Monday, October 26, 2015

Some people you might want to know

Last week in a blog post I made a reference to Oscar Levant. He was a personality/actor/musician with a razor sharp wit, a drinking problem, smoking problem, and a thousand and one neuroses. He spent time in mental institutions. He said some of the funniest lines in his day. He composed music for twenty movies. No less than George Gershwin thought no one played and interpreted his music better than Oscar Levant. In his later years, Levant would be a frequent guest on talk shows, chain smoking and shaking so bad it appeared he was having a seizure. He even hosted his own local talk show in Los Angeles, when he wasn’t hospitalized. He once fell asleep on the air interviewing a guest.

When his first wife married the movie theater tycoon Arthur Loew, he found the hotel they were staying at and on their wedding night at 2:00 in the morning called the room and asked Arthur, “What’s playing at the Loew’s State tonight and what time does the feature go on?”

He once said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity and I have erased that line.” A noted hypochondriac, this is what it says on his grave stone:

                                            OSCAR LEVANT
                                      See, I told you I was sick

Pretty interesting guy, no?

Some readers took me to task for referring to someone they felt was too obscure (i.e. they didn’t know who he was). I noted in the comment section, and repeat here – either just skip the reference or, if you’re curious enough, look it up. Gone are the days you had to schlep to the library. Two/three clicks and you can find out all you ever wanted to know about Oscar Levant. Or any public figure.

I also mentioned that I learned a lot about show business that came before me by seeing unfamiliar people (like Oscar Levant) on talk shows and seeking out their backstory. I owe a great debt to Jack Paar (you may have to look him up too) for exposing me to many of these colorful individuals.

So what I’d like to do today is list a bunch of names. If you are a serious student of comedy you should be familiar with these people, or at least a lot of them. Maybe some of them you are. But exploring their work might open you up to exciting new vistas. So that’s your homework assignment if it feels like something worth it to you and something you want to do.

Here they are. There are way more but this is a good start.

Bob & Ray
Kaufman & Hart
Laurel & Hardy
Abbot & Costello
Mosher & Connelly
Gosden & Correll
Klavan & Finch
Patchett & Tarses
Persky & Denoff
Larry Gelbart
Nat Hiken
Patrick Dennis
“Sgt. Bilko”
Preston Sturges
Jack Benny
Stan Freberg
Doug Kenney
Chuck Jones
Billy Wilder
Jerry Belson
Carole Lombard
Buster Keaton
Bob Hope
Fred Allen
Gary Larson
Jackie Gleason
Art Carney
Audrey Meadows
Moms Mabley
Steve Allen
Tom Koch
Gary Owens
Andrew Bergman
Richard Pryor
Robert Benchley
The Smothers Brothers
The Marx Brothers
The Charles Brothers
The Zucker Brothers
The Farrelly Brothers
S.J. Perelman
I.A.L. Diamond
Sophie Tucker
Phyllis Diller
Neil Simon
Bob Uecker
Jonathan Winters
Lenny Bruce
Peter Sellers
Sid Caesar
David Lloyd
Carol Burnett
Jeff Martin
Steve Gordon
Harold Ramis
Herb Gardner
Pat McCormick
Pat Paulsen
Senor Wences
Jack Lemmon
Ian Frazier
Flip Wilson
Paul Rudnick
John Hughes
Dale Launer
Jay Ward
Walter Matthau
Ernie Kovacs
Elayne Boosler
Mort Sahl
Tom Lehrer
Godfrey Cambridge
Elizabeth Montgomery
Tony Randall
Mort Drucker
Gary Burbank
Abe Burrows
Edgar Bergen
Marshall Brickman
Alan Arkin
Arne Kogen
Don Knotts
Louie Nye
Alan King
Jan Murray
Foster Brooks
Dave Thomas
P.J. O’Rourke
Zero Mostel
James L. Brooks
Danny Kaye
Eve Arden
Victor Borge
Dudley Moore
Dan Ingram
Dick Gregory
Terry Southern
Jackie Mason
Jackie Vernon
Robert W. Morgan
W.C. Fields
Ben Hecht
Gene Wilder
Steve Martin
Tracey Ullman
John Cleese
Mel Tolkin
Carl Reiner
Christopher Guest
Ivan Reitman
Lowell Ganz
Babaloo Mandel
Dorothy Parker

Look up even five.   I bet you'll thank me.

You're also welcome to add names I inadvertently omitted.

NOTE:  Woody Allen was omitted only because you all know who he is.   He was a HUGE influence on me and I suggest if you haven't read his comic essays or seen his early "funny" movies you're in for a real treat. 


Unkystan said...

