Gut Rumbles

August 04, 2003


I thought that this piece about bob hope was unneccessarily cruel. I usually enjoy Christopher Hitchens, but he seems like a pretty humorless bastard to me now.

No, I cannot remember a single Bob Hope moment that slayed me. But I can remember many a time that he made me laugh. Was he a "great" comedian?" Maybe not. Maybe he was just around for a long time.

I never thought that Henny Youngman was a great comedian, either, but throwing out one-liners is an art that some people simply do not appreciate. Comedy is hard work. Try it on stage, as I have done, THEN you lecture me about it. Just see how fucking funny YOU ARE first.

When I was in Charleston with my friend, Ken, he mentioned that teaching still thrilled him because when he had interested students paying attention and wanting to learn, teaching was "theater." I countered by saying that 95% of everything you do in life is "theater."

I really believe that. Some people are just better actors than others and some people simply never understand the audience they are playing to. I perform at work all the time, especially in situations where I have to discipline someone or I need to get my way.

I was training a green supervisor once upon a time, and I told him to watch me, keep his mouth shut and learn. I was about to create a deliberate, cold-blooded train-wreck. I had planned it for a day and a half and I was ready to go now.

I did everything but foam at the mouth and bite somebody's leg. I threw a temper-tamtrum that Baptist preachers would have envied. I drew a circle on the floor and pitched a hissy-fit inside it. I should have been elected the official shaman/witch-doctor of the plant after that. I damn near was, too. I got my way, ended the conflict, then sat down in my office with the green supervisor.

"How the hell did you DO THAT?" he asked.

"Years of practice," was my reply, and I was not kidding. 95% of life is theater. Never forget that fact. What do you REALLY think I do on this blog?

I've always liked comedians with an edge to their theater and Bob Hope never had that edge. He was Everyman's comic. He lacked anger and sarcasm. He wasn't as funny as Groucho Marx. Hell, he wasn't as funny as Moe Howard. He damn sure couldn't hold a candle to George Carlin or Sam Kinneson. And he was never off-beat and unique enough to compete with Steven Wright.

But he made a lot of people laugh, just the same. Don't call him an asshole for that.

Some people just like different theater than others do.


Whenever I tell people that I'm a huge Bob Hope fan, they look at me like I'm nuts. For most people my age and younger, Bob is known for sappy TV shows and lame political jokes, as Hitchens points out.

But Hope lived to be 100, and his early years in show business - like most artists - were his most creative and genuinely funny. So creative, in fact, that today a great deal of American humor can be traced back to his work.

I can think of a smiliar artist with a similar problem - Louis Armstrong. In his later career, Armstrong was known for undistinguised versions of pop songs such as "Hello Dolly" and "Cabaret." But in his youth, he was the hotest cat in town and a musical genius, whose work influenced everybody that followed him. But if you only knew him by his 60s stuff, he seemed merely a pleasant entertainer.

Hope suffered that same fate. Most of Hope's early films are banished from TV because of the great sin of being in Black and White. And his radio shows are, for anybody but the most devoted fan, unheard and unremembered.

That's why Hitchens comments talk only of Hope's TV work and political humor. I'd advise him to rent the DVD of any Hope/Crosby Road film (except Road to Hong Kong!) and let the fun wash over him. There must be 2 dozen sequences of Hope and Crosby singing and hoofing their way across a stage, each one a comic gem.

Hope was a son-of-a-bitch in real life, and for some reason, most sons-of-bitches have a rude health that keeps 'em going to 100. But most people of accomplishment are sons-of-bitches in one way or another. Yet Bob Hope brough laughter to millions, especially in his early career. Hey Hitch, ask all those GIs from Germany to Vietnam what the gag was - they'll tell you.

Posted by: Bob Was Funny on August 4, 2003 10:36 PM

Bob Hope was to comedy what Henry Fonda was to acting. I'm only 45 yo, but I remember many a Bob Hope special with great fondness. Those were wonderful, innocent times that our children can't appreciate.

I teach dental hygiene & assisiting; I used to show the brilliant comedy "The In-Laws" to every class (because it has a dentist in it and they deserve a break from me lecturing/performing). I've quit showing the film because young people have developed a radically-different sense of humor than us ol' fogies have. Nobody found the movie funny. Their humor needs an edge, often a nasty, vulgar edge (think the hair 'gel' scene in Something About Mary). Bob Hope would never have a career in comedy if he were starting today. How sad.

Posted by: DocJeff on August 5, 2003 01:48 AM

Bob Hope had that everyday kinda guy thing going on...the hapless sap who got caught in silly situations...think "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!"

Some people don't have to leave you rolling on the floor with laughter to be funny. They just have to make you believe that unlikely events can happen to ANYONE.

Posted by: Da Goddess on August 5, 2003 04:39 AM

I grew up on bob hopes humor through my family. I enjoyed his movies and yes I can remember clearly some of he gags. Especially one where he is about to have his head lopped off and has paramount re-write the script at the last moment. Not to mention the gags with trigger and roy rodgers. Well, I am the last of the baby boomers. What do you want. 2 people I will miss passing away in my life and 1 is Bob Hope and the other is Jerry Lewis. Shame to see where Jerry is now in terms of his health. But pumping yourself full of drugs to deal with physical and lifes pains is now a way of life for him Sad.

Posted by: Julian on August 6, 2003 11:14 AM
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