lot of that is still an expression of boredom, since boredom is the state in which anything is sufficient to hold our attention. A video of a bird putting a cover on a cat isn’t actually interesting, but compared to nothing going on, it’s interesting enough.

But back in the days, we could be bored in quantity. Just have days, especially summer ones, when time stretched out and there wasn’t any prospect of something asking for attention. I’m not saying those were better days. They weren’t. By nearly all measures we are so much better off today that we have cell phones and abundant Internet and are never that far from someone we want to communicate with or something we find entertaining to watch or do.

In this Vic and Sade episode, from the 13th of June, 1939, it’s the boring part of summer. And the best of all possible things happens: something exciting comes up. A good part of an old building collapses. Rush gets to see it. And one of his friends is inspired. He turns something already exciting into a performance. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that could happen today. But I do wonder if it takes being bored, and knowing what the face of long stretches of quiet, inactive summer evenings imply, to see a chance like this and make it something even more.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index held steady today, not changing at all, as more cautious traders worried they were under surveillance by a cheetah and didn’t want to make a move lest they get caught in a rundown between second and third base.

331

Vic and Sade: Meet The Parade Community


I don’t know when this episode of Vic and Sade first aired. It’s dated 1941, but it includes Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) as a major off-screen player. And he doesn’t seem to have been introduced before the 12th of December, 1941. The show aired five days a week, but that isn’t a lot of time for Rishigan Fishigan to get promoted from a name on the boss’s Christmas list to a telephoned friend of Vic’s. But they did have as many as thirteen chances to get him kind-of on-stage. (I don’t know whether the show aired Christmas Day, 1941. Nor how many times it might have been preempted for news.)

It’s got to be from early in Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan)’s tenure, given how exasperated Sade is by the length of his name. So maybe it’s a 1942 episode. No matter. I am delighted by the main conversation’s proposition that one could get a weekly list of all the parades going on in the country. It’s the sort of thing that surely exists today. My love and I schedule our December around a listing of when Rankin/Bass specials are going to air and on what channel. And I find Vic’s proclaiming that he’s a fan of parades likely. It doesn’t seem just a defensive reaction to Sade’s skepticism about the parade list. Remember that Vic was happy to join the All-Star Marching Team for his lodge, and that went off on its own weird little way.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell thirteen points over the trading day, providing a much-needed hushing to all the Another Blog, Meanwhile analysts talking about when we’re going to need to buy an index board that handles four digits instead of just three. Honestly. I get your enthusiasm and all that but really, go play outside.

311

Vic and Sade: Meet Rishigan Fishigan


Sometimes a throwaway gag is too good to dispense with. In this installment, from the 12th of December, 1941, Vic’s boss has given him a list of people to buy Christmas presents for and twenty dollars to do it with. Sade expects she’ll have to do all the bother and that it will be an incredible bother. She’s right, as she makes Vic read the list and consider the complete lack of guidance into what sort of thing any of these people might want or how much they should spend on it.

The last name introduced is that of Rishigan Fishigan, of Sishigan, Michigan. It’s such a catchy name. It’s a catchy town name. It seems like it always attaches to the end of his name, so he’s spoken of as “Rishigan Fishigan of Sishigan, Michigan”. And I am sad that there is no such place as Sishigan, Michigan. We should rename something to be it.

The name must have caught Paul Rhymer’s imagination. Rishigan Fishigan would reappear, in mentions, and eventually as a friend of Vic’s. In later incarnations of the show he would even be a regular character, with dialogue on-microphone and everything. Given how many catchy names Rhymer created I wonder why Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) took such hold, although I suppose to say aloud it is to answer the question.

There are a lot of amusingly scrambled place names in the Christmas gift list — I can feel Sade’s righteous anxiety that none of this can be right, even if she allowed that she could buy anything for people she doesn’t know anything about — but I like to think that the choice of “Seattle, Iowa” was retaliation for the existence of “Des Moines, Washington”. I have a friend who lives in Des Moines, Washington, and it nags at me every time I need to send him a card or something. We need some thought put into our Des Moines requirements.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Repeated heavy waves of selling struck the trading floor at Another Blog, Meanwhile over the course of the day, so of course the index went up eighteen points. At this point we have to suspect some of these traders don’t actually know what they’re doing and they’re just making numbers go up and down without thinking about the long-term implications.

324

Vic and Sade: Meet Five Men From Maine


I’ve got a couple reasons to feature this bit of old-time radio. First is that my friend from Maine isn’t on the Internet this week so it’s safe to talk about the state. Second is that I haven’t really featured Vic and Sade lately, so I’d like to give it some attention. It’s the kind of show that isn’t everyone’s taste. But if it is your taste, it’s a powerfully strong taste. So please consider taking ten minutes and listening to it. (The show has a sponsor, as most did back in 1941, and goes on and on. You can zip ahead to about 2:45 into the show before missing anything that isn’t about Crisco, and you can bail out again at about 12:30 in the recording.) So here’s the Vic and Sade for the 30th of May, 1941.

