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Radio / The Jack Benny Program

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Mugger: Your money or your life.
(long pause)
Mugger: Look, bud! I said your money or your life!
Jack: I'm thinking it over!

Comedian Jack Benny's weekly radio series made its debut in 1932 as The Canada Dry Program and ran until 1955 under various titles which reflected changes in sponsorship: 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 just The Jack Benny Program. The show was also adapted into an eponymous television series that aired from 1950 to 1965.

In its earlier years, the program was generally a Variety Show with sketches and music with an open. Later on, The Jack Benny Program more or less became a Sitcom about 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 comic and radio host Fred Allen.

Recurring characters included Jack's Closer to Earth co-star Mary Livingston (played by his real-life wife Sadie Marks); his long-suffering African-American valet Rochester van Jones (Eddie Anderson); brash Southern bandleader Phil Harris; naïve boy tenor Dennis Day (and, earlier, 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. Mel Blanc also did several characters, such as Polly the parrot; the malfunctioning Maxwell; the long-suffering violin teacher, Pierre LeBlanc; and the train station PA ("Trains now leaving for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc...amonga"). 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. Eventually the writers settled on using the surplus drunk jokes on the band members, mainly Frankie Remley, Charlie Bagby, and "Sammy the Drummer" (real name: Sammy Weiss) that were also with Phil Harris. Bob Crosby's role became that of somewhat of a straight man to the gaggle of reprobates in the orchestra.
  • The Alleged Car: Jack's Maxwell. The Maxwell Motor Company had gone out of business in 1925, but Benny was too stingy to buy himself a new car, or even a newer used car, as long as his old one still ran, however poorly.
  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: Jack Benny's birth name was "Benjamin Kubelsky". (In character, though, this was never alluded to as the reason for his stinginess.) In fact, after his show gained popularity, it shifted American culture so much that instead of Jews or Scots are misers, all misers were Jack Benny.
  • Animated Adaptation: The 1959 Merrie Melodies short "The Mouse That Jack Built" — which unintentionally served as many younger viewers' initial introduction to Jack Benny years later — casts Jack and his gang as mice.
  • The Announcer: Don Wilson.
  • Arch-Enemy: Fred Allen, though only on the show.
  • As Himself:
    • Jack Soo made an appearance thanks to his role 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're Jack Soo, aren't you?"
    • Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria as Jack's neighbors in the TV show. Ronald Colman and his wife Benita performed a similar function on the radio show.
  • Ascended Extra: Rochester debuted in 1937 as a train porter, becoming Jack's valet shortly after. Initially, his role was rather small, only calling Jack midway through the show. As the show gradually turned into a sitcom, his role would be greatly expanded.
  • Aside Glance: Done to perfection by Jack on the TV version.
  • 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. Most definitely not in real life, though.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Rochester was often this to Jack.
  • Big Eater: Don Wilson.
  • 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.
  • Big "YES!": The usual opening for Frank Nelson.
  • Breakout Character: Rochester was supposed to appear only in a couple of episodes as a railroad porter. He became so popular that he was eventually added as a regular cast member.
  • Brick Joke: This was a staple of the show, there would be a joke or some weird commentary made, and then 10, 20 minutes later, they would return to, or continue with that same gag. One of the most popular is Mel Blanc's train station announcer as quoted at the top of the page.
    • One episode with Humphrey Bogart begins with one woman calling her friend to turn down the heat on the stove to slow down cooking a pot roast. Later, Bogart's character calls the same woman and learns she was going to serve him the pot roast.
    • In one Christmas shopping episode, Jack actually splurges and buys Don a $40 wallet rather than one for $1.98. At the end, he opts to trade wallets after convincing himself it's the thought that counts.
    • Three in one train station episode: Jack mentions a bench being added to the hotel he likes to stay at and the plumber at his house soon reveals he was the one who built it. Jack also gets calls for "Chuck" from a girl preparing to elope only to run into her at the station. Finally, a raffle for a prize turkey is done at the station and, after some luggage mishaps, Jack reads his ticket number to the station attendant only to learn he won the turkey.
