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An Ode To Bob & Ray

An Ode To Bob & Ray

Usually I write about film-related subjects, but I just
spent a happy weekend devouring David Pollock’s biography Bob
and Ray: Keener Than Most Persons
 (Applause Books) and feel
impelled to spread the word about this wonderful and exceptionally well-written
book. An Emmy Award-winning comedy writer (with his longtime partner Elias
Davis), Pollock clearly spent a great deal of time preparing this thorough and empathetic
volume, which not only charts the durable careers of Bob Elliott and Ray
Goulding but paints a vivid picture of the broadcasting world in which they
thrived—first in Boston, then in New York, and across the country in the waning
days of network radio.     

As Pollock puts it so well, “By network radio comedy
conventions of the day, Bob and Ray were game-changers. Without a studio
audience present, it fell to the listener to determine what was funny. Each was
being let in on one big private joke between these two new, often overlapping
voices, which suddenly could become three, four and five voices, all bouncing
off one another from every direction. It was like entering a house of mirrors
for the ears. You had to pay attention. The satirical bits came and went
throughout each program. You either got them, or you didn’t. Explanations were
not provided—ever. B&R listeners never heard the words: ‘And now we present
our version of…’ Nor was there even a sense of the two striving to be funny…
their jabs landed slyly. Neither was a cutup, nor a joke teller. They were
pleasant, but not effusive. Their total lack of spurious affability and
slickness set the two apart from the very institution they were making fun of,
yet were still a part of. This authenticity also had the effect of legitimizing
their characters. All were rooted in their own reality: it just was not
necessarily our reality.”

(I always found them funny, long before I understood that
most of their continuing audio skits were parodies of long-running radio series
I’d never heard as a kid. You didn’t have to know the larger context to
appreciate the absurdity of their pieces.)

They also got in on the ground floor of television and years
later found a home on talk shows hosted by comedians who were unabashed fans
like Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and David Letterman.

Like Laurel and Hardy, Bob and Ray liked each other but led
separate lives, which may have been a reason their partnership lasted so long. They
had similar backgrounds and sensibilities and developed a unique simpatico that
enabled them to create a memorable ensemble of patently ridiculous characters,
from hapless reporter Wally Ballou to sportscaster Biff Burns to silver-tongued
announcer Word Carr.

Pollock doesn’t paint his subjects as flawless, but one
still comes away with enormous admiration for their decency and gentility. Bob Elliott,
who’s still going strong, and Ray Goulding’s widow cooperated with the author,
as did the duo’s eleven children. Their insights make this more than a mere fan
tribute, but a full-fledged biography. If you love Bob and Ray, you’re bound to
enjoy this definitive book.    


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