Just off the top of my head I would add Tex Avery, Olsen & Johnson, Bobby Clark, Louis Nye, Bert Lahr, "Pete Smith", Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and of course George & Gracie.

Unknown said...

Robert Benchley but no Dorothy Parker? Shame.

Astroboy said...

Reading through the list quickly, 10 names or pairs of names don't ring a bell. Thanks for reminding me of Jackie Vernon, he killed me when I was a kid: "click."

David P said...

You forgot about Issacs and Levine.

McAlvie said...

Can't say I knew them, all, but I had at least heard of most of them. Then again, I am a child of the 60s and many of those teams were still pretty hot, or at least around and making the talk show circuit. Funny, funny people. And while sometimes a bit risqué for their time, they mostly managed to get great laughs without offending everyone. And when you see their clips today, I laugh just as much as I did then.

Paul B said...

If you include Lowell Ganz, shouldn't you include his first partner he through under a bus, Mark Rothman ?

Matthew E said...

I impressed myself by having at least some basic idea who about eighty-some of those list entries were. I might add

Wheeler & Woolsey
Don Marquis
P.G. Wodehouse
Donald Westlake
Jean Shepherd
Joe Keenan
O. Henry
Roy Blount Jr.
Sherwood Kiraly
Chris Moore
Dennis Hensley
Dick Shawn
Sergio Aragones

Paul Blake said...

How nice to see one of my favorites, Robert Benchley, remembered! I still pop open the collections of his short essays from time to time, and they never fail to give me a smile. There's also a great complication of his film shorts as well, although I fear it is now out of print.
And Nat Hiken, gosh, kids today should watch an episode or two of "Car 54 Where Are You", they'd learn about character driven humor and the ability to construct, and tell, jokes that are not just thrown in looking for a cheap laugh. Priceless!

Stoney said...

Your mention of Harold Ramis here reminded me that I recently saw the documentary "Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon". There's footage of Ramis along with pre-SNL John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and others doing sketches for record albums and the N.L. Radio Hour. Would have been a better film if there wasn't so much focus on those who ran the magazine. I'd be interested in your take if you've seen it.

norm said...

What not in alphabetical order?

tavm said...

When I was a kid of the '70s, I found out about Laurel & Hardy when I saw a newspaper ad of them in cartoon form publicizing their TV show, I found out about Abbott & Costello when I saw an ad of them in a magazine of Bud seemingly chocking Lou in publicizing their radio show on a record. They're two teams I still like watching today...

Steve Hoffman said...

I know not currently en vogue, but... no Woody Allen?

Bill Avena said...

At least you mentioned Kovacs. He gets so little notice here I had the idea you had some kind of dislike for him. Did you read his novel Zoomar? Best rant against the television industry, still holds up today!

Jon88 said...

Klavan and Finch (not Klavin), Preston Sturges (not Sturgess), Jack Lemmon (!) and Tracey Ullman. Usually I let your disregard for accuracy go, but in this case, you'd be keeping some of your idols out of reach.

Andrew said...

If someone doesn't know who Oscar Levant is, that means they've never seen "An American in Paris," one of Gene Kelly's greatest and most popular movies. It even includes Levant playing the third movement of Gershwin's piano concerto ("Gershwin? Who's that?")
If this describes you, please remedy that right away.

Carson said...

Seriously? People complained because you referred to someone they didn't know? Did they not realize that they are reading your blog online? Have they not heard of Google? I'm stunned that they sit in front of a machine that gives them access to a massive amount of information and didn't bother to type in the name of the person you referenced. Talk about someone being incurious.

Pat Reeder said...

Very good list. Even I didn't know Klavan and Finch or Tom Koch. And I have a paperback copy of Oscar Levant's "Memoirs of an Amnesiac" on my nightstand and think someone is culturally deprived if he doesn't have a copy of Cliff Arquette's album, "Charlie Weaver Sings For His People" (now available as an MP3 download on Amazon, for Christ's sake, so there's no excuse!)

You should tell your more ignorant readers that if you highlight a name and right-click it on most browsers, it lets you search for it in a new tab. It takes only two clicks of the mouse to dispel their pitiful ignorance.

My radio comedy service was filled with obscure references, and my book "Hollywood Hi-Fi" is one big collection of them. If anyone whines that "My brain hurts!" from reading them, then I usually reply with a quote from another group that everyone should know, The Credibility Gap:

"Ignorance of your culture is not considered cool."

gottacook said...

Wow, that's some list. But (for the sake of people searching online) the correct spellings are Preston Sturges, Jack Lemmon, Ian Frazier, Edgar Bergen, Babaloo Mandel.

