But if you try sometimes…

Overheard in passing at the subway station this morning, two young men in Bay St. suits:

“Well, for the Republicans he was the best candidate, anyway…”

Ave aqua vale, John McCain; in your time, you would’ve probably made a splendid President. It’s not really your fault that your time has long passed.

Although, the Palin thing…and all the other wildly misguided efforts you made to keep up…those are still your fault. Totally.

I’m thinking about McCain’s particular epoch especially since I finally got around to listening to Bob Edwards’ fine interview – or reminiscence, really – with Bob Elliott earlier this year, on the occasion of the latter’s 85th birthday. (One of the many just-slightly-off-plumb circs that surround Bob & Ray is that they were born almost exactly one year apart, in March of ’23 & ’22 respectively.)

I’ve been holding off on downloading it for some time now, just because…well, I didn’t really want to think of my bright, bold comedic heroes as – old. I’m cowardly that way, I guess. Didn’t help that around the same time the show was produced I’d been deep into the earliest Bob & Ray material, recorded when they were in their mid-twenties. Did not wish to consider that spark, dulled.

I shouldn’t have worried.

The interview is delightful in the best Elliott tradition – er, as far as it goes, anyway. Sorry, Bob, but your son Chris, not so much with the undying allegiance. I will say this; he’s handled the whole ‘annoying clueless brat’ schtick with considerably more aplomb than, say, Tom Green. Many fewer movies involving random fetuses being swung round on umbilical cords = kind forgiving Shoe.

At any rate, Bob. Who, despite sounding every one of his years, still fully maintains that lovely careless air that was crucial to their comedy style; hyper-aware of what’s going on beneath, totally bemused withal, and ego-free throughout.

He patters on through the hilights of their career in much the same gently accommodating way he’s been doing in interviews for years; while Edwards obviously knows and cares about his subject, I do wish he could’ve used the unique opportunity to go a little nuts and branch off the standard Bob and/or Ray appreciation script.

Then again, this is coming from one of the few people in Edwards’ audience that’re even aware of their career hilights, let alone the whole “Ooh, it was [mostly] ad-libbed! And smart, and ahead of its time! And so clean yet funny!” checklist. Still…bemusement is all very well, but the man’s 85. Barring posthumous memoirs found locked in desk drawers we’re running out of time here.

Can we take the opportunity to maybe just check in on the mechanics of being a comedy team for 40 years – being an anything team in showbiz for 40 years – without a bother, let alone a break? Could we probe just a little into the separation of personalities, ideas, interests, and how they ended up subsumed into a truly unique meshing of the minds? Given that Ray’s been unable to join in to these retrospectives for nearly twenty years now, could we maybe evoke his POV from time-to-time? He was the one playing the breathy soap sirens, after all.

Yes, I realise this all sounds odd coming from Ye Local Fierce Guardian of the Celebrity Life Undisturbed. In this case, listening to this gracious elderly man, it almost feels like I’m creating some sort of disturbance in the Force. Admirable, his reticence is; worth protecting from intrusive over-entitled doofuses like me, it definitely is.

Which doesn’t diminish my interest in the slightest, unfortunately.

However. There are a couple of intriguing new bits: Bob explains the genesis of the Komodo Dragon sketch as the outcome of listening to ‘all the strange stuff people used to send us’, among which was a tape of an actual Stanford professor – ‘he had about five or so facts, and he just kept repeating them’ – being interviewed by a man who patently didn’t care. Bob & Ray played around with various permutations of the concept – including one using whooping cranes – before settling on the dragons and immortality.

Asked about the Slow Talkers of America as a follow-up, Bob notes that they’d both ‘come across people like that’, and on a day when they had a lot of time to kill, it came naturally. (“Afterwards people kept coming up to me on the street and starting to do that [slow-talking] bit,” he adds, “and I didn’t realise it. I just thought, oh, there’s another one of them…”)

I like both stories very much, especially inasmuch as they confirm both skits as their own, not a product of outside writing help. I also like Bob’s response when Edwards notes how clean their material is: they both had kids, and – “it sounds fogey-ish to say nowadays, but” – they didn’t like to think of them possibly listening to ‘blue’ material (yeah, yeah, insert ironic eyerolling over Chris ‘Date Movie’ Elliott here. Still, a noble parental impulse).

Eventually, they realized their act worked better without the innuendo…“but we certainly could’ve done it,” he adds, slyly.

Uh-huh. Certainly they could; the distinction they made was less between adult and G-rated as it was between crude and adult, and occasionally the line was thin even then (as when Ray, as the President of the Association of Left-Handed Lady Steeplejacks, casually explains that the group needed an excuse to “come to town and get a load on…then we stand on street corners and whistle at sailors.”)

On the other hand, I’m glad they didn’t go any further. For one thing, on the evidence available, by the time they’d’ve been able to try it would’ve likely come out as that stupid nudge-nudge-wink-wink-ooh-look-boobies stuff characteristic of the times –

Oops, looky that, we’re back around to John McCain again. I don’t at all mean to suggest that he has a sordid past, although the stories floating around about his first marriage do make me wonder. More that he represents…oh, I don’t know. The past. The late 60’s, the 70’s and on into about 1985. That whole strange, crude era in which people were hip without – exactly – knowing what to do with it. There was disco in this era, that’s the big tipoff.

McCain –  looking at his strategies from the outside at least – never outgrew that same lack of subtlety, never understood that substance was rapidly, necessarily overtaking style. When he tried…well, again, Sarah Palin.

Yeah, I’m thinking Bob & Ray were very wise, just to stick to plain, old, unadorned human nature.


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