Bob and Ray were to radio what Ernie Kovacs was to television (although the famous radio team, who met as announcers at Boston’s WHDH in 1946, also did television, film and live performances on Broadway in their 43-year career), and were as influential on generations of comedians as Kovacs was, if not more so.
Performing right up to the late 80s when Ray was too ill to work (he died in 1990), Bob Elliot & Ray Goulding developed many characters who became treasured and respected names among listeners: Wally Ballou, Mary McGoon, Webley Webster, the McBeebe brothers, Biff Burns and so many others.
I often think that the reason their characters seemed so real over time was that Bob & Ray believed they WERE real… that there really was a radio soap opera producer named O. Leo Leahy (who they often put in their credit list after a show) or that Wally Ballou really was out on the street interviewing ordinary people and always being upcut by the broadcast engineer. I suppose when you perform the same characters for decades in so many different situations they DO become real.
Their comedy was performed without a single bad word or objectionable situation. They were rarely political (although the one exception may be the poke they gave to Senator Joe McCarthy on their soap opera parody “Mary Backstayge Noble Wife” in the late 50s) and never offensive, but remained much funnier than most of their competition.
Here’s a Wally Ballou interview sample (this is from “Bob and Ray, The Two and Only”, their Carnegie Hall performance in the 1980s):
I played that last piece because it is one of my favorites and so typical of their work… which they talked about in this interview with a very young David Letterman, who was very much influenced by them:
Letterman, of course, gave a major career start to Bob’s son Chris Elliot… and Chris’ daughter, Abby Elliot is now on Saturday Night Live, making Bob Elliot, 88 years old this year, the head of three generations of funny people.
Fortunately there is a large quantity of recordings of Bob & Ray’s work going back to the late 40s available on CDs, cassette tapes and DVDs. YouTube has a nice collection as well. These are certainly worth your time whenever you are feeling down… they never cease to provide a laugh.
- From Susan Schecter (hopeworkscommunity.wordpress.com)
- More from Sydney! – Sydney, Australia (travelpod.com)
Salon did a very nice article on the late Ernie Kovacs this morning because his widow, Edie Adams, has just released a complete set in DVD form of Kovacs’ kinescopes from the fifties and very early sixties (Kovacs died in an automobile accident in January of 1962… something I remember clearly as a prep school student who kept a copy of his obituary tucked into a copy of Show Business Illustrated with an article on the great man. I still have it.)
From the article:
Some of TV’s most innovative people and programs drew inspiration from Kovacs: Rowan and Martin, the Smothers Brothers, Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, SCTV, the “Saturday Night Live” casts, every host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” and all the talk shows modeled on “Tonight.” Morning shows raided him, too: Kovacs’ 1951 program “Three to Get Ready,” broadcast live on Philadelphia’s WPTV, was the first morning program anywhere, and was supposedly the inspiration for NBC’s “Today.”
Go over and take a look at the whole piece… it is loaded with YouTube videos of Kovacs kinescopes. Meanwhile, here’s one of my favorites (I don’t think it’s in the Salon post) of the Kovacs character, poet Percy Dovetonsils:
- The Absurdist Genius of Ernie Kovacs (thedailybeast.com)
- A DVD Set Celebrates the TV Genius of Ernie Kovacs (abcnews.go.com)
- The Funny Man’s Comedian (online.wsj.com)