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Best American Comedy: Jack Benny
Jack Benny Music and Jokes
Jack Benny started his comedy career as had Larry Fine of the Three Stooges - as a talented and accomplished violinist in vaudeville.
Jack had done this fiddling by the age of 17 and the Marx Brothers wanted to hire him to go on the road with them, but his parents forbade it.
Instead, he added comedy to his act later on and played his violin in a wretchedly squealing manner - hard to do that badly if you are not actually talented. Comic Jackie Vernon later copied this hilarious style with a bad trumpet repertoire and played badly on the Jackie Gleason Show in a focused spotlight.
Jack had a limited wardrobe of jokes and they were one liners or setups that made fun of the characterizations he had created for himself. He worked hard to present himself as a vain cheapskate, claiming to be 39 for over 40 years, running after pennies, and refusing to throw anything out. Here is a classic setup from The Jack Benny program on Radio:
Footsteps approach Jack Benny from behind and surprise him.
A male voice threatens, "Your money or your life."
The voice threatens again, more strongly, "Your money or your life!"
When you are about to turn the channel, Jack replies, "I'm thinking."
Other times, Jack would create a joke of a situation that had gone against him just be exclaiming, "Well!"
Even his walk was funny. Bob Hope once quipped that they had legalized his walk in England (meaning homosexuality around the early 70s or there abouts).This type of joke is not accepted today.
During a large Jack Benny New Year's Eve party, a disgusted neighbor bothered by lost party goers put up a sign on his lawn:
Jack Benny Does Not Live Here, He Lives There →
The Jack Benny Program On TV & Film
One liners were another of the jokes that Jack enjoyed telling, with pointed comic timing. Here are a few:
- Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.
- I don't want to tell you how much insurance I carry with the Prudential, but all I can say is: when I go, they go too.
- My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never.
Today the Jack Benny Fan Club hosts photo caption contests for fans who can come up with similar one liners about Jack.
The Horn Blows at Midnight
The Horn Blows at Midnight
I always liked this old flim because I played cornet in maching and concert bands for years and was able to do the number "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" (different film) with my quartet at special events.
The Horn Blows at Midnight is hilarious, surreal, and well-written. It is Twighlight Zone on laughing gas. The film made little money at the Box Office, however, and numerous jokes were made about it, similar to:
The big wigs at Warner Brothers must have been on vacation when Benny made that one.
It was so bad, that he never made another movie.
The movie actually has a musical theme very like the old Looney Tunes or Merry Melody scores.
Swimming in Paradise
A bad trumpet player for a radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee, "The Coffee That Makes You Sleep", Jack certainly falls asleep.
He dreams that he is an angelic trumpeter of heaven, seeking a promotion. Heaven is nothing but a bureaucracy with a huge orchestra that prevents promotions. The angels take the hotel elevator back and forth to earth for their assignments and jam the hotel lobby, the men wearing long white robes over their suits, the female angels in robes.
Jack is so bad at the trumpet in Paradise that he is sent to Earth to blow the Horn that ends the world. In once scene, he is seen swimming in a huge cup of (Paradise) coffee on a billboard on a skyscraper and later, several people are hanging from the ledge. Fallen angels trick him into paying for lunch with his horn. It is all incongruous and quite fun and it ends well.
Before My Mother the Car and Knight Rider, Jack Benny used a talking car of his own.
Jack's Maxwell automobile was voiced by Mel Blanc, the future cartoon voice genious. Just hearing a car talk was funny, let alone the puns and darts.
Being cheap, the Benny character likley starved his car for gasoline and oil or picked up lost rationing coupons.
Speaking of cheap, a Hollywood Tour the Homes of the Stars busride proceeded without event for about 30 minutes, the driver poiting out the lovely Hollywood homes. Next, he points and announces, "And here is the home of Mr. Jack Benny." In the back of the bus, Jack pipes up, "Driver, this is where I get off."
All this joking lasted for 23 years on Sunday-night radio, before the TV show even started.
Jack and Groucho on You Bet Your Life
Born on Valentine's Day
Born in February 14, 1894, Jack Benny died 80 or 82 years later, depending on different sources, but most likely the day after Christmas in 1974. His widow, 11 years younger than Jack, began to receive a single red rose daily shortly afterward and, wondering why, she contacted the florist. Jack had arranged for her to receive a fresh rose every day for the rest of her life (until 1983). She was fairly young, so he was not a cheapskate, but a generous, funny gentleman that continues to make us laugh with his particular brand of jokes on film.