Monday, June 27, 2005

Say Goodnight, Fred

Three weeks since my last update. Humbug. Joe Mackey does a great weekly compilation called "This Week in Radio History" that he submits to the OTR Internet Digest every week (subscribe if you haven't already). This week in 1949 the late, great Fred Allen closed out his show. He continued to appear on radio the next few years before passing away in 1956.

I'm not a big Fred Allen fan. I enjoyed reading both his autobiographies, Treadmill to Oblivion and Much Ado About Me. Unfortunatly, I haven't enjoyed his program as much. Of course, I haven't listened to that many episodes. It's hard to tell with some radio series; have I not listened to many eps of a series because I don't like it, or do I not like it because I haven't listened to many eps? Some series, admittedly, are an acquired taste.

I do think Fred's material dated much more quickly than, say, Jack Benny or Edgar Bergan. He was also a vicious satirist and satire doesn't necessarily translate well from one generation to the next (i.e. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal). Fred was also a qunitissential New Yorker, and New York jokes were common. Unfortunately, such geographical humor can be lost on those not as familiar with the locale under discussion.

From what I've read about Fred he comes across as the stereotypical brilliant but unsettled mind. He enjoyed many years of success but he never comes across as a happy, contented man in accounts of his life. He seemed to spend an inordiant amount of time fighting with station and advertising executives. He loathed the gimmicky quiz shows of the late '40s and toward the end of his radio career attacked them relentlessly.

Maybe that's part of the reason I tend to choose other comedy over Fred. Maybe Allen's image of a bitter, frustrated man leads me to subconciously gravitate toward other comedians without that baggage. How can I listen to Fred without flinching at his zingers aimed at the "suits," knowing that despite the jokes he made of their conflicts, they greatly affected his health? Fibber, Benny, Gildersleeve. It's impossible to say quantifiably that these programs were any better than Allen's, but they certainly had different public personas than did Fred.

Personally, I like my comedy light. Maybe that makes me shallow. I just want to laugh, not be intellectually challenged by a joke. Don't look down on me; we're all entitled to our own wistful vistas.


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