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.

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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.

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Some Stuff About Stan Freberg


The Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper I managed decided one semester the front page of the first issue should be devoted to an essay dubbed “Embracing the Doom: A First-Year Unhandbook”. Its thesis was that we are all basically, deeply doomed, and while it was easy to deny this or despair from this, we were all better off embracing that doom and carrying on proudly. At the time I thought it the stupidest thing we could have printed and almost ridiculously playing to our paper’s stereotype as made by people just educated enough to be idiots about everything. I was wrong. I’ve come to realize there’s wisdom in accept that even if we are in the long run doomed, that doesn’t mean we can’t be satisfied and see a lot of sunny days while we get there.

This brings me to Stan Freberg, the humorist and satirist and voice-actor and advertising-creator whose death was reported yesterday. His style was almost definitive of a kind of humor that I associate with a particular circa-1960 smart set: literate, absurdist, cynical but not dismissive, dropping out of a wry detachment when there’s a belly laugh just about set up. It’s the voice of people who noticed they might just be the smartest person in the room, but are worried that they’re not all that bright themselves. I might try to call it cartoon existentialism, since many of the most accessible examples of it were cartoons made with that Rocky and Bullwinkle spirit, and for that matter of the better Hanna-Barbera cartoons from when the writing had some edge: characters who know they’re in adventures and who know the stories don’t really make sense, but who embrace it because someday the cartoon will end and you can either be entertaining while you get there or not, and the entertaining side has a better time of it. In short, there’s doom to be embraced.

After a lot of voice-acting work and comic records — incidentally crystallizing the Dragnet quote “just the facts, ma’am” in a spoof of that program — and supporting parts in other shows Stan Freberg finally got the dream job of producing a half-hour radio comedy for a major network, CBS, though as the gods of irony demanded he got the chance in 1957, when the major networks had decided to shut down original scripted programming on radio in favor of television. Freberg’s show would probably always had a hard time on commercial radio, as its style of humor fits in the Fred Allen/Henry Morgan/George Carlin vein that makes advertisers wary and network vice-presidents worried about what he’s going to say on their program; the program ended up being a “sustaining program” — no advertising, no sponsors. That’s normally a mark of a program being broadcast as a public service, or as an experiment developing the state of the art. Freberg didn’t want the show to have a single sponsor, and didn’t want tobacco advertising either, and four months after the show debuted, it was ended.

Archive.org has a set of all fifteen episodes of this show, and I recommend it as a way to sample Freberg’s work, and to taste this particular era of comedy: it’s knowing, sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes silly, offended by the madness of the world but unable to disengage from it, the sort of thing that will merge the folly of Las Vegas casinos with the threat of atomic war. (The show also makes use of many of Freberg’s comedy records from the 1950s, sometimes in revised form, so you also get a taste of how he got to be someone noteworthy enough to have a half-hour comedy program.) We might all be characters in a mad, doomed story, but it can be fun along the way.

Don’t Go Back To High School


Don’t go back to high school.

Maybe you weren’t tempted anyway since high school contains so many high school memories. But based on a leading dream I just had, high school has gotten more worse than you imagined. For one, everyone insists on doing these interactive exercises instead of just letting you sit quietly in your seat and wait for college, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for grad school, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for student loans to come due, where you can sit quietly in your seat and weep. No, now you have to go up to the board instead of sinking underneath your desk.

Second, your physics teacher isn’t that kind but slightly odd Mister Gregor, with the huge backlog of Starlog magazines he’s trying to get someone, anyone, to take for the eighth year running. Instead he’s comedian and voice acting legend Stan Freberg, who remembers you very well, possibly from that time you had a report due on space. He’s just going to introduce you to the entire class, you know, and point out what an outstanding student you were and how glad he is to see you back, and you’re going to face the collective scorn of dozens of 16-year-olds who don’t want to hear about masses on springs and certainly don’t want to hear about how good you were with them.

Third, after you get back from the bathroom — now one of those annoying fancy hands-free ones where the toilets don’t work until you awkwardly shuffle back and forth, and then they don’t quite really flush, and the faucets don’t notice you at all until you punch them, which your middle school principal for crying out loud watches without comment — you’re going to get called right back into the classroom experience which is not about the masses on springs you thought Mister Gregor Stan Freberg liked you doing.

No, what this project is all about is going up to the board, one of those agonizing super-incredible touch-screen thingies that responds and draws stuff far beyond your ability level, the kind cable news channels keep buying instead of paying for reporting. And Mister Gregor Stan Freberg wants you to draw a cover for an impossibly complicated science fiction/fantasy novel and won’t take your excuses that you missed the entire description of the novel and you can’t even draw a tree without your drawing pointing at you and laughing as excuses. “You’ll be fine,” he says, “You’ll inspire the students,” one-seventh of whom agree in a shrugging groan.

Fifth (fourth was that you’re picked as inspirational) when you do try drawing, sure, the magic cable news screen takes your little scribbly Y thing and turns it into a great rendition of a tree, and turns your little scribbled Ewok-y figures into fur-perfect renditions of the ranwor-level hunters of the Culakly tribe from Ageli, the fourth planet orbiting Iota Librae, but your efforts to catch the moment before the klent-lead conspiracy sets ablaze the ceremonial dousti tower leading up to the top of the sacred grove is foiled when the picture springs to life and the entire dousti burns before your eyes, though not those of the class. At least, you think that’s what he wants you to show because Mister Gregor Stan Freberg insists on mumbling the plot to you no matter how many times you tell him you can’t hear what he’s saying.

Worse, while the fire and panic wouldn’t be a bad idea, the scene catches almost dead-center the 1988 silver Chevy Celebrity of one of the production assistants from the movie based on the book, which just ruins the scene because a Celebrity looks like what you put in the scene to later be replaced with an actual car, and you can’t get the monitor to take a reverse angle. In fact you look foolish ordering the screen to reverse view, and one of the xiple-beasts clearly snorts at you before running off to the trumia-bushes.

All Mister Gregor Stan Freberg offers as advice is to whisper to you that the name of the novel is something like “Cumumburumbubmlemun” and that you should figure where to set the title for best aesthetic value.

Overall, the lesson is: don’t go back to high school. You’ll look like a total drell.