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Funny Folks: Stand-up Comedians

John W. Pinkerton


Stand-up comedians have been around since the 1800s, but the modern version began with television in the 50’s and 60’s.  They’ve been a welcome addition to the world of entertainment because they make us look at ourselves and find humor in our lives.

Today, there seem to be thousands of stand-up comedians; once there was just a handful.  Gallagher and Carrot Top are funny people, very entertaining, but not my cup of tea.  My favorites are a quieter, more self-deprecating bunch, comedians who rely on their clever minds, not silly physical comedy or shocking vulgarities. 

Three comedians, two of whom have passed away, are among my favorites: Andy Griffith, George Goebel, and Bob Newhart.

Andy passed away just a year ago.  Most folks who know Andy know him from the Andy Griffith Show or Matlock.  Folks loved Andy’s character, Sheriff Taylor, on the Andy Griffith Show and tuned in regularly to see him play the Southern lawyer Ben Matlock in the one hour drama.

Andy could have had a career as a dramatic actor.  Early in his career he starred as the drifter Lonesome Rhodes in the drama A Face in the Crowd with his co-star Lee Remick which was directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg.  I don’t suppose those names mean much to most of you, but they were meaningful to me in my youth.  Andy was also a singer who recorded upbeat country and gospel songs, but Andy began his career as a standup comedian.  Griffith’s first claim to fame was his monologue “What It Was, Was Football.”  He followed this with many other humorous monologues including “Romeo and Juliet.”  They’re timeless.  They still make me smile.  Of himself he said, “I'm not really wise. But I can be cranky.”

Bob Newhart is still with us: he recently played supporting roles in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines, and The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice in which he plays the supporting role of Jason the head librarian.  His character is possibly over 2000 years old.  Like Jason, Bob seems to have been around forever.  Undoubtedly you remember his TV shows The Bob Newhart Show in which Bob played Bob Hartley,
psychologist, who was married to Emily and Newhart in which Bob played Dick Loudon, a writer of how-to books who owns a Vermont Inn along with his wife Joanna.   They both were extremely popular and a must-see weekly show.  On his TV shows, he usually worked as the straight man while the bizarre cast members got the big laughs; however, when Bob was a standup comedian, he got the big laughs with his deadpan delivery and slight stammer.  One of his early monologues was “The Driving Instructor  and the more recent “King Kong.”

Bob, born in 1929, always seems to be around still making us laugh with his deadpan humor.  Bob is consistently amusing: “I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down,’” and “It's getting harder and harder to differentiate between schizophrenics and people talking on a cell phone. It still brings me up short to walk by somebody who appears to be talking to themselves.”

George Goebel was one of my earliest favorites.  His George Goebel Show ran from 1954 to 1960.  He called himself “Lonesome George” and delivered his comedy in a deadpan manner.  With his crewcut and neat appearance, he came across as the everyman.  George was a frequent guest on The Ford Show, The Bing Crosby Show, The Tonight Show.  In the 70’s, Goebel was a panelist on Hollywood Squares and was the voice of Father Mouse in Twas the Night Before Christmas and played Otis
Harper, Jr., in the series based on the film Harper Valley PTA.  But it all started for George as a stand-up comedian. 

George truly was a funny man: some of his one-liners are worth repeating: “If you build a better mousetrap, you will catch better mice.”  “My uncle was the town drunk - and we lived in Chicago.”  “College is a place to keep warm between high school and an early marriage.”

Of course, comedy didn’t begin and will not end with these fellows, but I’m thankful for them.  Other comedians I really admire who are still around are Bill Cosby, Richard Wright, and Bill Engvall.  These fellows never use vulgarities.  I’m not a prude: I find many comedians who use vulgarities to be hilarious, but they use them to enhance their humor, not replace their humor.