OK! Enough with the weirdness, back to the… Bob & Ray obsession. Never mind.

Damnit, I keep running into material on Bob & Ray that I wish I’d found before I started writing this threatening-to-become-widely-disseminated article. First there were those Baillett New Yorker profiles, and now Gerald Nachman’s Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, which contains a chapter on B&R as an adjunct to Jean Shepherd. (Whom I may now need to check into more closely, as well.)

The facts still line up. It’s just that I worry that I’ve made them sound almost completely personality-less in RL, which turns out to be… well, not exactly true. But still.

This is still not the definitive account. Nachman’s research has clearly been rather slapdash and his POV is largely Larry Josephson’s, meaning it’s as much about Josephson’s efforts to ‘rescue’ their legacy from the scrap-heap of comedy history as anything else. With occasional mild asides from Bob (but, oddly enough, not Ray’s family) suggesting that that they at least were perfectly OK with their legacy as-was, thanks.
Josephson is an erudite and witty man, and he obviously respects them and deserves the same … it’s just that legacy-keeping has a tendency to lead inevitably to head-patting (cf. Charlotte Bronte’s biographical sketch of her deceased sisters, which similarly sets my teeth on edge).

There’s some quite interesting commentary from writer Tom Koch as well, discussing his perhaps-a-bit-too-unsung contribution to the mythos. Also one amusing anecdote from — of all people — Jonathan Winters, who describes falling in love with what he assumed was B&R’s totally ad-libbed style and thus being ‘wiped out’ later, as producer of his own TV specials, to discover he couldn’t just haul them on-set and tell them they were now Minutemen being interviewed by Washington. Apparently, his idols just sort of stared at him. For some time. Oh, to be a wall-oriented fly with a time machine…

At any rate, just to set the record straight: Both Bob and Ray had perfectly interesting personalities, I’m… almost sure. At any rate, they remain a fascinating case study in the attraction of opposites. Bob was — is? — reserved and precise, artistic but also ‘studious…a ‘creature of habit’; while Ray had more ‘flair’, ie., was a walking Irish stereotype: ‘basically sweet and outgoing’ but nevertheless possessed of a ‘volcanic temper’, stubbornly refusing to give in to his failing body almost to the end.

…and in the end, I suppose, despite best efforts all ’round, their legacy will still be irretrievably theirs regardless.

“Me being Uncle Ray, very smart indeed.”

 So Bob Elliott, currently one-half of the reason I have a deal to provide liner notes, turned 87 the other day; his partner would’ve turned 88 a day or so before that. Asked in an interview awhile back what getting older felt like, Bob said: "It feels like getting older." The interviewer characterized this as a ‘wry’ response, and, well, good for the interviewer.


It should come as no surprise that television programming is derivative; the whole thing was in the first place lifted from the radio. Thus you had your radio dramas, your mysteries, soap operas, sitcoms, talk shows (then usually called ‘women’s programs’), news & sports… and, of course, children’s shows. (That it’s become progressively harder, as years have passed, to tell the programs intended for kids from the ones for adults is a charming side-effect, but not really germane to the issue at hand.)

The children’s genre Bob & Ray’s listeners would’ve been most familiar with was the Random Station Employee The Programmers Dubbed ‘Uncle’ and Then Had Read Stories and Such. The best-loved host of this kind was ‘Uncle Don’ Carney, from New York’s WOR, whose show had just concluded a 19-year run in 1947. He it was who initiated the ‘go look in the closet, Jimmy, and you’ll find a surprise from Mommy!’ schtick. (He also initiated the ‘That oughta hold the little bastards!’ urban legend, although not by actually saying anything of the kind. See link.)

This all might explain why ‘Uncle Ray’ Goulding had a pronounced Brooklyn accent, along with a distinctly surreal frame of mind. In typically gentle fashion, Bob & Ray’s satire of a kiddy host didn’t hate children; he was just entirely bemused by the requirements of entertaining them. A typical attempt, circa about 1948, is below.

Life, the universe and the morality of bean-blowers…

Bob & Ray Present: How to Impress a Waitress

OK, clearly I need some cheering up. On top of everything else it’s wet & miserable out, so my big plans for this afternoon are on hold until such time as I can get up the courage to go out there. Next year I think I may plan my winter oliday vacation in August.

Meanwhile, have a Bob & Ray skit, from Boston circa fall 1949.

Both halves of that august comedy team were born and raised locally — Bob in the middle-class Boston suburbs, Ray in the nearby blue-collar city of Lowell. Meaning that to their ears, it was the rest of the country that was ripe for parody. Especially the Midwest, which evidently had the advantage of being available for close study in the form of Ray’s wife, who hailed from Ohio.
Accents were also a particular concern at their day job, given that radio announcers were supposed to speak smoothly and intelligibly… whereas nobody cared what the comedy team sounded like. And if the comedy team in question already had a hyper-quick ear for cliches, the result comes out sounding something like this:

Loony linguistics commence under the cut…

Another Bob & Ray post of actual current relevance. (Sort of.)

No, really, I’m on a roll here. Somebody at the NY Times’ weekly Magazine got the bright idea of profiling the Elliott, erm, comic dynasty. The result’s a surprisingly likeable take even on Chris, whom I may have to reconsider my vague dislike for after all…

…’Course, then I remember those Tostitos commercials, and I just freeze up. Chris, man, I understand the ‘love to hate me’ bit, but did you have to be so damn good at it?

Meanwhile, there’s this fairly awesome quote of Bob’s, summing up his own career with Ray: "We were aware that we were appreciated by a certain percentage of whatever audience it was that we were playing to."

There are worse career summaries. Much, much worse.