I'm about 6 years younger than our host, so I've heard of about 80% of these folks. Fred Allen is one whom I've only heard about through Dick Cavett; in 1987 Caveat was the moderator for a single-elimination, 15-episode College Bowl national championship tournament shown on the Disney Channel (when it was a premium channel), taped in June that year at Epcot Center, and I was there as alternate for what turned out to be the winning team; when cameras weren't rolling, he would occasionally do a Fred Allen bit.

Oscar Levant appeared as himself, and ghosted the piano-playing, in the (not exactly factual) 1945 biopic Rhapsody in Blue starring Robert Alda as Gershwin.

Woody Allen should have been included if only for his print work. So much of Getting Even and Without Feathers makes me laugh just recalling it. A lot of it is clearly indebted to the short pieces of S. J. Perelman, but I got rid of my one Perelman collection because it was simply too old to get into.

Kevin O'Shea said...

In the words of Krusty the Clown, "If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you're stealing my bit."

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Bob Newhart (check out his stand-up/radio comedy)
Lily Tomlin
Tim Conway (look up his work *before* Carol Burnett)
The Firesign Theater
The Goons (who inspired Monty Python and included Peter Sellers)
French and Saunders (British, female; French created ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS)
Gilda Radnor
George Carlin
Nichols and May

And then there's a bunch of print people I loved growing up:
Art Buchwald
Jean Kerr
Sylvia Wright (inventor of Mondegreens)
James Thurber


Mike Barer said...

I'm impressed that you were able to look up these people with no internet, Google, or Wikipedia and a limited number of them in the World Book Encyclopedia.

Pat Reeder said...

To Wendy Grossman: Kudos on mentioning Thurber, my first and still #1 idol. I discovered him around third grade and by junior high, had collected just about everything he'd written, which back then was still in print in paperback. I used to hang around the basement of the SMU library, going through old bound editions of the New Yorker, looking for Thurber casuals that had never been collected.

To gottacook: Search Google for free old radio show downloads. There are a ton of Fred Allen shows available.

gottacook said...

Pat Reeder: Thanks, I'll do that. (Darn auto-correct rendered the second instance of Cavett as "Caveat" when I wasn't looking... )

Kirk said...

Recognized 105 of them, though some (like the two guys who wrote for LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and THE MUNSTERS) took me a second.

How about:

Charles Nelson Reilly
Mike Royko
Margaret Dumont
Sergio Arogones
Alexander Woollcott

Bob Claster said...

I had the pleasure of interviewing a number of the names of this list, and those lengthy, in-depth interviews can be heard or downloaded, for free, at Enjoy!

Bob Claster said...

And the three funniest people who ever lived: Peter Cook, Peter Cook, and Peter Cook.

Tudor Queen said...

I knew exactly who Oscar Levant was when you first mentioned him, and appreciated the mention, because I always thought he was awesome!

Happily, I knew most of the names on your list - I'm old, and love classic comedy - and remembering them gave me a lot of pleasure. I've noticed that some great names of the past that I didn't like so much when first exposed to them, have become favorites now, e.g. Laurel and Hardy. Still can't bear the Three Stooges, though.

Justin Russo said...

You had me at Sturgess, Lombard, and Arden. Thank you for recommending readers learn about such greats!

LouOCNY said...

Basically, anyone who ever wrote or drew for MAD Magazine in the 60s and 70s, or who wrote for National Lampoon in the 70's. YouTube also has just about the entire 17 year run of Whats My Line? - another good source to see people from the 30's through the 60's you may be wondering about.

You forgot Alexander Woollcott!

Roseann said...

You tell'em, Ken!

Dana King said...

Jack Paar was great. I'm old enough to remember when the Tonight Show was 90 minutes and Johnny often had authors and others who were interesting and entertaining but less than national celebrities. Even Letterman's 12:30 NBC show used to bring on folks like. (Notably Harvey Pekar.) I learned a lot, and am grateful for the cultural touchstones provided by Jack Paar through such guests as Oscar Levant, Tallulah Bankhead, and Bea Lilly.

JonCow said...

Henry Morgan

Unknown said...

Great names. I'll add Red Skelton and Mel Blanc. Interesting lives and careers.

Eric J said...

I watched Jack Paar every night as a teenager. I know of Oscar Levant primarily because of Jack Paar. Also Charlie Weaver (Cliff Arquette) and Tom Dooley. Dooley was an ex-Navy MD who did humanitarian work in Vietnam and Laos in the 50's. Also my first exposure to Florence Henderson who was appearing in something on Broadway. He had lots of Broadway actors drop over to guest on his show. He often got them to sing something from their show--that was my cue to hit the head or go make a sandwich. But I still remember the exposure to so many interesting and influential people through Jack Paar.