Something I love in the world is that so much of it doesn’t quite make sense. We’re surrounded by weird little incidents and connections and coincidences. Here, Vic gets, by way of a phone call, an invitation to do something perfectly daft: travel — at his own expense — from the middle of Indiana off to Maine to meet five people he’s never heard of for no reason other than that they’d like to meet him. How does this make sense? Hard to say. But I particularly love how Rush comes to ponder how phony-sounding the five men in Maine are. Series creator and author Paul Rhymer had a love for creating names off exactly peculiar that they’re amusing without ever feeling like deliberately funny names. If you live with people named Edson Box, Fred and Ruthie Stembottom, Y Y Flirch, Hank Gutstop, or Rishigan Fishigan from Sishigan, Michigan, how do you call anyone out on having a suspicious name? But what other explanation makes sense?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped 21 points and it’s still over 300 and if you think that’s normal you don’t know what normal is, and I know none of us have had any idea what normal is, not since, like, what? When David Bowie died? The day before that was about the last normal day, wasn’t it? Please communicate in care of this office if you have information one way or another.

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Henry Morgan and the Discovery of Air


Old-time radio had many genres of show. Many of them still exist, albeit on television. (In the United States, where commercial interests sent them.) Soap operas, famously, still carry on, though nobody would say they’re healthy. Police and detective shows we’ll never be rid of. Medical dramas too. Suspense anthologies … all right, we don’t really have that anymore, although thrillers and crime procedurals nearly cover that gap. Sitcoms — with or without laugh tracks — come and go, but they’re steadily around. Game shows have mutated, but they’re still around.

But there’s one that isn’t really still around, not in United States anyway. I’m not even sure what exactly to call it. It’s the kind of show typefied by The Jack Benny Program. It’s centered around a strong, comic host, and there’s a set of regular supporting cast with clear punchy comic personas. There’s some topic, often drawn from the news, that all the regulars riff on for a while. Then a musical interlude. Then a spoof of something or other. A lot of shows fit this admittedly quite general template. Jack Benny fits it (less perfectly as the show ages and it turns into a semi-sitcom). Fred Allen too. Bob Hope. Red Skelton. Some of these shows are great. Some are agony, at least to my tastes. Depends on whether you like the host.

So here’s an example of that genre. It stars Henry Morgan, a comedian who is reliably described as “caustic”. This episode doesn’t show off anything “caustic”. I would describe it more as “sly”.

I wanted to use the embeddable little radio player that archive.org offers. But it won’t link to the file I want because whoever uploaded this episode in the first place included spaces in the file name. WordPress’s thing for embedding archive.org audio can’t handle that. So I’m afraid I must ask you to download or open in a fresh tab one of these links:

It’s a fast-paced show, with as its first centerpiece a mock-documentary about the discovery of air. I love mock-documentaries. Always have. The form of the factual essay and the content of nonsense tickles me. It ends with a spoof of game shows. Along the way there’s riffs about the other leading radio shows of the day, which was September 1946. It’s a sharp, densely written mix of stuff. I’m sorry the audio gets fuzzy at a few spots mid-show, but I want to feature more of Henry Morgan and this seemed to be a pretty good introduction, all things considered.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Today it was the mainstream index’s turn to drop two points. Traders working on the Another Blog, Meanwhile index say they totally meant to get the number up to something impressively big, like 94 or even 95. Which isn’t all that big, but is still a pretty good-sized uptick. But then they noticed how distracted I got trying to find the episode of The Henry Morgan Show I really wanted to show off, and if it’s on archive.org I don’t know where, and they were feeling down because I was clearly irritated by all this. And that was before I found out embedding the episode I settled on was another hassle. It’s kind of them to worry so but they really shouldn’t. I can cope with bigger disappointments than having to show off a different episode of a favored comedian than I otherwise might.

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Fibber McGee and Molly Leaving for Hollywood


I’m still in an old-time radio mood. So here’s a 1941 installment of Fibber McGee and Molly. The show’s got great name recognition, if allusions to it on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are any guide. Granted, by that standard, Averell Harriman still has great name recognition.

But it’s of historical importance. The show was one of those that created the situation-comedy genre. As often the case with those that create a form it doesn’t have the form quite right. The show tends to have very loose plots, to the extent it has plots at all. There’s typically just a gimmick for the episode and then riffing around that. The bunch of wacky neighbors and friends come on, usually one at a time, to add their riffs, and then after 25 minutes of this, two musical numbers, and a minute spent praising Johnson’s Wax, something ends the situation. It hardly seems like the same sort of entertainment as, say, Arrested Development.

But I think it’s of more than just historic importance, at least in some episodes. The one I’ve picked here, “Leaving for Hollywood” and originally run the 24th of June, 1941, closed out the broadcast season. It’s built on the McGees closing up their house and saying goodbye to everyone because they’re off to Hollywood for the summer … to make one of the movies based on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. The movie, Look Who’s Laughing (mentioned in the show as the Old-Timer worries about the title) featured most of the radio program’s cast in a story that intersects with Lucille Ball and Edgar-Bergen-and-Charlie-McCarthy and some story about the town’s airstrip.

