Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ten things I learned from the Jack Benny Show

Who? Jack Benny was a mediocre vaudeville performer who made a jump to a new medium and became a star. The is a source of endless fascination for an ejournalism student.

Why? Because I love radio shows. No, I don't mean Howard Stern, because he's just mean. I mean, well, The Jack Benny Show, Duffy's Tavern, X-1 (pronounced "ex minus one", not "ex one" or "ex dash one"), Gun Smoke (it was a radio show for years before it was a television show) and Our Miss Brooks for example. Although there isn't much radio drama produced for the North American market, the BBC still does a lot. The Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio show before it was a book, mini-series or movie.

The List:
10) Whenever you can, work with people you like. The Jack Benny Show ran from 1932 to 1955 with few personnel changes because this was a group of people who like each other and worked well together.

9) Apparently, I'm easily suggestible. While listening to the show when it was sponsored by Jello, I had the worst craving for Jello. I was strong, though, I didn't give in. When I was reading Fast Food Nation, the chapter of the book on French fry production gave me the worst craving for McDonald's French fries. Though the point of the book was the injustices of the fast food industry, I'm ashamed to say I gave in.

8) Internet Archive is a wonderful thing. Internet Archive is an online archive of free media. You can find audio and video resources that have gone out of copyright like The Jack Benny Show, the movie Night of the Living Dead and the Prelinger Archives of "ephemeral" films. If you're willing to spend time going through the audio archives, you can find appropriate audio for your movie without cost, and without worrying about copyright issues.

7) Follow the Prime Directive. Is a blog post truly complete without a Star Trek reference? My point, and I do have one, is that one shouldn't judge a culture by your own cultural biases. Accept the humour presented, and accept the norms of the culture of the time. A character like Mr. Kitzel may have been funny at the time simply because he had an accent, and that's okay. We don't have to adopt those social norms, but simply accept that that's how the world was one upon a time.

6) The most important thing about comedy is...
timing. That joke works better in person, ask me about it sometime. Jack Benny was known for his impeccable comic timing. In his autobiography Sunday Nights at Seven, co-written with his daughter Joan, he explains that his comic timing was perfect for the delivery of his humour, but not for another comedian. Jack Benny created his own comic timing for his own humour. Fine your own unique way to deliver your information.

5) It's not always about YOU. Jack Benny was quoted on many occasions saying "I don't care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny." Although the show was named for Jack Benny, he was often set up to be the but of the humour. The greater good of an organization can be served if you are generous with your talent and don't worry about who gets the credit.

4) Don't let logic, canonicity or facts get in the way of a good joke. Jack Benny was 39 years old from 1932 to 1955. The show's second tenor, Dennis Day, was written a a naïve man-child, under the care of his over-bearing mother, from his introduction in 1939 to the show's end in 1955. What kind of man-child could be a Lieutenant in the US Navy during World War II? Benny's famous Maxwell (a pre-war luxury car, not coffee) was sold during World War II as part of a scrap drive, but he kept driving the car until 1955.

3) Be prepared to go with whatever comes your way. When Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny's real-life wife flubbed a line so "swiss cheese" became "chiss sweeze" they had gags for three consecutive episodes, plus a joke years later. Then there was the day "grease rack" became "grass reek".

2) Don't let the fact that you can't sing stop you from going on stage, picking up a mike and belting out a tune. I love Jack and Mary too, but the reason they had Kenny Baker and then Dennis Day singing the tunes on a regular basis was because neither of them could carry a tune in a bucket. And don't even start about Rochester.

1) Work hard and practice your craft. Flubbed lines or not, the cast of the show were professionals who worked hard, practiced their crafts and made it look easy.

Related Links
The Jack Benny Show at Wikipedia

Internet Archive with way too much content all for free!
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