Chances are good there won't be similar memories from current teens watching Kimmel, Fallon or even Colbert.

Very informative list. It would be impossible to be comprehensive. That's a good thing. There were SO many.

Craig A. said...


Is It true "A or B" will be coming to Pennsylvania in April 2016?

Anonymous said...

I think it was Alexander Woollcott that said: "There's absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can't fix."

Between your list and the comments, we're pretty much covered. Don't recall seeing George S Kaufmann.


Anonymous said...

- Thanks for including Tom Lehrer and Eve Arden. Both unique and funny and largely forgotten.

-Bob Hope on a list of unknown or forgotten comedians? I thought you were insane at first, but you're probably right today.

-Jan Murray? Different people have different tastes.

-Add Frank Sullivan, a writer of the 40s and 50s who's in Andy Borowitz's anthology.

-Also the team of Balzer, Perrin, Gordon and Goldman


VincentS said...

Harpo Marx has a great section on Oscar Levant in his memoir HARPO SPEAKS. And did you know, Ken, that you have 2 degrees of separation from him? I assume you knew Alan Alda's father, Robert, who starred in the movie RHAPSODY IN BLUE in which Oscar Lavant appeared as himself. As far as the names I recognized, I agree with all of them except Tracy Ullman. I watched her show and I think she's highly overrated. Take away the make-up and the (sometimes accurate) accents - and the writing staff - and she simply is not funny. Ask anybody under thirty if they ever heard of her or know what THE SIMPSONS is a spin-off of. I don't think the answer would be strictly a generational thing. And notice how no one is exactly burning up social media complaining that her show isn't available on Hulu or Amazon or DVD?

Stephen Marks said...

Heres a wacky idea, lets remove Bob Uecker and replace him with Norman Lear

Breadbaker said...

My reaction when I saw your reference to Oscar Levant was, what a great blog to assume it's readers are familiar with him. I too first became aware of him reading Harpo Speaks!, a great introduction to the comedy work in the first half of the last century.

Peter said...

Wikipedia, your time has come. I'm gonna be doing a fair bit of looking up.

Whenever this subject comes up, no one mentions Sacha Baron Cohen. Why not? Ali G, Borat, Bruno and The Dictator are absolute comedy gold. He's a phenomenal performer and he showed with The Dictator that he is just as funny doing scripted comedy as he is doing his prank based comedy.

I'd also add Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein who were showrunners on The Simpsons during the show's golden age. The decline in the quality of the writing can be traced back to their departure.

In relation to The Simpsons, Phil Hartman was a tremendously gifted comedy actor. His legacy of voice acting on The Simpsons is incredible. All the episodes featuring Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure are always a joy to watch not only because of the great writing but because of his beautiful delivery of the lines (Lionel Hutz: "Yeah but what is the truth, if you follow me"). Even 17 years later his death is still a heartbreaking tragedy.

Flick said...

This post seems to have brought us old guys out of the woodwork (while you are at it, I suppose some of you will need to look up "woodwork."

Many more names could be added, but I will limit myself to three that I feel should be high upon Mount Funny. Jean Shepherd. Ring Lardner. Will Cuppy.

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash...

Victor Velasco said...

I have no one to add; just read the list a couple of times and sighed deeply.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that people would take you to task for an "obscure"reference like Oscar Levant.
There was a time when these people would be ashamed of their own ignorance rather than flaunt it.
@ Bob Claster
Ever lived? Don't know about that.
Let's leave it at Peter Cook is the funniest guy since World War II.
there may have been funnier guys before that.

Wayne said...

Goodman Ace. Jane Ace. Easy Aces.
I used to read his column in my dad's copy of Saturday Review of Literature.

Funny novelists.
Max Shulman, creator of Dobie Gillis. And my favorite, Sleep Till Noon.
Peter De Vries, Rally Round the Flag, Boys. Reuben Reuben.

Ron Rettig said...

Henry Morgan
Wheeler & Woolsey
Tom Duggan
Joe Pyne

Aaron Hazouri said...

He's still alive and well, and he never was much of a writer, but Don Rickles for my money is one of the funniest men who ever lived. Watching him is a study in how character and attitude can sell material that, on paper, doesn't seem so funny. At his best he was almost like a living smartass Looney Tunes character. (Though, again... not much on the writing front.)

Max Clarke said...

Great list.
It was fun reading about Oscar Levant, after you first mentioned him in the previous post.

Michael said...

