Who Makes Me Laugh?

Jack Benny, Joan Benny, Mary Livingston

I don’t really watch a lot of sitcoms. I like crime dramas, fantasy, and I think the closest thing to a comedy that I like right now would be Rizzoli & Isles (tell me it’s not a comedy, please).

I mean, I do watch a couple comedies these days, but I’m always torn as to who they’re making fun of. Take The Big Bang Theory for example. I’m never sure if’ I’m in on the joke, or if I am the joke. I also watch How I Met Your Mother, but I think that’s more out of obligation. Most other comedies bore me. I never liked 30 Rock or Modern Family, and I even thought that Ellen was a little cringeworthy. I just don’t like most comedy.

Basically, i’ve always liked my funnies with a taste of irreverent. I prefer BBC/Canadian comedy in general, since I think most American humor is too straight forward on telly. At least I think so about today’s comedy. Because if you ask me who’s funny, I’ll give you names most of my peers (age wise) don’t know.

Jack Benny, Joan Benny, Mary Livingston
Jack Benny, his daughter Joan Benny, and his wife Mary Livingston in 1938

My favorite comedian is Jack Benny. He was the man I wanted to meet most, when you’d have those “If I could meet any famous Hollywood sort for dinner…” I’d just want to ask him how he came up with that stuff. How did he master pacing and a double-take so good you could see it when you listened to the radio?

My favorite comedy writer is Mel Brooks, though. First of all, you have to salute the man who married Anne Bancroft. But secondly, his stuff is hilarious. He skewers everyone, in ways we’d never dream up, and he’s good at it. Potty humor? Sure. But tell me that you can watch the scene of cowboys eating beans in Blazing Saddles and not giggle, and I’ll show you my door.

My absolute favorite comedy musician is Tom Lehrer. The number of times I’ve sung his works and changed my fate is surprisingly high. I met him, in passing, and did not introduce myself. I’ve always regretted that a little, but for different reasons than many might think. Tom introduced me to satire at its highest level.

I grew up listening to Old Time radio. I own all of Jack Benny’s remaining shows on CD. Same with Fred Allen. I know the in’s and out’s of George and Gracie. I know Uncle Milty. My heroes are Danny Kaye and Gene Wilder. But my epitome of funny is Jack, always Jack, and his coterie of characters.

While you’re all off celebrating Christmas and everything that comes from that, today I always think of comedy. I think of  The Horn Blows at Midnight. I think of To Be Or Not To Be. I think of violins and the vault and a race tout and a pickle in the middle with the mustard on top.

Today in 1974, three years before I was born, Jack Benny passed away.

Have you ever heard that urban legend about a man who died, but every day a single red rose was sent to his wife until she passed? That was Jack.

He will always be my hero.

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