And there is something almost strikingly modern. We have the fictional conceit that we’re listening to the stuff happening to the McGees and their acquaintances. And yes, it breaks the fourth wall a couple times each episode for the needs of commerce or just to let Jim Jordan get in a good side crack. But here’s a story all about winding up the “real” affairs of the McGees for long enough to let them make a movie about themselves. It’s a weird blending of layers of fiction. I don’t think the 1941 audience was confused or blown away by this; it just feels too natural that the listeners are in on the artifice of the show. (Note the biggest laugh of the episode is one that subverts the show’s best-remembered joke. And its next-most-famous running gag appears just to be mocked too.) I imagine someone listening to the show for the first time would find nothing surprising about the structure, except maybe for the conceit that perfectly good half-hour radio comedies should be adapted into 80-minute movies with far too much plot and nothing happening. It’s only weird if you stop and point it out, which I hope you see now that I have.

Minor note: the second musical number within the show, about 19:30 in, is the Kingsmen singing “The Reluctant Dragon”, based on the Disney partly-animated Robert Benchley vehicle and that’s fun.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

So here we are, trying out reporting just the breakaway alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile Index and that’s up two points from where it was yesterday. And I don’t want to say anything to the traders who are trying to work out why it is there’s been no divergence in the indices since they split off all that while ago. But I will say that based on what I have they’re in for a nasty surprise regarding today’s mainstream index returns.

104

Stan Freberg: College Football Report and Westerns


Everybody loves spoofs. I suppose they satisfy our desire for transgressive mockery without demanding the self-cutting introspection of satire. That makes me sound snobby about spoofs and it shouldn’t. A great spoof is a celebration of the good and bad of something. And we need sometimes entertainment that doesn’t ask how we justify our thinking.

Stan Freberg among many things produced fantastic spoofs. His Dragnet spoof made his name and solidified “Just the facts, ma’am” as the phrase the original show would be known by. In his one-season radio show he’d do a lot of spoofs, many of them really great.

A great spoof needs to capture something essential about the original. It might be the original’s rhythm, it might be its attitude, it might be just the way it sounds. To some extent a spoof needs to be precise. It needs to follow a template that could plausibly be the original’s. If it doesn’t then it becomes something like an Elvis or a William Shatner impersonation, something that at one time had something to do with the original but now is an entity unto itself. That’s not to say they’re necessarily bad, but to say that they’re their own thing, no longer based on the original.

But there’s a danger in capturing the sound of the original too precisely. That problem it’ll eventually be sixty years later and nobody is going to know what your spoof was going on about. There’s a bit of this in the Stan Freberg Show I want to share here. It aired originally the 22nd of September, 1957.

So. There’s two big spoofs there, one of a sports-radio announcer/interviewer, another of a western. If you’re not a fan of old-time radio then I’m going to guess the sports-radio thing made better sense. There are still sports announcers and interviewers kind of like this and you can imagine an interview coming close to but not quite that. The other spoof is of a western and that probably sounds all the more bizarre.

Freberg was taking seriously his responsibility to get his spoof right, to make it just this close to the thing he was spoofing. The sports-radio guy he’s spoofing was Bill Stern, pioneer of radio sports reporting. A fair number of his recordings survive. He had this bombastic and, must be said, addictive style, delivered in a breathless rush and sprinkled with amazing human-interest stories that might even be true.

The western, now, that probably reads stranger. We just don’t have so many westerns. And the image of the old-time radio western is, well, what people think The Lone Ranger was. Big, broad, cartoonish melodrama with dramatic declarations and gunfights and claim-grabbers and salted gold mines and big, broad dumb gags. That was one thread of western, yes. But there was another line, which for want of a better term I’ll call “adult westerns”. These varied, of course, but they would try for a more sedate, more grown-up tone. They’d be more meticulously paced and there’d be more of the sound effects of men walking in full, noisy garb than of gunshots. They’d try to address more grown-up topics, like drought, economic failure, and racial tension. Gunsmoke, the show Freberg was most specifically targeting, could be wretchedly depressing. It was the sort of show where the silver lining is that at least the floods will put out the range fire before washing away the railroad bridge the ranch-hands would use to get into town to riot.

So if this seems like a bizarre segment to listen to that’s just the problem that Freberg captured the sound of Gunsmoke and its ilk too well. I think you can infer what he’s mocking from this, but it is easier to understand, and funnier, if you’ve heard more of the adult westerns that 1950s radio offered. (Many are easy to find.)

The “sponsor” is an easier spoof to understand. That’s mocking Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice. These breakfast cereals were shot from guns on every 15-minute program radio aired between 1939 and 1958, if my sampling is representative. That maybe communicates easier since we’re still spoofing commercials, and there’s an inherent goofiness that doesn’t need much setup.

Well, I hope you enjoy the show however much sense it makes.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points and then just knew it when it turned out the alternate index also rose four points. Someone went off and wrote a paper about how this proved that the markets were reflecting underlying real value and therefore the index traders were perfectly efficient. This went over 98 percent as well as you’d expect and there was a lot of pointing and snickering over the matter.