I think Imogene Coco belongs alongside Sid Caesar.

Dan Ball said...

Dan Ball's submissions:

Jerry Seinfeld
Larry David
The Coen Bros.
Alfred Hitchcock (PSYCHO was meant to be a comedy)
Mel Brooks
Leslie Nielsen
Rick Moranis

CCroom said...

That was a great list. I would add Sam Levenson and Professor Irwin Corey

Igor said...

I knew all but 6 of those.

Oh, this guy - Senor Wences - is even better at Christmas when he comes with slaw.

And jeesh, I did know Oscar Levant. They're the awards given out by the Syrian branch of AMPAS.

Igor said...

Oh, in case you think my last quip there about Syrian AMPAS might be funny - and since this is Research Day at The Levine Academy - you just need to Google "Levant" to see if it is funny (or to confirm that it isn't, PRN).

Anonymous said...

Rereading the list and seeing Victor Borge reminded of Peter Schickele, world's foremost authority on PDQ Bach and the only classical musician I every saw enter the auditorium by climbing down a rope from the rear balcony.

And though he's more of a humorist than comedian, add Garrison Keilor.


CarolMR said...

George Burns and Gracie Allen (and Bea Benaderet, Fred Clark, Larry Keating, Harry Von Zell, and even Ronnie Burns). I've discovered this show on Antenna TV and I laugh out loud at almost every scene.

By Ken Levine said...


Yes it is. I'm thrilled.

Canda said...

Sally Benson, who wrote MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, wrote many pieces for the New Yorker, that were Dorothy Parker quality. People need to discover her.

Glad someone mentioned ZOOMAR, by Ernie Kovaks. It's a great, fun novel.

I also highly recommend listening to radio episodes of "Information Please", the literary quiz show of the 1930s and 40s. Levant was a regular for the first few years (only missing occasionally for movie assignments). He was great fun, and the show had many wonderful guests from Sports, Politics and the Literary World, everyone from Moe Berg to Moss Hart to James Farley. The list goes on. Episodes can be found on the site called DUMB.COM. Go to section labeled Old Time Radio. Treasure trove of Old Radio Shows.

Bradley said...

Great list! But...Bob Uecker?

No list like this would be complete without Madeline Kahn. Very few know who she is anymore, which is such a shame.

Diane D. said...

I was afraid no one was going to mention James Thurber. He wrote the most hysterically funny stores I have ever read in my life. One of the best was this one, entitled "The Dog That Bit People":

Also, I can't believe no one mentioned DAVID SEDARIS. One of his best is "me talk pretty one day"

brian t said...

Very heavy on the Americans, that list - perhaps five non-Americans if I count Stan Laurel among them. Some more: Ronnie Barker, Billy Connolly, Fry & Laurie (before Hugh hit the big time in the USA), Victoria Wood, Rowan Atkinson, and Morecambe & Wise - particularly their "collaboration" with conductor André Previn (YouTube link).

Anonymous said...

Oscar Levant was a must watch on KCOP TV as was his predecessor Tom Duggan..

VP81955 said...

Ken, the lady in my avatar thanks you for including her in your list, and notes that Oscar Levant composed music for one of her films, the Technicolor newspaper comedy "Nothing Sacred."

Another act that should be included was D.C.'s equivalent of Bob & Ray, the Joy Boys. I sadly say "was" because Ed Walker, one of the radio comedy duo (his partner was Willard Scott), died this morning of cancer in Washington at age 83. He was a delightful radio personality (a medium suited perfectly for him, since he was blind), and in 1961 helped found WAMU-FM -- now a public radio powerhouse -- at his alma mater, American University. Since 1990, he had hosted "The Big Broadcast," an old-time radio series that acquainted new generations with "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar," "Dragnet," the William Conrad "Gunsmoke" and other programs. His final show, a best-of, was recorded recently and aired last night. Thank you, Ed.

Igor said...

@ Bradley - I agree with you about Bob Uecker and Madeline Kahn.

Cap'n Bob said...

There were a few I didn't know, but the rest are part of the fabric of my life and I'm glad they are.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Loved that you did a post on Levant and other names younger readers might not know. When you mentioned him in your earlier post, I wondered if the reference would strike a chord. This was one of those posts where the comments are just as interesting as the post. A win-win.

Glad to hear your play is coming East. Will look forward to getting more details as the time approaches. Interesting to see Zero Mostel's name in the post. I just watched him in THE FRONT on TV this weekend. In the movie - his last on-screen, feature - he takes a header out a hotel window. The same year the picture came out he died in Philly while in tryouts for a play.