    • "...amonga!"
  • Brooklyn Rage: One of Mel Blanc's characters was a surly gentleman who spoke in a Brooklyn accent, often giving Jack all sorts of grief. He was not given a name, but apparently had a wife named Mabel.
  • Butt-Monkey: Jack always ends up in some fix.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Jack was often this when trying to lure any girl.
  • Catchphrase: "Well!" "Now cut that out!"
    • Whenever Jack implied that he might consider spending money or doing something generous, Rochester would reply "Oh, boss, come now!"
    • Jack's Aside Glance pretty much qualifies as a silent one.
    • Phil Harris' "Hiya, Jackson!" and "Hiya, Livvy!" counts. As well as recurring guest star Ronald Colman's "I'm in the library, Benita!" Dennis Day had a few, such as "Yes please?" and "OHHHH.....(fill in the blank)
    • Frank Nelson's "EEE-YEEEEESSSSS!"
    • The Tout's spiel, "Hey bud... C'mere a minute," always expressing negatives as "Uh uh."
    • A character played by Benny Rubin (often found behind an information counter) who answered every question with "I dunno."
    • Recurring Alter Kocker character Mr. Kitzel invariably answered questions in the affirmative by saying "Oh-ho-hooo!" instead of just "Yes."
  • The Chew Toy: Mel Blanc was the "go-to" guy to portray this kind of character in the show, especially a certain violin instructor.
  • Closer to Earth: Mary, although Jack became this on the TV version.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Dennis Day, and Jack's boarder, Mr. Billingsley.
  • Comic-Book Time: Jack claimed to be perpetually 39 years old. Gags about Jack's age began in the late 30s, but in the late 40s, he began a gag where a reporter doing a story on Jack asked him his age. When Jack claimed to be 36, the reporter was so disbelieving that he showed up to ask him about it for several weeks in a row as a running gag. For the next few years, Jack went from 37 to 38, finally settling on 39 perpetually in around 1950. note  For the record, Jack was born in 1894, making his real 39th birthday in 1933. The gag was carried on clear until his death, when newspapers reported that "Jack Benny dies at 39". It even carried on further when Jack was given a commemorative stamp...worth 39 cents!
    • Marilyn Monroe once deflected Jack's affections by claiming the difference in their ages is too great. Sure, it's not too bad now when she's 25 and he's 39, but what about in 25 years when she's 50 and he's 39? Jack concedes the point.
  • Continuity Nod: If a guest star had previously appeared on Jack's show, he would mention it.
  • Crossover: With The Burns and Allen Show. Jack and George Burns were lifelong friends and appeared on each other's 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 appearance 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 economical 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.
      • Jack does appear in another Bachelor Father episode, in which Bentley's daughter - while a big fan of his - nevertheless keeps ditching him for other activities.
    • Amos and Andy crossed over to Jack's show, where they show Rochester is shown driving a cab for Amos Jones and Andy Brown's Fresh Air Cab Company before working for Jack.
    • When Eddie Anderson was a Mystery Guest for the Game Show What's My Line?, he was only referred to by the name Rochester by the panel and host.
    • A Honeymooners sketch on Jackie Gleason's variety show involved the Kramdens' feud with their cheapskate landlord, who was ultimately revealed to be Jack Benny.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost everyone on the show, with special credit going to Rochester and Frank Nelson.
  • Death by Materialism: Parodied with the famous "Your money or your life!" skit.
  • Demoted to Extra: Mary initially played a love interest for Jack, but by the 1940s she would become Jack's snarky gal pal and "last resort" date. This is explained in part because of her developing stage fright over the years. This is the reason for her rather scattered appearances on TV, being featured only on the filmed episodes without a studio audience.
