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  • John Poole

The Will and the Words



Will Rogers (2) – The Voice of Will Rogers 1973, TRACKS FROM 1935.

A1 Timely Topics

A2 Address To Traffic Chiefs

A3 Unemployment Speech

A4 Democratic Convention

A5 Presidents Day

A6 "Badwill" Tour

A7 Treaties

B1 Government Spending

B2 Pilgrims and Pioneers

B3 Inheritance Taxes

B4 Mother's Day

B5 Congressional Record

B6 Supreme Court

B7 Last Broadcast

I have too much to say about Stand Up comedy.

First, full disclosure, I have done two open mic Stand Up comedy performances, and appropriately, bombed both times. I have also done 15,678 hours of Improvisational Comedy, including a two year stint where I actually made a living at it. So I have been funny, and I have Not, been funny.

Being funny is better.

Now when it come to the history of Stand Up Comedy, I know a little more.

Stand up comedy is an American art Genre, a distinct form of Storytelling that emerged from the Burlesque Stages of 1890-1945. From 1945 the form coalesced, expanded and contracted with the times, marked by a few innovators and a great many imitators. During the Stand Up Comedy Timeline Series, I will be playing both. Defining what stand up comedy is, is a lead pipe cinch, from a distance. Up close, it gets squirrelLy as hell. So, let’s do that Gordian knot thing and cut to the chase; Stand up comedy is a performance word art whose sole purpose is to make the audience laugh. The key: ‘SOLE PURPOSE’. Other art forms use comedy as a technique within their craft, a stand-up uses all techniques available to make Comedy. Also, a comedian is usually alone, and responsible for the acquiring of their own material.

Frank Fay (1891 –1961) is given credit for being the first Comic actor to step out of the many Burlesque characters and to simply stand out on a stage and tell jokes as himself, and thereby, the first Stand Up Comic. Few sources disagree on this, though they all agree Mr. Fay was a racist, hate-filled, fascist piece of crap. Seriously, his Bastardhood is Hollywood Legend! Even WC Fields thought he was a jerk. It’s a shame we don’t know who the second-ever stand up comedian is.

Red Foxx, however, is the first Stand Up Comedian who recorded on vinyl. There were comedy records as early as 1905, but they were recitations, famous clown characters, or politicians(and technically they're also not on vinyl, but bakelite and other resin based materials).

And then, there’s the vinyl record up there, just above the first chapter. Will frigging Rogers. I’ve know about Will Rogers ever since I was a little word nerd. He had a comedy rope trick act that made him famous, so famous his writing was printed in a thousand newspapers across the country. He was big! Tom Hanks Big! They did a Tony award musical about him in 1991, and demonstratively smart people love to talk about how great he is. You know, like all bourgeoisie do about everything that’s been safely dead for a while. But then I listened to the above transcripts . . .

The tracks on the album are listed in chronological order, ending in the last broadcast he made before dying in a plane crash with the aviator Wiley Post. We are able to hear him give several broadcasts over several days, each broadcast features new material, is performed before a live audience, and is deliberately comedic: it’s Stand Up Comedy! But, and this is a big-ass-lycra-stretch-pants . . . But, it’s stand up from 1989, ‘bout fifty years ahead of its time. The delivery is folksy without being stupid and his timing is lovely. Not to mention his material is about current affairs when all the other comics during his day were telling Jokes about ‘women drivers and those crazy Flappers’. And, yes, it’s still funny.

IT IS FUNNY! I KNOW YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME! I WOULDN’T EITHER! BUT, and this is a moderately sized but, I will officially make a CITIZEN”S KANE PROMISE TO YOU!

I will never surrender to the demon Nostalgia, and therein claim something is still funny, when it isn’t.

Now, even though I listen to this stuff all day, and I can find something funny in comedy material you wouldn’t put your cat litter on, I still remember keenly from all my actor days that what I find funny, others may not. But when it comes to the Stand Up Comedy Timeline, being funny, has very little to do with it. It’s the path that matters. I wish to fill in the gaps of our understanding of the growth of spoken word art in the English speaking world by showing the amazing work of those we’ve forgotten, but who influenced those we have not. And I promise, that is the jokes aren’t funny, they will at least be Interesting.

Episode 2 has a lot of interesting material. It runs from 1935 to 1966, with a few years skipped in between. I can’t ‘Kane promise’ you’ll laugh, but you will walk away with some new thoughts, and you’ll hear something you’ve never heard before. Let me know what you think.

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