Loved - and still love - Ernie Kovacs. He got his start in Trenton and then Philly TV. A lot of what Letterman di, that people thought was novel, Kovacs had done 30 years earlier, which Letterman readily acknowledged.

I'm guessing a SUPERGIRL review will be forthcoming this week. I plan to check out the show, but can't swear I'll follow it.

Tom said...

Perhaps too obvious, and already mentioned, but I think you have to include Bob Newhart.

By Ken Levine said...

I didn't include anyone I thought was still well known -- like Bob Newhart and Don Rickles.

But a lot of the names you guys have suggested are GREAT and all deserve to be on a master list. Thanks for your thoughts.

Pat Reeder said...

Glad that Ernie Kovacs' novel "Zoomar" was mentioned. I have a copy graciously autographed by Edie Adams, even though I know she hated that novel for both personal and business reasons. But it contains the greatest description of a pet cat that has ever been written:

"17 pounds of fur-covered lethargy."

Harbour Bridge said...

Thank you for calling out Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, two underrated comedy geniuses

Kosmo13 said...

Richard Armour and Jack Douglas are two writers whose humorous essays always made me laugh much harder than I would've even thought possible.

Johnny Walker said...

There's nothing wrong with ignorance, it's a prerequisite for learning.

But so is curiosity.

If someone makes a passing reference to something you don't know, it's an opportunity to learn (and if you're lucky, discover something you come to love). It should never make you feel insecure. Nobody knows everything.

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous Stoney said...
Your mention of Harold Ramis here reminded me that I recently saw the documentary "Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon". There's footage of Ramis along with pre-SNL John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and others doing sketches for record albums and the N.L. Radio Hour. Would have been a better film if there wasn't so much focus on those who ran the magazine. I'd be interested in your take if you've seen it."

It was about the men who ran the magazine. I watched to learn more about Doug Kenney, Henry Beard (Speaking Publicly about the Lampoon for the first time in 40 years, reason enough right there to see the documentary), Michael O'Donoghue, Sean Kelly, even that right-wing twerp PJ O'Roarke. There is more than enough about Chase, Belushi, et al, elsewhere. The stage shows, movies and radio shows were merely adjuncts to that once-great magazine.

I was familiar with all but three names on that list. (Klavan, Finch and Ueker.)

J. Wolf said...

So glad you included Ernie Kovacs. If I close my eyes I can still see Percy Dovetails and his martini or watch the Nirobi Trio knocking out some cool jazz. Did you mention Ernie's wife, forgot her name, who was also very, very funny.

gottacook said...

MikeK: The great Zero Mostel died in September 1977. I remember seeing a report on the evening TV news the day it happened; he had been in rehearsals for a new adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. The Front was released in September 1976, a full year earlier.

I hope to be able to see A or B? next April in Hatboro, PA, just north of Philadelphia - a lot more feasible for me than LA. (At the Village Players of Hatboro website, they're leaving out the question mark, perhaps by accident.)

Buttermilk Sky said...

I would add the Irish writer Flann O'Brien, a/k/a Myles na gCopaleen (real name Brian O Nolan). Start with his novel "The Third Policeman" and segue to "The Best of Myles." Then look for the many books by Spike Milligan, or recordings of THE GOON SHOW. By then you'll be ready for the Bonzo Dog Band, available on YouTube. You're welcome.

Never heard of Oscar Levant? That means you've never seen THE BAND WAGON or AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. I weep for this civilization.

fred said...

Thanks Ken!

I'll add Lenny Bruce!

therealshell said...

Oscar Levant is on Merv Griffin on GET-TV next Monday.

jbryant said...

Offhand, I'd add director Leo McCarey, since he was instrumental in the careers of Charley Chase (who should also be listed) and Laurel and Hardy and worked with the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup), W. C. Fields (Six of a Kind), Mae West (Belle of the Nineties), Eddie Cantor (The Kid from Spain), and Harold Lloyd (The Milky Way). He also made the brilliant Ruggles of Red Gap and The Awful Truth (one of the few times the Best Director Oscar went to a comedy), among many other fine films.

doowop said...

Slow Talkers Of America never doesn't make me laugh. Never.

Diane D. said...

To Flick:

You ended your comment with "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash" but you didn't mention the comedian (nor did anyone else, surprisingly)---the great Jimmy Durante.

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Andy Rose said...

Wow, not often I see appreciation for Gary Burbank outside of the Ohio Valley, but it's well deserved. Not only was he hilarious, but his farewell broadcast at WAKY / Louisville is still one of the edgiest things ever done on radio.

I would only add that if you're going to include Jay Ward, you should also mention Bill Scott, who was arguably the true comedic genius behind Jay Ward Productions.

