Friday, May 30, 2008

The Feast of Saint Fred

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week we celebrate the feast of Saint Fred. Fred Allen would be 113 years old.

Best known for his radio programs in the 40s (many of which can be downloaded here), Fred Allen was a comedian ahead of his time. He was the first to make fun of his sponsors and the control they had over content. It was Fred Allen who introduced the fake news program that would become a standard part of American comedy from Rowan and Martin's "News of the Future" to Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" to Michael Feldman's "All the News That Isn't." Allen would read up to nine newspapers a day to find his material which included fake man on the street with people of a wide variety of nationalities and news maker interviews. The usual suspect in the news maker category was the fictitious Senator Beauregard Claghorn who was the inspiration behind Foghorn Leghorn.

While Allen was as quick an ad-libber as there ever was, he was in fact a perfectionist editing and re-editing his scripts for twelve to fourteen hours a day. His mastery of timing and linguistic flow in a joke make his work still funny all these years later.

Perhaps, he will be best remembered for his on-air running feud with fellow Sunday night radio comedy star Jack Benny. Allen and Benny were good friends and one evening after a young violin virtuoso played "Flight of the Bumblebee," Allen took the opportunity to ad-lib a joke about Benny whose poor violin playing was a running gag of his own. Benny, upon hearing this, made sure to put an insult to Allen in his next show and they were off and running with the goofing between them getting wilder and wilder through the years.

A couple of Fred Allen classics:

A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.

The last time I saw him he was walking down Lover's Lane holding his own hand.

I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy.

Imitation is the sincerest form of television.

Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns; he should be drawn and quoted.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve