"Train leaving on track five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc..."
Mugger: Your money or your life.
Mugger: Look, bud! I said your money or your life!
Jack: I'm thinking it over!
Comedian Jack Benny's Radio program made its debut in 1932 as The Canada Dry Program and ran until 1955 under various titles: The Chevrolet Program, The General Tire Revue, The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny, The Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes Program Starring Jack Benny, The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny, and, finally, The Jack Benny Program. The program was also adapted into an eponymous television show, which aired from 1950 to 1965.Generally, The Jack Benny Program was a Sitcomabout the production of The Jack Benny Program. Some of the action flashed back to what the cast had been up to that week, and some took place on the stage of the program, where Jack and the gang would try to put on plays and sketches, often taking the form of parodies of popular movies. Celebrity guests were not uncommon, and could be easily introduced as Jack's friends or neighbors in Hollywood. One long-term Running Gag was Jack's bitter "feud" with rival radio host Fred Allen.Recurring characters included Jack's Closer to Earth co-star (and real-life wife) Mary Livingston; his long-suffering African-American valet Rochester; brash Southern bandleader Phil Harris; naïve boy tenor Dennis Day (and, beforehand, Kenny Baker in a similar role); and rotund announcer Don Wilson, who tended to turn the conversation or the sketch to a discussion of the sponsor's product. Jack himself, portrayed as notoriously cheap and self-aggrandizing, usually played the comic foil to the other characters: the real-life Benny is famous for noting, "I don't care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny."
This work provides examples of:
The Alcoholic: Phil Harris. Oy, the drunk jokes they did with Phil and his band flowed like wine. Lampshaded, even, when Phil's replacement, Bob Crosby, complained to Jack about how the writers kept trying to saddle him with drunk jokes.
As Himself: Future Barney Miller Detective Jack Soo made an appearence thanks to his appearing in the road company of Flower Drum Song. He's not quite a guest star in the usual sense - he first comes on pretending to be an agent for a fellow cast member when during negotiations with Jack, Jack says "Wait a minute....I know you...you're Jack Soo, aren't you?"
Bad Boss: A whole host of running gags revolved around how the cast, and Rochester, in particular, continually complained about how Jack was a stingy slave-driver who, besides being extraordinarily reluctant to pay his employees their salaries, would insert all sorts of weird and annoying obligations into their contracts, such as having Dennis mow his lawn, or having Mary help him out with his laundry business, or making his cast work odd jobs during February because it's the shortest month of the year.
Big "Shut Up!": There numerous, hilarious versions of this on the show. Many times, various people, often Mary Livingstone and Verna Felton (as Dennis Day's mother), would snap at Jack to shut up to keep him from making some corny joke. Sometimes, Jack would give it in response to someone either pointing out the obvious, or the flaw in a gag, or lancing his ego. Most of the time, though, it would be Jack hollering "Wait a minute!" at his quartet, the Sportsmen, in a futile attempt to stop them from going crazy with their latest wacky song.
Channel Hop: The radio show moved from NBC to CBS in 1949, one of a number of shows and personalities that the latter network "raided" from the former.
The show had jumped around quite a bit in its radio days: starting on NBC Blue (later ABC) in May 1932, it moved to CBS that October, then to NBC Red (now NBC) in March 1933. It went to NBC Blue in October 1934 and back to Red in October 1936, where it stayed until the great talent raid of 1949.
Also, the TV show moved from CBS to NBC for its final season in 1964.
Comic Book Time: sorta. The first year the radio show was on the air, Jack Benny's 39th Birthday occurred. The next year, as a gag, they had him turn 39 again. It became a running gag so popular that when he actually died in 1974, the headline in newspapers around the world stated, "Jack Benny dies at 39".
Corpsing: There are many times when Jack tries and fails to not lose it during especially funny moments. More often than not he can thank Mel Blanc for making him lose it.
Cross Over: With The Burns And Allen Show. Jack and George Burns were lifelong friends and appeared on each others shows often. In one episode of his show George gets Jack on his special television which Jack lampshades with "You're not watching me on your silly TV are you? I'm not on until Sunday Night!". After Jack then starts to quote his appearence fee George shuts off the tv! In another episode George threatens his announcer Harry Von Zell by pondering, "I wonder what Don Wilson is doing next year..."
In the episode of Bachelor Father called "Pinch That Penny!", Rochester hires Lawyer Bently Gregg to renegotiate his 40 year contract with Jack. Impressed by Rochester's ecomomicly means of running the Benny household, Bently invites Rochester to live in a few weeks to help his houseboy Peter with his spendthrift ways. Jack isn't seen on camera, although Bently has a one way telephone conversation with him at the end.