98

Why I Haven’t Been Writing As Carefully As I Ought To Lately


So for one thing I’ve come to realize I ought to spend some time petting our pet rabbit. The easy thing to do is brush his head and ears until he indicates he’s had enough by some standard expression of bunny joy, such as doing a little happy shake or biting me to get me out of the way. So I’ve been busy with that for the last 196 hours straight. Also after last weekend when it turned out I didn’t have a 1933 Jack Benny Program where he did a “real old-fashioned style minstrel show” on my old podcasts list, I ended up listening to some 1942 Jack Benny Program where he went ahead and did that anyway. I’m hoping to get back to some nice safe ones like where Jack Benny’s polar bear is eating boarders.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index gained a point, which has got investors all excited about how there’s clearly a new trading floor somewhere around 140 and it’s just impossible we’ll ever see a bear market ever again. They’d probably have gained two points if it weren’t for that whole Jack Benny Program fiasco.

149

From The September 2016 Scraps File


The month may have got started later than usual, but that’s no reason not to empty out the scraps bin. Here’s stuff I couldn’t use in September and if you’re able to, please, go wild. All I ask is a simple acknowledgement that you couldn’t have done your work without me. I need it to pad my CV.

Connoisseur. Cut from several pieces when I realize that even with spell check and entering it into DuckDuckGo I can’t come close to spelling it right. I don’t know. It shouldn’t be this hard and it’s not like I wasn’t able to get the hang of ‘kigurumi’ eventually. So this goes into the special bin for “words that have appeared in Peanuts that I somehow can’t get straight”.

Really I never understood what problem the Federation was solving in dividing the galaxy into just four quadrants, especially when two of them were off on the far side where they’d only interact following freak events like the Bajor wormhole or whatever crazy pipeline sends everything from Earth, including dinosaurs and Amelia Earhart, into the Delta Quadrant. Cut from a post on TrekBBS about why the aliens on Star Trek: Voyager say they’re in the Delta Quadrant when that’s a human designation and surely can’t match any local description of space. Because you know, the part of TrekBBS I like best is how many people are sincerely worried that Benjamin Sisko might never come to reconcile with Jean-Luc Picard, even though they could go through the rest of their lives never seeing or thinking about the other. The part I like least is people starting threads straightplaining why Star Trek is at its best on issues of gender and sexual orientation when it mostly shows men worrying over their womenfolk. In any case the other people there aren’t living long enough for me to argue about how Delta Quadrant species make large-scale divisions of the Milky Way.

Cybernarc. Title of a novel by William H Keith, Jr, and cut from a piece where I was going to try to list the Most 90s Science Fiction Novel Titles ever. And it’s a good idea but it’s just so hard to try finding a bunch of 90s Science Fiction Novels, since they don’t sell novels from after 1991 back to used book stores anymore. And while that’s great if you’re looking for a 70s novel about the extremely sex-partner-ready inhabitants of a great domed city that get pushed outside it doesn’t help you scan the shelves and see what titles really jump out of the 90s and make you giggle. Oh, I guess there’s also Robert Thurston’s Bloodname: Legend of the Jade Phoenix II but you could probably make that a Most Science Fiction Novel Title Of Today too.

I like to think of this as a place where I occasionally buy queen-size bedsheets. Cut from the start of a new tumblr that I cancelled when I realized I couldn’t think what a third post on it would be. Also that I don’t understand tumblr because you respond to stuff by posting it from somewhere else and people looking at the original don’t see it and I don’t know. There are people who can explain this to me but they give up in disgust when they see my cell phone.

In his 40 years as Jacksonian Professor at Cambridge University James Dewar, pioneer of the study of heat flow, never fulfilled the requirement of the post that he find a cure for gout. Cut because while it is a wonder it doesn’t seem to be on-point to anything I’d be writing. I mean, I guess I admire James Dewar. Anyone who could get his name attached to Thermos bottles has to be doing something right. But why would it come up in September when I’m not even in school anymore and don’t need something to hit my siblings with? We’re adults now, we can just punch and gossip on social media.

You’re Steve Allen, aren’t you? Cut from an episode of Stan Freberg’s 1957 radio series where, even if it doesn’t look like much, it’s a pretty solid laugh. It’s in Daws Butler’s delivery unless it was someone else delivering it. I put the line back where I got it and I bet you’d like it there after all. It’s the show with the Grey Flannel Hat Full Of Teenaged Werewolves sketch and the advertising campaign for Food, so, you know, good stuff there.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Index was up a solid eight points and must admit it would be feeling invulnerable if it weren’t sure feeling invulnerable was the prelude to suddenly feeling very, very vulnerable. I mean, we’ve been through this before, we know what hubris is. And we’re not looking to see a demonstration of hubris brought against someone who claims to know perfectlyw ell what hubris is. That’s just not fair.

148

Why I’m Not Ready To Talk About How September Treated My Blog Just Yet


So I found there were some ancient Jack Benny Program podcasts that my iPod somehow had for some reason and I got to listening. And they had some real obscure ones, like from his show before Jell-O picked him up as a sponsor and before his writers had invented Phil Harris and everything. And the show was weird back then, since he didn’t have any of his famous cast except Mary Livingstone and she was still mostly doing Dumb Dora. And then they got to what sketch they’d do on the next week’s show. “Next week, folks, we’re going to do a real old-fashioned style minstrel show!”

