Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, we bring you some laughs
from old-time American radio shows.
LOU COSTELLO: "What I want to find
BUD ABBOTT: "I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were two of America's funniest funnymen. Abbott
and Costello appeared in theater, movies and television. But they owed much of
their fame to radio, and a routine called "Who's On First?"
Abbott plays a manager of a baseball team. Costello has trouble understanding
that the players have funny nicknames, like Who.
COSTELLO: "You gonna be the coach, too?"
you don't know the fellows' names?"
ABBOTT: " Well, I should."
"Well, then, who's on first?"
COSTELLO: "I mean the
COSTELLO: "The guy on first."
COSTELLO: "The first baseman."
ABBOTT: "Who is on first!"
"I'm asking you who's on first."
ABBOTT: "That's the man's
COSTELLO: "That's who's name?"
go ahead and tell me."
ABBOTT: “That’s it.”
Another of America's
great comedians was Fred Allen. As early as nineteen thirty-six, he had a weekly
radio audience of about twenty million people. So says the Museum of Broadcast
Communications in Chicago.
For almost twenty years, in the nineteen thirties and forties, Fred Allen had
a radio show called "Allen's Alley." His career also included television and
Broadway shows. Like many performers of his time, he started in vaudeville in
the early nineteen hundreds. Vaudeville shows presented all kinds of
He began as a juggler, someone who can keep several objects in the air at the
same time. But he was presented as the "World's Worst Juggler."
After that he performed as a comedian. Vaudeville comedy acts usually
contained a series of disconnected jokes. But during the Great Depression, Fred
Allen had the idea of creating a series of complete stories and situations.
Every week, on the radio, he would visit an imaginary place, "Allen's Alley,"
where he would talk with characters like Senator Claghorn. Senator Claghorn was
a politician who talked a lot but never said anything.
But some of Fred Allen's funniest programs were about his supposed longtime
dispute with another radio star, Jack Benny.
As a young man, Jack
Benny played violin in a vaudeville theater in his home state of Illinois. When
the United States entered World War One, he joined the Navy.
He played his violin for other sailors. But the sailors liked his jokes
better than his music. So Jack Benny decided to become a comedian.
In the early nineteen thirties Jack Benny got his own radio show. It lasted
for twenty-three years.
Listeners loved it when Jack Benny and Fred Allen would say bad things about
each other on their shows.
But two comedians could still be friends -- or at least friendly enough to
perform together. In nineteen fifty, on Jack Benny's radio program, they did a
skit about an early visit to their talent agent.
They are partners in a vaudeville act that they think is wonderful. They hope
the agent will get them an appearance in a good theater. But first they have to
get past his secretary.
SECRETARY: "Now, uh, what is the name of your act again?"
SECRETARY: "I thought you said it was Benny and Allen."
" Well, at two o'clock, our billing changes."
SECRETARY: "Well, what kind of
an act do you do?"
BENNY: "Violin, clarinet and snappy
SECRETARY: "And where have you played?'
BENNY: "Oh, all
SECRETARY: " Well, where?"
ALLEN: "Well, just -- just tell her the
important dates, Jack."
SECRETARY: "Yeah, go ahead."
BENNY: "Well, we did
a week in Sow Belly, Wyoming. A week in Loose Tooth, Arizona. Three days in
Stagnant Water, New Mexico. And we also played the Palace here in New
SECRETARY: "Sow Belly, Loose Tooth, Stagnant Water and the Palace!
Well, at least you worked your way up."
ALLEN: "No, we played the Palace
Finally they see the agent, Mickey Rockford, and appeal to him for a break --
a chance to become stars. But he is not interested. Still, they get him to
listen to their act. They remind him that he booked them once before.
BENNY: "Mister Rockford, I’m Jack Benny. This is Fred Allen.”
"That's right, Mister Rockford. Remember? You booked our act seven years
ROCKFORD: "Oh yes, what business are you in now?"
ALLEN: "Well, we
are still in show business."
BENNY: "Yes, and we thought you could book
ROCKFORD: "Please, fellows."
