Lying in bed last night, I got to thinking about the state of comedy these days, and recalled an incident that occurred earlier in the week while I was driving to the grocery store. We are blessed (cursed?) to have Sirius XM satellite radio in both of our cars. So, whenever I am driving more than a mile or two, I invariably tune to one of three comedy channels I have designated as favorites. This particular afternoon, it seemed that no matter which of the three channels I was tuned to, the humor was almost entirely “toilet” in nature. It became a game to listen to the first station, hear a curse word, immediately switch to the second, hear something off color, and then change to the third, where my ears would be assaulted with still more filth. I repeated the process at least three times, each time with the same result. Finally, in disgust, I turned the radio off.
As any of my friends will tell you, I am not a prude, and I enjoy a dirty story as much as the next man—occasionally. But having three comedy radio stations at my disposal, and not being able to find one single comedian who spoke in anything other than four letter words was kind of a shock. So I started to take a mental inventory of the comedians who’d really made me laugh through the years. Some of the names I came up with were Billy Crystal, Jonathan Winters, Hennie Youngman, Don Rickles, Bill Cosby, and Rich Little—pretty much household names to anyone in my age group (70s). I realized they all had one thing in common: none ever uttered so much as a single curse word during their acts.
But the one name that stands out among all the comedians I have enjoyed is Bob Newhart. His routines were always about the most commonplace topics such as driving instructors, famous presidents, and submarine captains. His humor was creative, clever, and, at times, side splitting, yet he never ventured off color. Never. I defy anyone to listen to an old Bob Newhart routine without laughing aloud at the visual pictures he painted with his imaginative humor. I love his story about “Crazy” George Washington, who insisted upon standing at the front of the boat, as it crossed the Delaware. It never fails to crack me up. The same goes for all the other comedians I mentioned earlier. Just watch an old Johnny Carson rerun, and you’ll see what I mean. They were all extremely funny—without ever resorting to foul language.
Despite the predominance of potty-mouthed comedians who monopolize the airways today, there are others whose acts are pristine. They just don’t get as much airtime. For every dozen or so cursing comics there’s a Ray Romano, a Mike Berbiglia, a Jerry Seinfeld, or a Jim Gaffigan, all of whom are very funny in their own right, without ever resorting to expletives to get a laugh. And, I’d be willing to bet there’s a good chance they’re all fans of those other great comedians I mentioned, especially Bob Newhart (just a guess). But, one thing is certain. Aside from having “clean” acts, they all have one thing in common, something well deserved: Each of them is laughing all the way to the bank. And to that I say, good for them— and good for us!
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