Staying in tonight, we’re going to see Chuck Manning at the York tomorrow. Been listening to ancient radio comedies all week. Amazing how weird and conceptual and hysterically funny this stuff was, TV comedy has rarely come close, and never gotten beyond it. The mind’s eye can visualize so much more than our meager real eyes, so radio was a canvas limited only by the reaches of the imagination. This Fred Allen stuff is particularly nuts. It was hugely popular in its day, millions listened regularly. Probably more people listened to this than watch any television show today, and that in a country with a population a third of today’s. Listening now, it’s hard to believe this is from the thirties—1933, ‘34, ‘35. Radio was scarcely a decade old. I’m sitting here in a living room where nearly ninety years ago the original occupants once sat in front of a large radio listening to this very program, laughing and laughing.
Listening to old Bob and Ray radio shows for a couple hours in isolation is pretty mind bending. I have a whole library of Bob and Ray, maybe a hundred very weird 15 minutes, and you can get lost in them, doing whatever it is you need to do, and when you finally turn them off, the world seems some discombobulated and unBob and Ray and wrong. Maybe it’s those McBeebee Twins, a bit that is actually somehow disturbing, like how did Bob and Ray think up that bit, and why, and was anyone damaged in the process, like people in early LSD experiments, or dogs sent into space, or saxophonists who blew free jazz so hard that melodies terrified them and they hid under their beds hiding from syncopation and the landlord.
(2013, I think)
I’m old enough now to have just used an AARP card at Denny’s. Twenty per cent off, which is a big help when you’re too old to dine and dash. I’m also old enough to find the Dinner Party Download on KPCC annoying. Not incredibly annoying, just grumpy late middle aged guy annoying. Get off my lawn, etc. But I listen anyway. Not deliberately, just if it’s on. Ever since the wife nearly died and I was left in a house potentially widowered for a few weeks back in 2008 I seem to need to have sound here all the time. Voices. I can blast instrumental jazz, of course, but when I’m wandering about doing chores or reading or procrastinating and the wife’s not around, I need voices. I don’t really need them, it’s just habit. And as it’s not annoying, it survives. So the TV is always on, or the radio, or the stereo. When the wife was in the hospital that solid month there’d be something on in every room here at the house all the time, radios, TVs, stereos, some idiot jabbering away on the computer. When you’ve been married forever silence is deafening. I used to talk to the cats a lot. Two would answer back, the other would just look annoyed. I said hello to the fish. To the plants. I don’t think I talk to plants anymore, but I still talk to inanimate objects, and the tea kettle hisses back, a trick I learned from my sainted mother that she learned from her sainted mother, bless her soul. I talked to the tea kettle a lot then. Drank more tea then I ever drank before or since, just so I could bicker with the kettle. I’ve even cringed through an hour of The Splendid Table, with that voice squeezing unctuousness like extra virgin olive oil. Only the metaphysical nonsense of On Being is completely intolerable. A newer New Age take on Alan Watts, lite and undrunk. Egad. I let out an involuntary you are so full of crap and switch to KPFK and listen to the paranoids plead for money.
Tom Koch, RIP. Not that I ever heard of him, actually. But I heard him, heard his stuff. Some stuff too. He wrote for Bob and Ray from 1955 on. Thousands of sketches. Bob Elliott says the material came by mail. Says he met Tom Koch–pronounced Cook–three times. Three times in three decades. Ray Goulding never met him at all. It’s Bob and Ray, who knows if that is true or not, but it’s a great story and that’s what matters.
Bob and Ray were natural improvisers, and their early stuff was free form when jazz musicians were still playing be bop. On NBC the execs demanded order, though, so in 1955 Bob and Ray somehow found Tom Koch. He’d provide sketches for them to take off on. The head arrangement. Be bop. It worked brilliantly. The Bob and Ray Shows on CBS every day from 1959-1960, each a quarter hour long, are hands down the funniest stuff I have ever heard in my life. Seriously weird. Take it from me. I know. I once spent an entire day at work in a silent office listening to Bob and Ray. The ’59-’60 episodes. Eight hours’ worth. That’s like eight thousand shows in dog years. I emerged at day’s end in a post-LSD state. I think it damaged my chromosomes. Soon afterward I quit the LA Weekly and joined the priesthood and no one has seen me since. And no wonder. The human brain is not designed for that much concentrated Bob and Ray. You don’t mess around with that stuff. I was like Cary Grant after 300 acid trips, acting odd on the set. Judy Judy Judy he chanted, scaring the extras. Me, I left the office mumbling like Webly Webster. I should have known. The humor on Bob and Ray is deep. There are sages high in the Himalayas who spend their whole lives trying to get one joke. They say the humor on Bob and Ray is so deep it might be a couple centuries before the rest of civilization catches up with it. We’ll have big throbbing brains and communicate by telepathy and Bob and Ray will be gods. Then the world ends.
–ick Wahl, the Finley Quality Network