    • Don Wilson's role as the commercial pitchman diminished severely during the Lucky Strike years, with the company's insistence on using their own commercials before and after the program, and the addition of the Sportsman Quartet's song commercials in the show. This is in contrast to his comically overenthusiastic commercial plugs for Jell-O and Grape Nuts during their time as Jack's sponsors. AFRS versions of the show, which cuts out all the commercials, often only leave the introduction and a line or two from Don, if that.
    • Late in his stint as Dennis Day's replacement, Larry Stevens would only be featured greeting Jack before singing his song.
  • The Ditz: Dennis Day
  • Dramatic Pause: Benny was a master of this trope, as well as its sisters the Beat and Melodramatic Pause, although of course he always played them for laughs. Over his career, Benny honed his comic timing to such a fine edge that sometimes the pauses in his routines were as funny as the punchlines. An excellent example is the famous "Your money or your life" skit, which provides the current page quote.
  • Dreadful Musician: Jack and his violin.
    • 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 "badly" 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 World War II, 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...)
    • At one point, Jack was asked to dine at the White House, and while he was there he would play his violin. When he arrived, a Secret Service agent asked him what he was carrying in his violin case. Benny answered that he had a Thompson submachine gun in there, "the old Chicago typewriter". The agent sighed and said "Thank God, I was afraid you had your violin in there!"
    • One can't 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.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • One Christmas episode has Jack shopping for presents. A clerk helps him with a wallet and a message for Don, but Jack keeps recalling the gift so he can change the message. The increasingly frazzled clerk (played by Mel Blanc at his hysterical over-the-top best) ultimately leaves to shoot himself after Jack decides to return the gift and get a cheaper version.
    • In another Christmas episode, the same clerk tries and fails to do it again.
      Mel: Look't what you made me do! You made me so nervous, I missed!!!
    • Professor LeBlanc, played by... guess who... was routinely driven to both suicide and homicide when he tried to teach Jack the rudiments of playing the violin and then had to beg and plead to get paid.
    • In one show, Jack goes out to see a movie, but gets home early. When Rochester asks him why, Jack explains that he went to see The Horn Blows at Midnight and the projectionist committed suicide.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first few seasons were quite similar to the typical radio show of the early 30s, with Jack acting as an emcee, his monologue and the odd sketch being secondary to the orchestra playing popular songs of the day. The comedy was also directly lifted from Jack's vaudeville act, such as him opening the show with some bogus news and Mary playing Jack's dim-witted girlfriend, speaking in a high-pitched voice. Don Wilson would become the announcer by 1934 and Rochester would join in around 1937. Phil Harris joined in 1936 and Dennis Day in 1939.
    • Most notoriously was that the stinginess aspect of his character was absent: In the January 1, 1933 episode, he said he got for Christmas handkerchiefs for (Jimmy) Durante, earmuffs for Gable and shoes for Garbo.note 
  • Enforced Plug: Played with. The agreement was that the sponsor would get the first and last spot but that Jack would control the middle spot. They had everything like Don reading the commercial in a funny voice or they would lampshade how heavy handedly they'd work it into a sketch. Eventually, the Sportsman Quartet was used to irk Jack with their unconventional lyrics.
  • The Eponymous Show
  • Facial Dialogue: The infamous "slow burn", where Benny does a long take of silent, suffering frustration after someone says something irritating — usually looking away and to the side, putting his hand to his cheek, or both — before returning to get impatient or snap at the object of his annoyance. (Performance-wise, this served dual functions: it helped fill the pause and get an even bigger reaction from the audience without distracting from the other performers' laugh lines, and Jack, notorious for cracking up at ad-libs and funny deliveries, can be seen using it to avoid visibly breaking.)
  • Gossipy Hens: Gertrude Gearshift and Mabel Flapsaddle.
  • Guest Host: While Benny was recuperating from a bout of pneumonia in early 1943, his good friends George Burns and Gracie Allen filled in for one episode (even continuing a story thread from their own series), followed by Orson Welles doing the honors for several more weeks.
  • Happily Married: Jack with Mary Livingstone. Also a case of Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: according to Snopes, their marriage was stormy, but they were still devoted to each other for 47 years. 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.
