David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Work, Writers

Work

• Comedian Steve Allen once hosted a radio program on KNX, where his boss ordered him to “just play records, and in between do a little light chatter.” Mr. Allen did that, but as time went on, the comedy took up more and more of the radio show, leaving little time for playing records. Therefore, his boss sent him a memo, telling him to stop the comedy and play the records. Mr. Allen read the memo on the air, then argued that anyone could play records but his comedy was original. Lots of listeners agreed with him, and 400 listeners sent in letters supporting him, so his boss told him to go ahead and do his comedy — “But play a little music, OK?

• As a young man, Matt Groening sent cartoons to his friends instead of letters. The cartoons documented his life in Los Angeles, and he titled the cartoons Life in Hell. They were good enough that he collected them in homemade comic books and sold them where he worked — a record store. Eventually, he hit what he calls the “doodlers’ jackpot” of The Simpsons and Futurama. Meanwhile, all of his cartoonist friends who were more talented artists than he stopped creating and got boring, middle-class jobs.

• Emma Caulfield played Anya the former vengeance demon on TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Perhaps it is lucky that she got the job; after all, she admits to being a horrible waitress at a restaurant where she disliked the food. Customers would come in, ask what she recommended, and she would tell them that the food was very bad but the drinks were very good. Her customers ate little, but drank a lot and left her very generous, motivated-by-alcohol tips.

• Comedian Henry Morgan once worked the late shift at a radio station. Among his other duties, he had to read a list of the people who were reported missing. Since he figured that at that late hour, no one was listening to the station, he included the name of his boss among the names of the people who had been reported missing. Mr. Morgan was wrong when he thought that no one was listening — his boss had been listening, so he was fired.

• Robin Williams found out that his TV sitcom Mork and Mindy had been cancelled when he read about it in the trade newspapers — the studio did not even show him the courtesy of calling him on the telephone first before releasing the news to the media. At the time, he was working with fellow comedian Eric Idle in The Tale of the Frog Prince, and he says, “I was so angry and hurt — and I was dressed as a frog!”

• Before becoming famous on Laugh-In, comedian Lily Tomlin worked as a Howard Johnson’s waitress. However, she got fired after grabbing the microphone and announcing, “Attention, diners. Your Howard Johnson’s waitress of the week, Lily Tomlin, is about to make her appearance on the floor. Let’s give her a big hand.”

• During the McCarthy hearings, TV viewers were fascinated. In fact, a TV was rented for employees at The New Yorker but returned after a few days — the staff tended to become so involved in watching the hearings that they forgot that they were supposed to be working on the next issue of the magazine.

• Singer Al Jolson was a very popular guest star on radio programs — he once guested on 10 shows in one week! While he was guesting on the Burns and Allen program, Gracie asked why he didn’t get his own program. Jolie replied, “What? And be on the radio only once a week?”

Writers

• Monty Python member John Cleese once purchased a defective toaster, which made him very angry. He put his anger to use by writing a comedy sketch about his experience. Fellow Python member Graham Chapman often wrote with Mr. Cleese, and Mr. Cleese usually, but not always, ended up doing 80 percent of the work — sometimes he did 95 percent. Nevertheless, Mr. Chapman made some impressive contributions to the sketches. In this case, after Mr. Cleese had written a sketch about a defective toaster, Mr. Chapman said, “It’s boring. Why not make it a parrot instead?” This suggestion resulted in one of Monty Python’s most famous sketches — the Dead Parrot sketch, in which an irate man tries to return a dead parrot to a pet shop, whose owner insists that the parrot is only napping.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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