Stylistic Suck: In Real Life, Benny was actually a competent violinist. Jascha Heifetz (who was a close friend of Benny's in real life) once stated that to play the way Benny did on the radio demanded a competent and skilled violinist. Anyone who was genuinely bad would be not funny, but ear-splittingly unlistenable.
Refuge in Audacity: To bring the world's greatest violinists like Jascha Heifetz and Isaac Stern on his program where he not only compares his skills with them, but also goes on to play duets for added effect, such as this one for USO troops in WorldWarII, is nothing short of pure hilarious audacity.
Jack (after a round of playing with Heifetz): "Honest folks, can you tell the difference?" (Even announcer Edward Arnold is laughing in splits at this stage...)
One can not forget about the orchestra, a band of off-key, perpetually drunken criminals originally hired by Phil Harris, and whose status as human beings were sometimes called into question.
Executive Meddling: Jack's TV show ended because one network executive decided that he was too old for television and told the network to cancel his show immediately.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Jack and his writers were always battling with the censors. Sometimes, it was for legitimate reasons. For example, one skit originally described a beautiful woman wearing 3 fraternity pins, and no sweater, but at the censors' insistence, the number of pins was bumped up to 300. Other times, for rather inane reasons. Like, when (in another skit) the censors insisted on removing a scene where Jack placates a horde of cannibals with a dirty limerick in a nonsense language.
Phil Harris said that his character used to refer to Jack Benny as 'Jackson' because it was the closest he could get to saying 'jackass' on the air without getting into trouble with the censors.
One time Jack called a Gym.
Girl on Phone: McGuire's Gym. We make mountains out of molehills.
Jack Benny: Hello, this is Jack Benny....
Girl on Phone: Oh, Mr Benny! You'll want our male division...
Happily Married: Jack with Mary Livingstone. When he died, it was revealed in his will that he had provided for a long-stemmed red rose to be delivered to her, every day, until her own death.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jack and Rochester in the later shows. In earlier shows, it is implied Rochester goes home to his own home. Later, Rochester lives at Jack's house. Jack scolds Rochester for being out too late, they squabble over what to fix for breakfast, whose turn it is to answer the doorbell or telephone, and Rochester hangs around the house even on his days off. Rochester stays home with Jack on New Year's Eve when Jack's date cancels and he has nowhere else to go.
Incoming Ham: Two great ones. Phil Harris ("Hiya folks, your future looks bright because Harris is here and there's good news tonight! Oh, Harris, you've got your own teeth, but you're clicking all the time!") and Frank Nelson ("Yeeeeeesssss?")
Incredibly Lame Pun: The show was infested with puns. Most of the time, Jack would use them as a part of his Self-Depreciation schtick. In the very early (1932-1935) years they played an especially large part of the show and were played much more straight than was later the case.
Sy (Mel Blanc): I was arrested for reheating the coffee. They got me for double perking.
Irony as She Is Cast: In real life, Jack Benny was actually a very good violinist. It takes a lot of musical talent to be able to play a musical instrument badly for comic effect and having it come out amusing rather than painful.
Mama Bear: Verna Felton played the part of Dennis Day's mother, a tough as nails, literally frightening woman who clashed with Jack on numerous occasions in order protect Dennis from being taken advantage of.
Mel Blanc: Did a number of minor voice-over and live-action roles, as well as some sound effects.
Mr. Vice Guy: Benny's central character flaw is that he's a miserly self-promoter, but this never rises to the level of making him a bad person, or rather, never rises to the level of making him unsympathetic to the audience.
Offing the Offspring: Dennis Day drove everyone nuts, especially his parents. Apparently, according to the show, his childhood was riddled with Parental Abandonment situations, and his parents trying to kill him:
Mrs. Day You know, Dennis, lots of people think you act strange, and I may be to blame. You see, when you were a baby, I dropped you on your head.
Dennis That's okay, lots of mothers drop their babies on their heads.
Mrs. Day Out of a 2 story window? Oh, I knew there was something wrong when you bounced right back up.
The Operators Must Be Crazy: Gertrude Gearshift and Mabel Flapsaddle, who are always too busy making wisecracks and infuriating Jack to put the call through.
Orson Welles: Guest-hosted for several 1943 episodes while Benny was ill with pneumonia.
The Pete Best: Several people from the early history of the show. Don Bestor, Johnny Green, Frank Parker. The best example is his writer Harry Conn. Harry Conn was Jack's writer until mid-1936, when he claimed that Jack had no talent of his own and all of his laughs came from his head. Coupled with his wife making a similar remark to Jack's wife Mary Livingstone, he was fired and left Jack without a script. Jack hired two writers named Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, who greatly refined the show's humor and the characters into what we recognize until the end of the show. Harry Conn barely wrote anything after leaving the show and wound up as a doorman.
Product Placement: If Don Wilson is talking, prepare for Jell-O or Lucky Strike references soon.