    • Jack and George Burns, in real life. At Jack's funeral, George was going to deliver a eulogy but broke down crying and had to be helped back to his seat.
  • I'm Thinking It Over!: Trope Namer.
  • 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?")
    Sy (Mel Blanc): I was arrested for reheating the coffee. They got me for double perking.
  • In-Series Nickname: Phil Harris regularly addressed Jack as "Jackson" and Mary as "Livvy".
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: The February 2, 1947 episode.
  • Jingle:
    • If you want better taste from your cigarette, Lucky Strikes is the brand to get!
    • J-E-L-L-OOOOOOOOO!!!
    • "LS/MFT" (Lucky Strike Makes Fine Tobacco)
  • Just for 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.
  • Lampshade Hanging: There was so much hanging of lampshades everywhere, Jack's career could have doubled as a furniture store.
    • One example, from the detective-themed Bogart episode:
      Jack: I was typing out a report on Slim-Finger Sarah, when the door opened. And there were detectives Simmons and Ross. They had brought in a vicious gunman, a killer named Baby-Faced Bogart.
      [Humphrey Bogart enters to long applause from the audience]
      Jack: I didn't mind the applause he got on his entrance, but I resented the fact that Crosby and Wilson joined in.
    • And whenever a line was flubbed, it was accented...
      Jack: All I ask for is ONE LOUSY REHEARSAL!
  • Large Ham:
    • Phil Harris, hoo boy.
    • Rochester also tended to be this, especially on radio, where many an episode would open with him singing in an exaggerated fashion.
    • Frank Nelson. Yeeeees?
  • Long-Runners: 33 years on Radio and TV.
  • Malaproper: Mary was infamous for botching her lines in an amusing way, often via Spoonerism (e.g. saying "grass reek" instead of "grease rack"). In later years the quick-thinking writers would often change the script and reference Mary's gaffe later in the episode.
  • 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.
  • Manchild: Dennis Day's persona on the show.
  • 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.
  • Names to Run Away From: Dennis Day's mother is called "Lucretia".
  • No Fourth Wall: Escalating to Recursive Reality levels as time went on, becoming a Self-Parody of a sitcom about the cast of a variety show putting on a variety show.
  • Officer O'Hara: In the "Captain O'Benny" sketches.
  • 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 (especially his mother) 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 two-story window? Oh, I knew there was something wrong when you bounced right back up.
  • Old Shame: An in-universe inversion—everyone except Jack considers The Horn Blows at Midnight to be this. When Jack discovers in "Jack's Life Story" that the director, "Herman" (played by Mel), is now working the gate at 20th Century Fox, he innocently asks why... and Herman replies that "you and that lousy Horn Blows at Midnight" ruined his once-thriving career overnight.note 
    • The same goes for the cheesy love song Jack wrote, "When You Say, 'I Beg Your Pardon,' Then I'll Come Back to You." Jack thinks it's great, while everyone else can't stand it.
  • Only Sane Man: Mary often filled this role on radio, while Jack was this in the TV version (unless Mary appeared).
  • 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.
    "Mr. Benny's line is flashing!" "Oh, I wonder what Dial M for Money wants now?"
  • Pretty in Mink: He went on a failed date with a girl who wore a fur wrap.
  • 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 II. 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.
    • Jack was liable to do this early on: The first New Year show had Jack giving Father Time some Canada Dry (being his sponsor at the time), turning into a younger version of himself for 1933. Jack's reluctance in regards to doing this resulted in him being fired by the company a short time later.
  • Repeated Cue, Tardy Response: On a Christmas show, Andy Devine was supposed to climb out of the chimney when Jack yelled, "Santy Claus will be here any minute!" When the time came, Jack yelled several times, louder each time. Eventually, Andy cuts him off and says he can't come because he's stuck in the chimney.
  • Reveal Shot: Or the radio equivalent.
