Have you heard of Jack Benny? For the better part of four decades Jack Benny WAS comedy. His Jack Benny Program was the most famous show on radio and early television. He occupied the best time slot on radio—Sunday’s at 8PM. When Jack Benny jumped from NBC‘s Blue Network to CBS in 1948 it was the biggest news in entertainment. A lot of what we consider slapstick comedy, sarcastic comedy, and stereotyping for the purpose of comedy, owes its inception to Jack Benny. His facial expressions were the best! His violin playing was so horrendous that it made him famous. His penny-pinching ways were legendary. And, what was never questioned behind the scenes was his character or his huge heart.
Benny set himself up as the comedic foil, allowing his supporting characters to draw laughs at the expense of his character’s flaws. By allowing such a character to be seen as human and vulnerable, in an era where few male characters were allowed such obvious vulnerability, Benny made what might have been a despicable character into a lovable Everyman character. Benny said on several occasions: “I don’t care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny.” Jack felt he got the credit or blame either way, not the actor saying the lines, so it had better be funny.
Each year during Christmas season Benny would devote a portion of the month’s shows to his Christmas shopping. The comedy that ensued was always hilarious. Give a listen to a radio version of Christmas Shopping from 1937. It’s amazing how well the humor stands up to today’s comedy.