…are all still around and performing. Of course they have cut back a bit these days – but given they are all in their mid-EIGHTIES now, that seems only fair.
Anyhoo, despite this monograph’s title, this story is not really ABOUT them – but rather, a few of the ways our society has changed since 1960, the heyday of the afore-mentioned gentlemen.
Like, consider the RECORDS they made: all three of these guys were selling SHED-fulls of live comedy albums in 1960.
Shelley’s “Woman On A Ledge” monologue was MASSIVELY successful in its day (although having performed it for several years, he finally dropped it – unable to deliver it properly, after CONSTANT repetition).
Meanwhile, not everyone could go and see Morty’s club shows – where he would “analyse” the news stories of the day – so his albums became the next best thing.
And Bob’s “Button-Down Mind” series were some of the biggest-selling albums of ALL TIME (which pissed off Shelley, who figured that HE had invented the talking-into-a-telephone monologue format – despite it having actually been done years earlier).
But people used to play these albums through to the FELT – and in Britain, the BBC would CONSTANTLY play Bob’s “The Driving Instructor” and “Introducing Tobacco To Civilization” on their Light Programme.
And the REASON people (including this historian) played these albums to DEATH was their PRICE.
In Britain, “LPs” cost GBP1:67 – which today, adjusted for inflation, would run out at over THIRTY QUID (around fifty US bucks) a pop.
Furthermore, given the parallel, real-value increase in WAGES over the same period, the ACTUAL price would be nearer SEVENTY quid (about a HUNDRED US bucks).
No WONDER they got played so much!
In fact, when Bob Newhart toured Britain in the Seventies, he would tell the audiences he could see their LIPS MOVING, while he was delivering the two above-mentioned classics.
But over the intervening half-century, things have changed radically. We now live in a Disposable Society, where things have never been cheaper, in real terms. Tracks on iTunes cost pennies – and if they are on YouTube (like the ones the two above URLs lead to) they are FREE.
And while comedy albums have largely been replaced by DVDs, the prices of those have TUMBLED. Thus now, a ninety-minute VISUAL record costs from a fiver to maybe thirteen quid (eight to twenty bucks).
Therefore most tend to get watched a maximum of two or three times.
And this phenomenon has even altered THIS reporter’s habits. These days, he rarely watches or listens to ANYTHING more than once. Given the prices and QUANTITY of material now disseminated – he does not have the time or inclination.
Which explains why people claim today’s comedy is CRAP compared to the timeless routines delivered by the three titular gentlemen – it is simply that modern comedy is viewed as being DISPOSABLE.
But the TRUTH is, British humour has never been BETTER. A RAFT of young comics are constantly touring the many comedy clubs that have sprung up, since the revival of the early Eighties.
And a plethora of TV “topical” panel shows (along with the best of those comics – and a slew of additional writers) ensure this rich vein of humour reaches those who do not wish to leave their armchairs.
No, the REAL reason we listened to those comedy performance records over and OVER again – was they cost us A DAY’S WAGES.
[note: if you’d like to SEE Mr Berman in full flow, another of my uploads can be found at… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e0tZR5isQk]
But while comedy performances have become disposable – so have its PERFORMERS.
In My Day, in Britain, TV comedy was dominated by only the number of people you could get in a short bus (appropriately, my American readers might say). Bruce Forsyth, Ken Dodd, Morecombe and Wise, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper, Charlie Drake, Jimmy Tarbuck, etc.
However, these guys DOMINATED the scene for DECADES. And when, in the early Eighties, they got swept aside by the New Wave of comics from the then-burgeoning new comedy clubs – and the traditional Oxbridge “Footlights” movement – the new crowd ALSO ruled for decades.
Rowan Atkinson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Harry Hill, Tim Vine, Julian Clary, Stephen Fry and Hugh Lawrie all got their own series and are today regarded as “veteran comics” (which makes ME feel old).
But when these guys exploded all over the scene, they made it look so easy that another generation went to Open Mike nights at their local clubs and of the thousands that got booed off the stage (“my workmates say I’m funny – I’ll go up on stage and just wing it”) HUNDREDS made it.
And today, they are all over the comedy panel shows and gigging up and down the country.
While those who discovered their comedic talents lay in WRITING, rather than performing are around too – either fuelling tours or backing the performers on said panel shows.
However, for those people, there is a price to pay: the sheer QUANTITY of material TV now gobbles up on its many channels means that today, both writers and performers get USED UP (if not burned out) in a few YEARS, rather than decades.
But while British comedy may be going through material and performers like a dose of salts – it is WE who are the winners here.
Today, life’s a piece of shit and the only way to survive it is to have a laugh (as Eric Idle – another veteran comic – reminds us).
And so these people help keep us SANE…