TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Sid Ceasar and Phones in Comedy

Sid Ceasar and Phones in Comedy
30 Aug 2005 07:32:55 -0700

My local PBS showed clips from old shows. The telephone figured in
some of them.

In one clip, the group got into an argument over the names of the
Seven Dwarfs from Snow White. One man makes a few phone calls to ask
around. He dialed 5 or 6 digits, but spun the dial very quickly, not
letting it properly return. The man then made another call, this time
dialing only three digits. "Long Distance? Get me Walt Disney in
Hollywood!". The man repeatedly emphasizes he's spending $3 on long
distance to find out the info ($3 was maybe $30-$40 today). He gets
Walt Disney on the phone (who didn't know the answer), and mentioned
again he was calling long distance for $3.

The clip was also interesting for the social world it shown. The gang
was headed out for the evening when they got into this argument. They
were hollering at each other, and it reminded me of adults of that
day, which seemed to be hollering at lot more than they do today
(maybe it was only my world). Also, they were all dressed up very
nicely -- men in suits, women in nice dresses. Today people go out to
dinner or a movie in beach clothes; we forget in those days people put
on a necktie or dress quite often when they left the house.

Another clip was a monologue about a night on the town. It starts off
with him calling his girlfriend for a date, and he made exagerated
sounds of dialing, ringing, etc.

Those old shows were done live. When something fouled up -- which
happened often (forgotten lines, prop would fall down -- the actors
had to be quick and improvise to keep the sketch moving. By today's
standards the humor could be a little bland and the jokes very old.
But the shows have a kind of vitality often not seen today. The
comedy groups were a tight-knit team. They also could be funny
without resorting to sex or even politics.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: One of my favorite telephone gags is
when the person _merely pretends_ to call someone, but actually has
his finger holding the hook down while he makes a big production of
dialing then speaking to whomever (only supposedly), and then mid-way
through the supposed conversation with the supposed person, the phone
_actually rings_ with a real call coming in, and of course the
pretender is quite embarassed at being caught in this obvious lie. I
first saw this routine in an old Jack Benny show from the 1930's, then
I saw it again in an "I Love Lucy" show. The third time I saw it was
when John Ritter (in his role as Jack Tripper, on "Three's Company")
got caught in that lie on one of the "Three's Company" shows. Viewers
will recall that poor Jack was always getting in some hassle or
another on that show, and his two female roomates would always have to
rescue him.

The odd part was that on the show where Jack got caught 'with his
finger on the hook while making a call' (because the phone rang), when
it happened, the audience roared with laughter, poor Jack looked very
humiliated as always, but on the 'outakes' (not used in the show but
available on the video of 'outakes' several years later) who should
walk on the set at that moment but Lucille Ball -- not normally on the
show except two or three times as a special guest) and she sternly
said "John, you stole one of my better laughs!" and Ritter replied,
"but my writers got it from the same guy you did, Jack Benny!". Miss
Ball gave him a dirty look and stalked off the stage. The audience
loved it; because the applause for Lucille Ball and the laughter on
account of the joke went on for so long the producers had to cut it
out of the tape entirely. You are correct, Lisa, they could tell jokes
and have funny situations in a clean way on television in years gone
past. PAT]

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