ALLEN: "Our new act is sensational. At
least give us a chance, Mister Rockford."
BENNY: " Yes, all we need is one
good break, you know."
ROCKFORD: "I gave you a break when I put you in Loew's
ALLEN: "Some break. They opened it with Fink's Mules, and Major
Doughty's dogs came out, then Manny's Monkeys, then Powers' Dancing Elephants."
ROCKFORD: "So what?"
ALLEN: "By the time we came out, we looked like the
last two passengers on Noah's Ark."
BENNY: "Mister Rockford, how about listening to our, our new
ROCKFORD: "Oh, all right, if you insist."
BENNY: "Ready? Ready with
your clarinet, Fred?"
BENNY: "Okay. One, two. Atta boy,
Fred. Oh, Mister Allen …"
ALLEN: "What is it, Mister Benny?"
Mister Allen, have you heard that they're making women's bathing suits out of
ALLEN: "Women's bathing suits out of glass? Well, that is worth
BENNY: "I'll take it, Mister Allen."
ALLEN: "If you will.
[Benny plays the violin.] Uhhhhh. You know, Mister Benny, I …"
BENNY: " Yes,
Mister Allen? Oh, pardon me."
ALLEN: "I love music."
BENNY: "So do I.
Music once saved my uncle's life."
ALLEN: "How did music save your uncle's
BENNY: "They played the Star Spangled Banner just as he was sitting in
the electric chair. Take it, Mister Allen."
ALLEN: "[Music] I'm
BENNY: "You don't have to finish it, you know."
"Oh, Mister Benny."
BENNY: "Yes, Mister Allen?"
ALLEN: "I want you to
meet my new girl. Her name is Well Enough."
BENNY: "Why do you call your girl
ALLEN: "Because I want the boys to leave Well Enough alone. How
about the finale, mister ...?"
BENNY: "In unison? [Music] Well, Mister
Rockford, what did you think of us?"
ALLEN: "Wait until he gets his head out
of the drawer."
At the same time Fred
Allen and Jack Benny were making America laugh, so was Bob Hope. Hope
entertained people all over the world for seventy years.
In nineteen thirty-seven, Bob Hope began a series of radio programs called
the "Woodbury Soap Show." The next year, he started a radio show for the company
that made Pepsodent toothpaste. His Tuesday night radio show soon became
popular. Bob Hope continued doing radio shows for almost twenty years.
His success in radio led to a long-term relationship with Paramount Pictures,
a major film company. The actors in his movies were also the characters on his
For fifty years, Bob Hope entertained members of America's armed forces. He
took his radio show to military bases from the South Pacific to Greenland.
One time, after World War Two ended, he brought his radio show to soldiers
waiting at a base in California to return to civilian life.
BOB HOPE: "And one Air Force colonel got out and bought a farm. Yeah, he'd
been in action so long, every morning before the chickens started laying eggs he
called them into the chicken coop and briefed them.
"I knew these boys, I knew these boys, would be glad to see me here today. I
said, 'Look fellows, here's the kind of clothes you'd be wearing when you get
out,' and fifty guys re-enlisted. I saw some of these fellows shopping for
clothes in Hollywood. They are so used to getting stuff from the supply sergeant
that the clerk had to throw the suits on the floor before these guys would try
"One soldier had been fighting in the jungles for years. And I don't know if
it had affected him or not, but when the clerk handed him a tweed suit to try on
he spent three hours searching through the fuzz for snipers."
Bob Hope came to the United States as a child from England with his family.
As a young performer, he had a song and dance act with partners for a while. But
then he began to perform by himself. He sang and danced well. He also kept
people laughing with his jokes which he told very fast.
In the nineteen thirties, in New York, he appeared in Broadway shows. Success
on Broadway brought him a part in the movie "The Big Broadcast of 1938."
In that film, he sang a song with Shirley Ross called "Thanks for the
Memory." It became his theme song -- the song people think of when they think of
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Archives of programs with transcripts and
MP3s are at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA
in VOA Special English.