So I had to cry out, “NO! DON’T DO IT, JACK BENNY PROGRAM OF 1933!” and throw myself at the iPod, smothering it with my body and saving my whole platoon from the imminent racefail. And while my iPod’s Otter case was strong enough to withstand my falling all over it, and the next episode turned out to be one from 1944 and everything was normal, I’m still not quite up to par. Jack Paar was Benny’s summer replacement host for 1947. But you can see why this has me all off my schedule.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders were feeling optimistic about the Another Blog, Meanwhile Index given how they were able to remember all the Next Generation episodes mentioned yesterday except the drunken-singalong one, and that they really are all legitimate episodes and some of them even good ones. Also that you could too win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling, just like if you were going to make a joke about technical Emmys.

131

From The Night Before The Yard Sale


We held the yard sale, and easily raised enough money to pay for supplies for the next yard sale, when we decide we can’t put off holding one any longer for some reason. My love’s parents came up the night before, to bring and price stuff they wanted to sell, and they stayed the night. So the night before we had this conversation with my love’s father:

“Do you have hair shampoo in your bathroom?” he asked.
“As opposed to rug shampoo?” asked my love.
“Yes, I just wanted to know if you have shampoo for washing your hair.”
“We have. There’s a bottle of … blue … with conditioner, and there’s another that’s yellow that’s shampoo and conditioner in one.,” I said.
“OK. Well, I don’t need it, because I took care of my hair already.”

And there the topic ended, and I suddenly knew what it was like the week Vic and Sade was written by George S Kaufman.

In point of fact, the yellow bottle turns out to be just conditioner, for some bottle of yellow-colored shampoo we didn’t buy, and don’t think that hasn’t been bothering me relentlessly since I discovered my mistake Sunday morning.

Statistics March: In Which I Just Have February All Over Again


Well, that’s novel. For March, I had 1,107 page views. This is just what I had for February. I guess at least the decline in readership since the end of Apartment 3-G has stopped. The visitor count crept up, in the most strict of technical senses, from 629 in February to 632 in March. (There were 1,211 page views in January, from 645 visitors.)

Clearly I need to find some hook that’s as good as reporting that Apartment 3-G doesn’t make any sense, but who’s got time for that?

Anyway, the reader-engagement measures are ambiguous as ever. March got me 201 “likes”. That’s up from February’s 178, but down from January’s 272. There were only 36 comments, though, down from February’s 52 and January’s 66. I need to do more stuff that gets people to write back, but I admit I don’t know what that might be.

I can’t fault people for not writing, though. I rarely know what to write when I read and really like someone else’s humor writing either. “That’s great!” feels shallow somehow. Trying to follow up on the original writer’s joke makes me worry I’ll sound amateurish. Worse, I might make a joke the original writer had considered and rejected not funny enough, and then I’d ruin my image in front of everyone forever and have to hide under the bed and set my socks on fire. I understand if other people get seized with the same fear writing to me, although it seems bizarre. It takes at least four lousy jokes before I think ill of a person.

So what’s been popular here? The most popular stuff for March began, of course, with Apartment 3-G and then got into stuff that wasn’t the long-form pieces I try to post on Fridays:

The United States gave me the most page viewers in March: 769 of them. The Canada gave me the next-most page viewers, 65. The Germany came in next at 43, and then the United Kingdom at 28 and the Brazil with 25, which surprised me. India sent me 15. Singapore didn’t send me any, which, aw. What’s wrong, guys?

Countries sending me only one reader were: Bulgaria, Egypt, El Salvador, Indonesia, Israel, Macedonia, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vietnam. El Salvador, Israel, Portugal, Qatar, and Vietnam are on two-month streaks like this.

The month starts with me having 33,648 page views, from 17,291 separate viewers. I’m surprised that it hasn’t overtaken my mathematics blog in page views (it’s got about a thousand more), although the humor blog is about four thousand ahead in visitor count.

WordPress claims I have 647 followers on it, which is up from 639 at the start of March. This might not sound like much, but I made the “Follow Me On WordPress” button a lot more prominent. It should be at the upper left corner of the page, at least as long as I stick to the current theme. I forget what it’s called. I’m also on Twitter, as @Nebusj, because I got assigned that screen name by my grad school when I entered it so many years ago and I’ve stuck with it because what would I do that’s any better? Jnebus? No, that wouldn’t work at all.

Sade and the Marching Auxiliary


If you’ve been listening along with Vic and Sade episodes this week you maybe noticed that not much happens in them. The characters talk about what they’re up to, but they don’t do much about it. That’s part of the style of the show. It has an almost classic respect for the ancient unities of Greek theater. Each day’s installment is one scene, at one time, and rarely do characters enter or exit, at least not much. Doing stuff is almost impossible in the ten minutes or so of conversation they have.

But stuff happens between episodes. And, more, it’s remembered. Vic and Sade is a representative of the serial-sitcom. It could have storylines going and progressing and developing, five days a week, just the way they might on soap operas. Vic and Sade isn’t a strong representative of the genre, the way that Lum and Abner or the difficult granddaddy of them all, Amos ‘n’ Andy, are. Vic and Sade stories aren’t as long and don’t dominate weeks of storytelling the way the more dedicated serials do. But it’s there.