Craig Gustafson said...

What? No Clark and McCullough?

iamr4man said...

Since you have Chuck Jones on the list might I suggest that you also add Michael Maltese?

Walter said...

The list of additions could be endless as the older you are the more old-timers you remember.

Albert Brooks, Howard Morris (Uncle Goofy wrapped around Sid Caesar's leg in the "This Is Your Story" sketch), Tom Poston, Jackie Vernon, David Brenner, Steven Wright, Buddy Hackett,
Bill Forsyth (for his first three movies set in Scotland, “Gregory's Girl”, “Comfort and Joy” and “Local Hero”), The other Beyond The Fringe members – Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Hicks, Robert Klein (if only for "I Can't Stop My Leg" but there's much, much more), Sam Kinison, Billy Connolly, Bobby Slayton

Mike Doran said...

Given the NY/LA bias in most of the names named, I was surprised to see Tom Duggan crop up a few times in the comments.

Back in the '50s, growing up in Chicago, I remember Duggan getting into jam after jam on the air, ending up having to leave town to dodge a subpoena from a Cook County judge for comments made about a hot criminal case.
Tom went to LA, where I guess the commenters here saw him.
I wonder if they know what happened when Duggan tried to sneak back into Chicago to attend his father's funeral, and wound up getting busted at the airport (and made the front pages in all four Chicago papers).
Chicagoans my age think of Terrible Tom as the first draft of Bill O'Reilly.

A few more Chicago entries for your list:

Jack Eigen (with or without Cleo Moore)
Art Hellyer
Marty Faye
Chubby Jackson
Susan Heinkel
Irv Kupcinet
Wally Phillips
Ted Ziegler aka Uncle Bucky

... and for the Bob Newhart advocates -
- Dan Sorkin (Bob's officially credited discoverer)

Any other Chicagoans past or present out there, feel free to mention anybody I've missed.

KHogan said...

jerry lewis ,,, The French have to get something right

RyderDA said...

No one has mentioned Allan Sherman, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"? I'm hurt. Comedic genius. Forerunner of Weird Al and everyone who parodies songs.

Someone Listened said...

Extremely heavy on Americans this list (with a smattering of Brits who were stars in America added for good measure). Any serious student of ANY subject should surely open up their eyes and ears to what goes on outside of their own back Yard. Where are the likes of..

Billy Connolly
Norman Wisdom
Morecambe & Wise
Fry & Laurie
French & Saunders
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Neil Innes
Les Dawson
Kenneth Williams
Leslie Philips
Ronnie Barker
Ronnie Corbett
Spike Milligan
Tony Hancock
Frankie Howerd
David Renwick
Leonard Rossiter
Ford Kiernan & Greg Hemphill

And, John Cleese mentioned but no Eric Idle or Michael Palin?

The most incredible of the lot is Dudley Moore mentioned but no Peter Cook. Seriously?

Great that you included the amazing talents of Danny Kaye and Jack Lemmon, but come on Ken... this list reads like the work of a 60 or 70 something, who has never left American shores and recognises none of the amazing work done by any foreigner that didn't hit big stateside. If you really want to help educate on comedy history, please don't make it just about American comedy, because there's a huge world out there to discover.

Barry Rivadue said...

On a sidenote, as a callow 16 year old I once encountered Zero Mostel when he was touring in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in 1973. I always found him rather intimidating, but he couldn't have been more kindly and gracious when I sputtered my request for his autograph.

Allen Wrench said...

There are many of us who recall Oscar Levant. In fact, I knew every name on your list.
Also, some comments regarding Paul B.'s comments about Mark Rothman.
He wasn't just a guy "thrown under the bus" (even though he basically was). He's continued in the business as a
successful playwright, penned numerous hilarious and well-written books ("Showrunner" and the novel "I'm Not Garbo" among them),
and has perhaps the funniest blog on the web (no offense, Ken) at www.
Worth checking out.

The Nazz, natch.... said...


DBenson said...

Somebody mentioned Robert Benchley shorts being out of print. Not quite.

The ones he did for MGM -- the good ones -- are still available in a set from Warner Archive. They're all amusing but variable in tone. Some feel like his written pieces come to life -- especially when he's a dubious authority confidently lecturing the viewer -- while others use him as a character actor, a less assured middle-aged everyman muddling through modern life.

What's out of print is a Kino release that had a handful of shorts he did at Paramount during a brief spat with MGM. They're simply not as good. That one also includes a few other Algonquin Round Table celebrities showing why they're remembered now as writers and not performers.

R. said...

Mark Rothman is an unheralded giant in the field of comedy. He is the most multifaceted talent around. Attention must be paid.