  • Rimshot: Whenever two characters had a corny rhyming exchange, a drum-and-cowbell roll inevitably followed as the actual punchline.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: Jack is naturally this, being surrounded by the most over-the-top characters and situations. This in spite of his stinginess, his dubious violin skills and the fact he still drives his much-defective Maxwell.
  • 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.
  • Robotic Reveal: A 1963 episode of Jack's TV program had guest star Johnny Carson praising Benny, while simultaneously marveling at his host's longevity in show-biz, wondering aloud to two stage hands how he does it. This is immediately followed by Benny entering the dressing room and being nonchalantly dismantled into various mechanical parts right before the dumbfounded Carson's eyes.
  • Rule of Funny: This was the show's unspoken and spoken Madness Mantra. Everything 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 regular 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 replied 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...
    • Above all, there is the truly epic feud with Fred Allen.
    • Benny's permanent age of 39, done best in an Imagine Spot sketch on his "20th anniversary on TV" special 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.
    • How cheap Jack was, which resulted in a Trope Naming, utterly hilarious example.
    • Jack's deadly violin playing. Exemplified by this self-deprecating exchange from his TV show:
      Little Boy: Mr. Benny, I play the violin too!
      Jack: Oh, that's nice. Do you play like me?
      Little Boy: (innocently) I used to!
      Jack: Aside Glance.
    • In one 1941 episode, Carmichael the Polar Bear ends up in the same room as the man taking the gas readings, leading to a years-long running gag:
      Rochester: Whatever happened to the gasman???
    • Early Grape-Nuts shows began with the iconic Jell-O jingle, with Jack reminding Don about the new sponsor, which Don refers to Great Nuts before getting the name right.
    • The fact that the writers and the orchestra are a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: In a TV episode Jack almost finally presented the show's orchestra but they lost the visual link with the jail.
    • The incredibly decrepit Maxwell, which apparently is lacking a speedometer, shocks, headlights or just about any other item that every other car has.
    • Ed, the Vault Guard, has apparently been in the Vault since some far back time, the Civil War or the Revolutionary War.
    • The incredibly long alarm that sounds when the vault is opened. it lasts 10-15 seconds and ends with a foghorn.
    • Jack's vanity, especially his toupee, which in real life Jack did not wear.
    • Phil Harris and his band's partying, especially Remley the guitar player.
    • The various snarky characters (or perhaps a single character who keeps changing jobs) played by Frank Nelson who Jack has to deal with.
    • Mel Blanc's train station announcement: "Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc–amonga." The pause between "Cuc" and "amonga" got longer as the show went on, on one occasion encompassing a big chunk of an episode.
    • After Dennis Day got his own series (A Day in the Life of Dennis Day), he started constantly putting Jack down because he only has one show.
  • The Scrooge: Before Jack Benny, all penny-pinching jokes were about the Scottish. After Jack Benny, most penny-pinching jokes were about Jack Benny.
  • Show Within a Show: A frequent device was to transition Jack and other characters from "real life" to the show, and vice versa.
  • Sickeningly Sweet:
    • In an elaborate example of Jack's numerous Take Thats, after reading a radio critic's lament about how comedy of the day relied too heavily on insults, Jack invited said critic to his show (which was being broadcast from Palm Springs that day), and showed him just how awful comedy would be if there were no insults.
    • Done again in a Recycled Script television episode with the lamentation coming from the reverend Billy Graham.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • In one show, Jack has a magician as a guest, whose act involves a bulletproof laundry bag, but thanks to a mix-up, he is carried away. Jack and Dennis resort to do the act themselves with another (non-bulletproof) bag that was in the same room. Dennis shoots Jack, who ends up unharmed because of his wallet. He then proceeds to scold Dennis for ruining his money.
    • A joke has Jack pondering over whether his life is worth more than his own money.
Mugger: Your money or your life.
(long pause, with the audience laughing more and more as they realize what's going on)
Mugger: Look, bud! I said your money or your life!
Jack: I'm thinking it over!