Here, for example, at least after about the first two and a half minutes (spent talking about the wonders of Crisco and perhaps local advertisers), is a continuation of Vic’s All-Star Marching Team. The Marching Team is hoping to put together a Ladies Auxiliary. Sade is targeted to participate. She’s uninterested in marching and she and Vic talk just a little past one another about the point. The Marching Team was based on an absurd premise to start. And now the Ladies Auxiliary promises to be further absurd, as it can’t just be the wives of the Marching Team members. Many of them aren’t married. (One has intentions of marrying his beloved early in 1948, a joke which barely registers until you know that this episode is from the 22nd of February, 1941.) It’s not the straightforward absurdity of the original Marching Team premise, and its need to rehearse when none of the members can get together. That doesn’t keep it from finding wonderful absurdity anyway.

Vic and the Marching Team


Maybe I’ll just carry on with the old-time radio and make it a Vic and Sade week. Picking out episodes makes me want to hear more episodes, and I like talking about the stuff I enjoy. So here goes.

One of my favorite comic modes is the deadpan absurdity. The name almost explains it. Presenting the most ridiculous idea possible with the straightest face possible delights me. If someone questions your absurdity, you can own up to it … or you can try explaining why it really makes sense all along. Take the second path and you are entering the heady woods of the American heritage of tall-tale folklore, of the reductio ad absurdum that earns mathematicians their pay, and — if you happen to answer every objection soundly — conspiracy theory.

Vic belongs to a lodge, the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, the way many people did in 1941. The way even more sitcom men did. The lodge wanted to organize an All-Star Marching Team. The head lodge chose ten members, Vic included. Lodge headquarters wants them to practice marching as a unit. The members are distributed across the country. The members aren’t asked to spend money and time travelling to each other.

So … how to rehearse marching as a unit when you just can’t get together? And there’s an answer, and it’s ridiculous. There’s obvious objections. They’re answered with a straight enough face that it all almost makes sense. It’s wonderful.

And a note for listeners: boy, the sponsor’s introduction really does go on, doesn’t it? If you are already as sold on Crisco as it is possible for you to ever be, you can skip to about two minutes thirty seconds in and the start of the real action.

Vic and Sade, with algebra, without Vic, Sade


I’m still feeling in an old-time radio mood.

Vic and Sade starred Art Van Harvey as Vic, and Bernardine Flynn as Sade. That was, apparently, enough cast to start with, but they adopted Rush, played by Bill Idelson, soon enough. Most of the scripts depended on the three, or two of the three if one of the actors got a day off, describing events to one another. A problem arose in 1940, when Van Harvey became ill. Every long-running radio show had this problem occasionally. If the actor’s illness was known about long enough in advance they could rewrite around the part. If it was sudden, they could just have someone else fill in. (There’s at least one episode of Burns and Allen with someone else playing the part of Gracie Allen, and that is not a role to step into lightly.)

To cover for Van Harvey’s illness, author Paul Rhymer brought a talked-about character in. This would be Uncle Fletcher, played by Clarence Hartzell. Uncle Fletcher could take the part of someone for Sade and Rush to talk to, or at least talk around, at least as well as Vic did.

It does mean we have curiosities like this episode, though. It’s from the 9th of October, 1941. It’s a two-actor day. So it’s an episode of Vic and Sade with neither Vic nor Sade. It’s built on Rush attempting to do his algebra homework, and Uncle Fletcher attempting to coach him through it. As I’d said, many Vic and Sade episodes are driven by the characters talking not quite past one another. This is a fine example of the form.

Bob and Ray Tell You What’s On Channel 6


I want to share some of the gentle, absurd, kindly wonderful humor of Bob and Ray. Here’s something a bit mysterious. Its description on archive.org is able to give only some information about where it’s from. It was an Armed Forces Radio Service transcription disc. It would seem to come from one of their 1958-era broadcasts, apparently on NBC’s Monitor weekend service. I can’t pin it down more precisely than that.

The audio is patchy. But I think their appeal comes through. They offer brownies to the audience and that goes as well as anyone might hope. There’s a look into the difficult world of the soap opera writer. And there’s a review of what could be found on TV. I too would watch that Weird Theater tales meant to keep you in suspense.

Jack Benny Sees Out The Year 1943


The comic writer/critic Ian Shoales (Merle Kessler) wrote once that he thought allegory was an art form that’d gone out with the Middle Ages, “except for certain episodes of The Twilight Zone”. It’s true in spirit, even if allegories lasted a bit longer than the Middle Ages. Allegorical stories are still around, although they’re not so formally structured as your classic Middle Ages/Twilight Zone structure.

The Jack Benny Program was for many years an exception. Benny’s show would do, for the New Year’s broadcast, a deliberately allegorical piece. Benny would play the Old Year, giving advice and explanations to the New Year. It makes for a curious pop-cultural filter on years of history: the sketches are stuffed full of news, hopes for the coming year, wishful thinking for the present, up-to-the-minute pop culture references. (The song Benny as Old Year sings is “Pistol Packin’ Momma”, which was everywhere in 1943. I think Jack Paar mentioned how sick USO crews got of the song, since whenever they arrived at a new base the soldiers and sailors wanted to hear it.) It can make for striking moments of understanding life in a time gone far by.