In fact, the show sold product a little too well during World War Two. General Foods was forced to take Benny off of promoting their Jell-O and move him to Grape Nuts — because Benny's show had created a tidal-wave of demand for Jell-O. Under normal circumstances, this would not be a problem. Except that this was circa 1943-44, when strict sugar rationing was in effect, and General Foods had absolutely no way to meet consumer demand for the dessert and still meet its obligations to the troops.
Rimshot: Whenever two characters had a corny rhyming exchange, a drum-and-cowbell roll inevitably followed as the actual punchline.
The Rival: Fred Allen, who was fond of Lampshade Hanging the various contrived ways scripts would bring the rivalry up. And cracking Jack up in the process.
Rule of Funny: This was the show's unspoken and spoken Madness MantraEVERYTHING on the show was done to get laughs. Obviously, this fact was also repeatedly lampshaded both on and off the show.
In one episode, Don Wilson goes into a Dude, Where's My Respect? rant about how the only reason why he's such a Big Eater is to let Jack insult his girth, and then Phil Harris explains/complains how the only reason he's a womanizing drunkard is to stay in character for the show, whereupon Jack one-ups both them by complaining about how hard it is to be impossibly stingy.
During a rehearsal, a gag situation is explained to guest star Ronald Colman, who then asks "What's my motivation?" The writers then explain, "to get the biggest friggin' laugh possible." Ronald then asks again, "But what's my motivation?" His wife, Benita Humes, explained further, "To get the biggest friggin' laugh possible."
And when a Southern listener wrote in once irate that Benny let Rochester hit him while sparring, Benny repiled with something along the lines of "and it's funny if I hit Rochester, how, exactly?"
Benny once said "I don't care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny."
Running Gag: So many... but above all, there is the truly epic feud with Fred Allen.
Also Benny's permanent age of 39, done best in an Imagine Spot sketch when Jack wonders what his show would be like after another 20-30 years. Of course, all of the regular players are old and feeble while Jack himself is still 39 and kicking.
RochesterWhatever happened to the gasman???
The Scrooge: Before Jack Benny, all penny-pinching jokes were about the Scottish. After Jack Benny, most penny-pinching jokes were about Jack Benny.
Stealing from the Hotel: On an episode, Rochester and a friend are cleaning in Jack's house when the friend asks Rochester what Benny's name was before he changed it. Rochester says he's forgotten. The friend looks down at the towel he's holding and says, "It wasn't Conrad Hilton, was it?"
To elaborate, the underlying theme to pretty much the totality of Jack's schtick was that he was literally almost everybody's straightman.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Dennis Day started out as the same character as Kenny Baker, whom he replaced. Dennis Day was a good enough actor that his part was fleshed out as the years went on.
Take That: Most examples of this trope on Jack's radioshow were directed at Fred Allen, as a part of their ongoing "feud." Still, there have been numerous times where Jack took potshots at other comedians. Like for example, when his gueststar, Claude Rains repeated Allen's accusation that Jack is so uncreative that he had to steal jokes from infamous joke-thief, Milton Berle:
Jack: Mr Rains, when you take a joke away from Berle, it's not called "stealing," it's called "repossessing."
Talking to Himself: One episode featured Jack and Rochester taking a road trip to Palm Springs. A scene in a gas station featured Mel Blanc playing the gas station attendent, as well as providing voice overs for the Maxwell's motor and Polly, Jack's parrot.
Tenor Boy: Dennis (& Kenny before him, and before him Frank Parker). He once said he didn't have an opinion on an issue because "tenors are a dime a dozen."
Throw It In: That's what Mel Blanc did when the sound effect recording for Benny's Maxwell failed to play on cue. Thinking fast, Blanc took the mike and improvised the sounds himself. The audience loved it so much that Benny decided to dispense with the recording and keep Blanc doing the sounds himself.
Unfinished Business: When Jack and the boys hold a séance with Madame Zimba, the ghost of Dennis Day's great-grandfather appears, saying he's watched over him his entire life and has a message to give him. When Dennis leans in to hear it, the frustrated spirit slaps him in the face and disappears.note Notably, while the ghost of Diamond Jim Brady who appears to shame Jack into paying his employees a fair wage is an actor, it's hinted the other one was the genuine article.
Who Writes This Crap?!: A running gag was that Benny's writers were a gaggle of semi-literate boobs (and a convict) who only got their jobs by blackmailing Jack. Another running gag was that virtually everything Jack said was written by his writers.
Jack Come to think of it, you look just like Professor Le Blanc, too...
Frank Nelson's many appearances (the roles vary, the character remains constant) also qualify. One episode even has Jack visiting a shrink, convinced that he's losing his mind because he keeps seeing Nelson everywhere he goes!
When Dick Van Dyke guest-starred on the show they did a skit involving a murder mystery. Jack was the inspector and Dick was everyone else.