(Audience loses it)
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: The show moved to television in 1950, firstly appearing every six to eight weeks, then on a monthly basis and later every other week. By 1960 the show appeared on TV every week.
  • Sour Supporter: The main aspect of Mary's personality from 1937 onwards.
  • Spinoff: The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day and The Mel Blanc Show all ran on network radio while the stars were part of Benny's cast. The Harris show was the most successful, Day's ran a few years, while Blanc's only lasted for one season.
  • Spoonerism: Accidental spoonerisms provided some of the biggest (and longest) audience laughter of the series' run.
    • An October 1946 episode opened with the characters in a restaurant; Mary asks the waiter (Frank Nelson) for a Swiss cheese sandwich, but flubs the line and asks instead for a "Chiss sweese sandwich". It takes over 20 seconds to get the episode back on track.
    • Perhaps the most famous example came in the first episode of 1950, which featured a Running Gag about Benny's purchase of a new suit making national (perhaps even international) headlines. Don Wilson gets the first appearance of the gag, telling Benny he heard about the suit from political columnist and broadcaster Drew Pearson... except he pronounces the name "Drear Pooson". Benny milks the slip-up for a few laughs, but the writers quickly turn it into a Brick Joke with a re-write mid-broadcast when the episode segues to a murder mystery spoof with Frank Nelson as a doorman at Romanoff's:
      Benny: Okay, men, this is Romanoff's restaurant, that man in that red uniform with the gold braid must be the doorman. I'll ask him. [footsteps] Pardon me, are you the doorman?
      Nelson: Well, who do you think I am, Drear Pooson?? [HUGE audience laughter lasting nearly 25 seconds; Benny himself reportedly falls off the stage in hysterics]
    • A December 1950 episode features a supposed flashback to how Rochester came to be employed by Benny: while driving around New York in 1937, Benny crashed his Maxwell into the back of Rochester's taxi - even though it was up on a grease rack at the time - and threatened to sue; his employers (Amos And Andy in a Crossover appearance) "gave" Rochester to Benny as a valet as a settlement. After the flashback, Mary asks how Benny managed to crash into Rochester while he was on the "grass reek".
      Benny: [when the laughter finally subsides, after more than 20 seconds] A natural mistake for a girl who's going back to the May Company tomorrow!
  • 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?"
    • Another episode claimed that he kept staying at a hotel called the Juniper Breeze just because the initials on the towels matched.
  • Straight Man: 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. He became an impressive impressionist, especially in sketches.
  • Take That!: Most examples of this trope on Jack's radio show 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 guest star 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."
  • Take Me Out At The Ballgame: A 1939 sketch featured "Murder on the Gridiron".
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: While waiting in an airport Jack had a variation with the flight announcer.
    Don Wilson: Well, Jack, at least you don't have to listen to that announcer they had here.
    Jack: You're right! Remember him? Thank goodness he's no longer here.
    Announcer on Speaker (M. Blanc): Attention, attention ... flights now arriving from Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc...
    Jack: Oh, no!
    Announcer on Speaker: Oh, yes! ...camonga.
  • Tenor Boy: Dennis (and Kenny before him, and before him Frank Parker as well as Larry Stevens, who subbed for Dennis when Dennis was in the service). He once said he didn't have an opinion on an issue because "tenors are a dime a dozen."
  • Totally Radical: A 1959 episode had Don turning into a beatnik, fake beard and oversized sweater included.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Don is quite fond of Jell-O, to the point one TV episodenote  had him threatening his wife with a divorce because she forgot to buy some Jell-O.
  • Unexpected Positive: Jack goes with a neighborhood boy to the dentist because the boy is scared. Guess which one needs a tooth pulled?
  • 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 
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Though combined with a very well-proportioned amount of Self-Deprecation.
  • You Wanna Buy A Watch?: Sheldon Leonard's racetrack-tout character. ("Psst. Hey. Buddy. C'mere.")
  • 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.

Goodnight, folks. And I'll see you soon.