I’m not sure how many years they did this. But I wanted to share an example. This one’s from the 2nd of January, 1944. It’s dominated by war news, of course. Even there it gets strange, turning the war news of 1943 into a baseball game, with gags like how Mussolini got knocked in the head in the sixth inning. The premise feels odd, though it’s saved by earnestness and sentiment. There are some laughs that I, comfortably seventy years on, have which the original audience wouldn’t.

(There’s some racially charged jokes in this. You probably suspected that going in. I cringed most at Rochester’s segment. The character’s treatment on the show got better in time, but the show as a whole was probably at its best during World War II. I do feel bad closing out 2015, a year that saw so much celebration of white racism, with that Rochester sketch. But I don’t feel right editing it out and pretending it’s not there.)

Missing Christmas Ornaments with Bob and Ray


I felt like sharing a little old-time radio this weekend. So here, please enjoy the fifteen minutes of Bob and Ray Present The CBS Radio Network. This episode’s from the 15th of December, 1959.

Besides some experimental new sound effects the episode includes an installment of One Fella’s Family, all about the search for the missing Christmas ornaments. There’s a happy ending to it.


Also, there’s another comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Do enjoy, if that’s your taste.

Jack Benny Goes To The Carnival


And to close out August I have an episode of an actual TV show to share. Courtesy of archive.org let me show off The Jack Benny Program and an episode labelled “The Carnival Story”. If the IMDB is to be relied on it first aired the 6th of March, 1955. And it was titled “Jack takes the Beavers to the Fair”. They went for fairly literal, descriptive titles back then. Of course, the title card at the end says copyright 1954.

I think Jack Benny is still, at least, a familiar name even if people don’t actually listen to or watch him anymore. That’s forgivable. His heyday was seventy years ago, after all. But he was really popular for a really long time, for the best of reasons: he was really funny. He dominates the comic acting of the whole episode and without having many punch lines. He just knows how to be the center of the show.

And it’s a well-crafted show. The writers for Benny, on radio and television, mastered the running gag. A good joke you can count on returning, in fresh variations, for not just the one episode but as many as they could get away with. Done well, as it often was, this meant many seemingly independent joke threads would weave together to a killer climax. And that’s probably why you don’t really see good Jack Benny quotes in those books of funny things people said. They’re not funny, not without context, and books of funny things people said don’t have the fifteen minutes of setup needed.

There’s drawbacks, of course. Once something became a running gag it would have to come back over and over. Later episodes of the radio program can feel claustrophobic, as the various recurring gags have to be visited like the Stations of the Cross.

This episode is a bit of a format-breaker. Most of the regular cast is absent, as Benny takes his scout troop to the fair. This troop was a running gag on the radio program too, for years. But you pick up on the relationship he has with them fast enough. And a couple of the show’s running gags appear in the action. The most prominent is Mister Kitzel (Artie Auerbach), who appears first as the hot dog seller. He’d been going since the 1940s on the curious catchphrase “pickle in the middle with the mustard on top”. I don’t know. The 1940s was also the decade that gave us the Hut-Sut Song and doubletalk.

Frank Nelson turns up, guessing Jack Benny’s age for a quarter. His catchphrase was a simple introductory “yyYYyyyesssss?” that’s lingered in the pop culture, the past quarter-century surely because The Simpsons picked it up. And speaking of them, one of the kids — Harry — is played by Harry Shearer. You remember him from delivering at minimum three of the last five Simpsons quotes to run through your head. Mel Blanc may surprise folks by appearing here with an actual body, not just voice acting. He’s the fellow running the ring-the-bell game that Benny tries to bribe.

The show does fairly well at presenting the illusion of a fair or amusement park, considering it has to fit stuff onto a soundstage. It carries the whole business off with a carousel and some game stands, plus stock footage. I’m also curious abut where the carousel came from. It runs clockwise (as seen from above), British-style. American-made carousels normally run the other way. Where did it come from, and how did it end up on CBS television in 1955? I think I’ve seen that carousel in other productions, mostly movies, but that could just be fooling myself.

Molly McGee At A Roller Coaster


Bit of a change for these sorts of Friday things. Rather than a video I’d like to share an old-time radio program. This is the Fibber McGee and Molly that originally aired the 17th of June, 1941. It’s titled “Amusement Park”. I don’t know whether that was the script name or just how the Fibber McGee and Molly fans chose to name it. If I have overcome archive.org’s horrible new interface, this should be a link to download an MP3 to it. If I haven’t overcome archive.org’s horrible new interface, well, you should be able to select track 21, “Amusement Park”, below and listen in your web browser, rather than your MP3 player or audio program of your actual choice. Mostly, though, archive.org’s new interface is horrible.

Anyway. Fibber McGee and Molly was a proto-sitcom. The show started as being about vagabond motorists Fibber and Molly having encounters with amusing locals. After a few years of this they won a house in a raffle (really) and settled down to what’s almost the modern format of the genre. Most episodes give Fibber some modest task to attempt, at home, while Molly comments, and comical neighbors drop in, one at a time, to riff on that.