I have an angst.

And I’m not even sure why, exactly. The vacation’s going fine, in fact personal things generally are more peachy than usual.

Perhaps it has something to do with the material a fellow Facebook fan kindly sent me from Bob & Ray and Tom. Basically a little pamphlet put out by their principal outside writer Tom Koch, in an effort to ensure credit that — wasn’t denied him, exactly. But it also can’t be denied that Bob & Ray did have this stubborn blind spot, never confirming public assumptions that the whole thing was theirs, but never correcting them either.
Whether creative insecurity or professional shrewdness or some combination of the two, I don’t know. But feeling as I do about plagiarism and assorted offshoots I don’t like the idea of my gentle heroes being mixed up in it nohow.

Perhaps it has something to do with downloading Janis Ian’s At Seventeen the other day, and finally getting a good listen to the lyrics… thus getting a harsh reminder of the things nostalgia can hide. Quoting another Famous Wistful Song, Bob Seger’s Against the Wind: "Wish I didn’t know now/What I didn’t know then…"

Or…perhaps it’s just PMS.

At any rate, I thought I’d relieve it in the time-honoured LJ manner: posting emo poetry. I have this iPod app that works like a magnetic word set; the catch is it uses only words from Shakespeare. Does wonders for the artistic ego.

that pure drawn
that thou recievest
Hurt of a
disarm’d self

Maybe if they’d brought in an *actual* spotwelding torch…

So I finally managed to slip the credit card out of Shoemom’s sight long enough to purchase the Bob & Ray movie. (On the principle of making hay while the sun shines I also bought the Not Always Right book, and am loving it, but that’s another post).

At any rate, yes, the B&R movie. An Award-Winning Film.… all twenty minutes of it. Plus a lengthy written insert by Keith Olbermann, video intro by Jeffrey Lyons, a Mary Backstayge episode set to a picture montage and — inexplicably, esp. given that the rights to all of their own TV series eps combined would probably have been less expensive — three Carson-era Tonight Show appearances.


[harrumphs slightly]


I really should’ve known better. You know the interview avoidance technique described in this post? The post I wrote? Buy this movie for a live-action demo.

I was off in my initial impression; the filmmakers don’t want to crack their artistic code, they think it’s really cool that they haven’t. You can tell, because the first five-ten minutes — showcasing the duo ‘relaxing’ before an afternoon’s taping — are shot in that peculiarly Sixties art-house style, the one where the more random the conversation gets the more incredibly cool it must be. In this case: not so much.

Which would not be even as awkward as it is had Olbermann not recounted, in his excellent essay, being treated to a fine display of backstage charm not much later at WOR (Ray, on correct nautical terminology: "Don’t want to have them step on some whale ship. We can’t say that on the radio…").
And there are other indications in the current subject that they know exactly what they’re doing; notably a certain funny half-smile Bob gives the camera at one point, that’s mirrored in several of the still pics. Also Ray’s restless dark eyes, noticeably too sophisticated for a podgy middle-aged face. After awhile the viewer starts following them as the last best clue to why anybody thought this film worth creating…

Meaning that what we have here is a documentary whose major theme is that the subjects really didn’t care about being in this documentary. Lovely.

It gets better once they settle down to work — a couple on-the-fly promos, one Matt Neffer episode recreated from a script, and a rework of the Komodo Dragon sketch — inasmuch as the camera goes from unwanted to utterly unimportant, and the indifference becomes part of the show.
It still resembles nothing so much as a documentary I once saw on twins who’d created their own language. Worlds conjured up literally off a few muttered cues and the degree of slyness in a grin. There’s one really incredible sequence in which their producer (the guy whose mustache is bothering them in the YouTube clip) throws a bunch of non sequitur sounds into their scripted taping, and they’re just effortlessly caught up and twirled into the vortex.

…all of which, it must be said, essentially boils down onscreen to ‘two guys who happen to be very, very good at making each other laugh.’ You think we could get a bit of the larger picture over here, please? Creative, historic, what they had for lunch that day, whatever? Olbermann’s essay would’ve been a lot more effective as an interview cut into the film, along with any others they could round up.

The special features don’t help a lot. Some of the pics are cute, especially the oldest ones. Of the (undated) Tonight Show clips, one is the Slow Talkers of America, one is an obscure-but-deserving tale of a legendary pizza flipper… and in the third Ray looks distressingly ill, not to say a bit too realistically out-of-it. Major ‘the hell?’ factor happening here. Didn’t any family members check this thing out prior to release? For that matter, where are the family members? If they got Jeffrey Lyons, they could probably have pried Chris Elliott or his daughter Abby off the SNL lot.

Ah well. Reminders of imminent mortality excepted, not a bad waste of an hour. Definitely a waste of at least fifteen of the thirty bucks, but that’s OK, I’d probably have just blown it on Starbucks’ punkin scones anyway. Now, I get the scones and complete indifference from a couple comic geniuses. It works out.
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Bob & Ray Present: Link Larkin, Small-Town Cop

Yep, it’s transcript time again. In this outing, circa summer 1949, our intrepid duo is taking one of their rare early stabs at creating an ongoing serial.

Most of their elaborately specific takeoffs — The Gathering Dusk, Tippy the Wonder Dog, Elmer W. Litzinger: Spy — came on the scene much later, and were in fact written for them, by a Mad Magazine alumnus named Tom Koch. Left to themselves within a genre, B&R tended simply to pick out the tones and turns of phrase they liked, creating random odes tosurreality like Matt Neffer: Boy Spotwelder and Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons.

Or, for that matter, our current subject…

Surreal silliness commences under the cut…

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