Doug Thompson said...

Don't forget Dayton Allen. Also Jay Ward (who is on your list) was my hero. Not only did he create "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and "George of The Jungle" and so many other smart and wonderfully funny characters, but his wife used to run the Bullwinkle store on Sunset (with the giant statue of Bullwinkle naturally). Jay Ward Productions was right behind the shop. In the late 1980's when I was working for John Candy, I'd sometimes head over there once a month or so at lunch and buy animation cells. They were usually $75 or $100 each (an incredibly cheap price even then) and Mrs. Ward would always say to me, "Would you like Mr. Ward to sign that?". I'd always say "yes please" and she'd call him on the phone and this little man with a huge handlebar mustache would walk in, say hello, sign the cell and head back to the office.

Anonymous said...

George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, Totie Fields, Marty Feldman, Pat Cooper.

Keith Nichols said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...

Ken, What about Chicago for "A or B"?

By Ken Levine said...

If anyone wants to do it in Chicago, great!

Mitch said...

Levant had his own talk shows in Los Angeles; first in 1958 on KCOP and then a syndicated show taped at KHJ 9 in 1961. His first producer (at channel 13) was local sports announcer Cleve Hermann. Cleve lasted two weeks with Oscar. He told me that one afternoon he was at Levant's home, planning the first week's show. The phone began to ring. And ring, and ring and ring. Cleve said he asked him, "Do you want me to get that, Oscar?" The reply: "No, who would want to talk to you?"

Al Burton was Levant's next (and final) producer. By this time, Oscar was self-committed to the psych ward at what today is Cedars Sinai. Burton tells the story of how on the night of each show, he'd sign Oscar out of the ward, take him to KCOP to do the show, and then drive him back to the hospital and check him back in.

I've only seen one kinescope of the KCOP show, but it's a dandy. Fred Astaire is the guest. It's 90 minutes of great music and sharp wit. In my humble opinion it beats most of the chat shows we have today.

Mike Botula said...

Ken, please add Ernie Kovacs to your list...and then screen "Our Man in Havana." You may even want to add Alec Guinness after you do.

Mike Moody said...

Late to the game here but: Phil Rosenthal. He was the first to realize that to really get to the heard of comedy in a family the kids are props. Everyone would have told him that was crazy and, yet, it worked.

-bee said...

One of the absolute funniest Warner's cartoons IMHO is Draftee Daffy, directed by Bob Clampett, animation by Rob Scribner (stop the film at any frame and there is a funny drawing) and great vocal work by Mel Blanc:

I would also reference the people from SCTV as a group - I think all those guys did their best work as part of that group.

Craig Gustafson said...

Mike Doran:

Chicago people

Bob Bell
Ray Rayner
Don Sandburg

MikeN said...

I knew about 30 of those names, and have seen another ten or so on your blog.

Mike Doran said...

Thanx to Craig Gustafson.

And right back atcha with:

Uncle Johnny Coons
Two-Ton Baker the Music Maker
Linn Burton (for certain)
Jim Conway
Uncle/Skipper/Ringmaster Ned Locke
Carmelita Pope
Chuck Bill (and his Little Feather Merchants)
Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers
Dr. Dan Q. Posin
Fat Friendly Frazier Thomas (and Garfield Goose)
... and more and more and more ...

(See what you started, Ken?)

Otto said...

There were only 11 names on the list that I probably could not give you an immediate "credit" for. The reality is, if we were only allowed to mention names of entertainment and/or cultural figures that people under 40 could recognize, I would have very little to say or write!! As Ken said, "Look it up" and better yet, watch some old films and TV shows!! Or, God forbid, read a book! How's that for curmudgeonly?

chuckcd said...

There is a Woody Allen stand up comedy album that is fantastic.
"The moose comes in second. The moose is furious. He and the Berkowitzs lock antlers in the living room."

I also love the Tom Lehrer albums. I am familiar with most the names on your list.

Unknown said...


I thought you may like to listen to few of these Archived OTR shows.
Quite interesting and very pertinent to your topic.
Also many O.L appearances.

Dan in Missouri said...

Don Quinn - Fibber McGee and Molly on radio

Keith Nichols said...

It's true that Oscar Levant is dead, but as far as I can find, he has no gravestone with "I told you I was sick" on it. Nowadays at least he's in a slot at Westwood Memorial Park that's labeled with only his name and dates. Gravestones bearing the quoted remark do mark the graves of other folks in other cemeteries, I believe.

Mike Barer said...

I saw Mort Sahl perform in a Palm Springs shul about 20 years ago.