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Series / Colgate Comedy Hour

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Dean: Max? So fly away? I don't get this.
Jerry: Well, your name is really Dean but I called you Max and I told you to fly away because Maxfli is the name of a golf ball and the sponsor doesn't want us to make any plugs.
Dean: We need the golf balls!
Jerry: Because we both play golf so send them to the house right away.
Dean: Maxfli!
Jerry: Oh, I can just see the sponsor now, squeezing all of the Colgate toothpaste out of the tube and he's screaming something awful!

A live Variety Show that aired Sunday nights on NBC from 1950–55 and was hosted by a rotating group of entertainers. The title refers to the show's primary sponsor, Colgate-Palmolive. The November 22, 1953 episode was the subject of an experimental NTSC color television broadcast.

Some of the most famous acts of the day appeared either as hosts or guest stars, including Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Ethel Merman, Jackie Gleason, Donald O'Connor, Charlton Heston, and Burt Lancaster.

Lasted 5½ years before going off the air due to competition from The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. Jim Davidson's Classic TV Info website has a very nice episode guide.

This series provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: This role was filled by Don Pardo during the first season (1950-51), Hal Sawyer during the second through fourth seasons (1951-1954) and by Wendell Niles during the fifth and sixth seasons (1954-55). Mike Wallace announced on the two Season 1 episodes which originated from Chicago (February 11 and April 29, 1951) and Don Wilson announced on at least one summer show (August 8, 1954).
  • As Himself: Sometimes the celebrities played a completely fictional character and sometimes they were this.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Jerry Lewis often did jokes at the expanse of the namesake sponsor.
    • After coming back from an Ajax commercial, Jerry notices the orchestra forgot to play the Ajax jingle at the end:
      Jerry: Oh, we have to have the commercial play-off, that's very important, 'cause Colgate will get mad! Commercial play-off, and...
      (Jerry conducts the orchestra to play the Ajax jingle at breakneck speed)
      Jerry: They can't say nothin' now!
    • One sketch consisted of nothing but Jerry sitting on a chair in the middle of the stage for a few minutes. He makes a crack about how much money Colgate is wasting on this.
  • Broadcast Live: It was the first show to be broadcast live from coast to coast in 1951.
  • Butt-Monkey: Jerry Lewis and Lou Costello typically assumed the role whenever they appeared.
  • The Cameo:
    • An entire episode was spent building up to a 30-second bit by Jack Benny.
    • Another episode had Lewis pull back the stage curtain at one point to reveal frequent guest host Eddie Cantor.
      Jerry: (to audience) Do you see what happens when you aren't working for these people?
  • Cartoon Conductor: A common Martin and Lewis sketch would involve Dean trying to sing a number while Jerry clowns about as he "conducts" the orchestra. (Their musical director Dick Stabile can sometimes be seen off to the side actually conducting the orchestra.)
  • Clip Show: The January 25, 1953, edition (see below).
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Often aimed at Jerry Lewis or Lou Costello during their appearances.
  • Crowd Song: In the musical episodes, along with everything else a musical usually entails.
  • Game Show Appearance: On September 18, 1955, the Season 6 premiere opened with The $64,000,000 Question, hosted by Hal April (Dean Martin) and sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive (naturally). Returning champ Morty M.M. Morton (Jerry Lewis) is forced to go for $32,000,000 and manages to survive... then is submerged underwater for the long-winded final question, leading to many ad-libs by Lewis.
  • The Host: Various entertainers shared the duty in a month-or-so rotation. Martin and Lewis were the only ones to remain in the rotation for the entire run of the show.
  • Improv: Some guests preferred to do this rather than follow the script.
  • Large Ham: Many, many of them.
  • Medium Awareness: Martin and Lewis, especially Lewis, would often bring attention to the technicians that told them, for instance, that they had five minutes or two minutes left on the show by reading out the cue cards or mimicking their hand signals. At least once, they even dragged the technician onto the stage for the benefit of the audience.
    Jerry: There's a fella standing on the side going like this. (holds up three fingers then does a "stretching" motion with his hands) They don't want you people out there to know! You can't conceal these things to this audience! They paid money to buy Colgate and I want you to put the camera on this man when he goes like this! (does the same motions again)
  • Motionless Makeover: A Martin and Lewis episode featured their musical director Dick Stabile on a sax solo performance of "The Man I Love". During his performance, the comic duo subjects him to one of these; they put a bowler hat on his head, hang an umbrella on his arm, undo his bowtie, hike up his pants and stick an handkerchief in his ear. Stabile, meanwhile, keeps on playing without missing a beat. It was probably done out of revenge, since Stabile doing a number was his way of settling an argument over who would do the next number.
  • Mustache Vandalism: At the end of a Martin and Lewis episode, the duo did their closing monologue in front of a giant drawing of themselves as they usually did. While Dean was busy speaking, Jerry drew a mustache and glasses over Dean's portrait. That episode happened to be the season finale, hence the comment following that act of vandalism:
    Jerry: I've been wanting to do that for five months!
  • No Fourth Wall: Though sometimes the performers would build one and then knock it down again, just for fun.
  • Product Placement Name:
    • As was the standard practice in the era, the show is named after the sponsor and the commercial breaks advertise the sponsor's products: Ajax cleanser, Colgate toothpaste, Fab laundry detergent, Halo shampoo and Palmolive soap.
    • Averted with a few episodes during the 1950-1951 season that were sponsored by Frigidaire; those carried the title of The Comedy Hour instead.
  • Revival: On November 5, 1967, The Dean Martin Show (sponsored by Colgate) was preempted for a one-off revival of The Colgate Comedy Hour with guests including Mel Brooks, Bob Newhart, Dan Rowan, Dick Martin and others. Notably, none of the performers from the original 1950-1955 run returned. It was intended as a pilot for a new series, which never happened.
  • Ridiculously Long Phone Number: In a library sketch, Jerry Lewis tries to call his friend Herbie so he can help him retrieve his lost library card:
    Jerry: Hey, operator, would you please be good enough to give me Academy 72467... 24771... 329984... 721111111111—(Dean hits him on the head)—8239... 72665444444—(Dean hits him again)—293... 333336! (just before Dean hits him yet again) 29?
    Operator: Sorry, this number has been changed to Academy 31658473657895468—aack! (Dean rolls up the phone line on itself, "strangling" her)
  • Rule of Funny: Very often the only rule there was.
  • Special Guest: The guest star(s) of the week.
  • Spiritual Successor: To vaudeville.
  • Straight Man: Bud Abbott and Dean Martin during their respective appearances.
  • The Show Must Go On:
    • The October 5, 1952 edition only aired live in Los Angeles and a few other west coast stations due to a walkout by NBC engineers in Hollywood causing a three-hour delay. A kinescope of that episode was aired on the full network on October 26 (with the exception of Los Angeles affiliate KNBH, which aired The Big Payoff instead).
    • The January 25, 1953, edition featuring Martin and Lewis ended up being a clip show due to Jerry Lewis recuperating from a knee injury he suffered when falling off a scooter — he did the entire show sitting down.
  • The Trickster: The episodes Martin and Lewis hosted often opened with sketches of the comedy team disrupting gatherings of members of polite society such as wedding receptions, dog shows, PTA meetings, company conventions, etc. These usually featured Lewis as the disruptive force with Martin as the Kid with the Leash.