It’s not quite the sitcom as perfected, mostly because the episodes don’t really have plots. They have themes and jokes circling around the theme. But most of the time you could scramble the appearances by the comical neighbors and have about as good a show. There’s not a running storyline; at best it’s got running jokes. Which seems really odd because the show would have stuff develop over the course of episodes. Indeed, this episode introduces something that would be picked up on the next week, their close of the 1940-41 broadcast season.

I mentioned with Rube and Mandy last week that Amusement Park movies tend toward storylessness. But for Fibber McGee and Molly that works, since the format begs for chance encounters and nothing much happening. The curious thing about this episode is that Fibber and Molly don’t actually do anything but walk around and talk and try to use a photo booth. Before the episode started Fibber apparently rode the roller coaster twelve times, but none of that’s on-microphone. That seems quite odd considering it’s a radio show, and they only need sound effects to put the cast on anything. And the show even features a comic song praising the Sound Effects Man.

The best sound effect, though, is in the voice acting. Teeny, the Little Girl who keeps nagging Fibber for food, was voiced by Marion Jordan. So was Molly McGee. In most episodes of the show, Teeny is one of the comic neighbors, who drops in for her bit and disappears after delivering a minute or two of jokes. And in most episodes Molly makes some excuse to leave the scene. This is one of the few episodes where Marion Jordan has to do both Molly’s and Teeny’s voices, repeatedly, and extendedly, in the same scenes. And, you’ll remember, live. It’s a neat bit of voice acting, one it’s easy to not realize is going on.

There are a couple of racially tinged jokes here. Most are like how funny it would be for a Zulu person to hear the Hut-Sut Song. That was a contemporary nonsense-verse novelty song you hear in a couple of Looney Tunes. (And where are the modern nonsense-verse novelty songs, by the way?) In the Sound Effects Man song there’s a reference to shooting “redskins”; I’m sure they just meant to honor the football team.

I do get a strange feeling listening to this because I know the original broadcast date. It was the 17th of June, 1941. World War II was nearly two years old. President Roosevelt had just the month before declared the Unlimited National Emergency that left the United states all but officially at war with Germany. The German invasion of the Soviet Union was less than a week away. Not a hint of this creeps into the dialogue. Japan’s terror-bombing of Chongqing had recently killed four thousand residents who were in a bomb shelter. It would be out of character (and, for Operation Barbarossa, anachronistic) for people to talk about the war while at an amusement park. (There were scattered references to the war in earlier episodes, such as the one in which Fibber McGee’s gotten his draft notice.) But there is this strange tone to hearing so much small, normal, routine things in the midst of such an epic picture.

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.

Comic Strips: The Heart of Juliet Jones


I don’t wish to spend too much time doing snarky humor on this blog — not because it can’t be fun, but because there is so much of it already around — but I realized I’ve spent so much time giggling about this particular comic strip that I really ought to share it. The web site Dailyink.com runs, besides a bunch of the King Features Syndicate comic strips you can’t quite believe are still running (The Katzenjammer Kids Somehow Because It’s 2013, Right?), some classics from the old days (The Katzenjammer Kids Slightly Less Somehow Since It Was 1940 I Guess).

Among them is Stan Drake’s The Heart Of Juliet Jones, the long-running soap opera strip about how Juliet Jones does not get married. In a strip rerun just a couple days ago, originally printed the 28th of December, 1955, her engagement with Johnny the Civil Engineer certainly appears to have wrapped up its mild complications (Johnny was so into the chic of building bridges he hasn’t minded that he’s under-paid and under-promoted at work) when, well, here. You don’t really need even that much introduction to follow it.

The ruthlessness with which the potentially happy ending is crushed makes me laugh in a way that can’t have been meant — or could it?

I’ve listened to quite a few old-time radio mystery and suspense shows, with the arch, melodramatic acting and loud organ stings at every carefully highlighted moment building to the twist Rod Serling would later rip off; they can manage to be both tolerably suspenseful and utterly unbelievable at once, and I wonder if the original audiences were listening with the same mix of suspense and incredulity that I have. Remember that one of the great radio suspense shows of all time, really and truly, was — exactly as the Bill Cosby routine had it — an episode of Lights Out about a scientist whose biochemical experiments caused the beating heart of a chicken to grow until it consumed the East Coast. Scary? Yes. Too ridiculous to be scared by? Yes. (Unfortunately only truncated versions of the original radio broadcast seem to be available.)

How long have they coexisted? And were the great soap opera strips of the past living in the same intersection of reality and disbelief?

The Band Always Gets Back Together This Time Of Year


“We’re getting the band back together,” said the person phoning me.

“I’ve never been in a band,” I protested.

“You can’t be the holdout! What are we going to do without bass guitar?”

“I’ve never touched a bass guitar in my life. I only ever played a three-quarters scale violin.”

“See?” said the voice. “That’s what gives us that unique Suburban Jersey sound!”

“The only songs I was ever okay at were the theme to Masterpiece Theater and `Memories’ from Cats. And I was never that solid at the part where I have to finger the strings. Or pluck them.”

“It’s `Memory’. That’s what makes us such an accessible sound!”

“Are you sure you have the right number?”

Anyway, we’re opening the 27th in the Loft in downtown Lansing for Aphasic Marsupials and also Made Yer Bows’ Amateur Hour.

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.