Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Carson’

The Funny Men of My Youth

June 27, 2016
Jan Murray

Jan Murray

Sometimes I like to do the Grumpy Old Man routine with my students: “When I was your age, Sonny, I had to walk barefoot to school in the snow, and the long, arduous journey was uphill—both ways.”

None of this is true, of course. My parents always provided me with good shoes and it’s only snowed once in Claremont in the last fifty years. I stole that joke from one of my childhood heroes, Bill Cosby. I still love to tell that joke, but I no longer attribute it to Cosby.  Once the most avuncular man in America, Cosby is now, allegedly, nothing but a sick old creep.

Bill Cosby’s fall pains me; I spent so much time with his comedy LPs as a kid, and it really felt like I knew him. One of my favorite Cosby albums was called I Started Out as a Child. It took me over a decade to get the joke in the title. Another Cosby album title was also quite funny: To my brother Russell, Whom I Slept With (but I still haven’t completely worked out its implications).

The comedy albums of Cosby and The Smothers Brothers were a big part of my childhood.   (For you younger readers, albums, also called records, were large flat black petroleum-based disks that created marvelous sounds when played on something called a turntable.  Albums were very fragile, which may have accentuated the reverence we had for them).   In junior high school I discovered the more “mature” comedy records of George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Cheech and Chong.

When I was a kid, back in the dark ages before VCRs, HBO, and Comedy Central, in order to see the great comedians, you had to watch the three major talk show hosts: Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson. I would rush home to see Mike Douglas in the afternoons and Merv was on in the evening, but Carson, the King of Comedy, was on after my bedtime, so I would listen to The Tonight Show through the slats in the hall door while my parents thought I was asleep.  If I laughed too loud my mom would shout, “Go to bed.”

The old-timer comedians like Buddy Hackett, Jack Benny, and Henny Youngman that I loved to watch on tv when I was a kid frequently spoke about something called “working the Catskills.” Since there was no google back then, I asked my dad what the Catskills were. He said that they were mountains in upstate New York (hills really, by California standards) where people from New York City used to go on vacation.

Decades later I was watching a PBS documentary on the history of Jewish Comedy in America which went into great detail about the Catskills (also known as the Borsch Belt). One of the people featured in the documentary was Jan Murray. I thought, “Jan Murray is Jewish. Who knew?” Then it dawned on me–the overwhelming majority of the comedians I revered as a kid were Jewish. And as I think about it now, the non-Jewish comedians from my youth like Cosby, Bob Hope, George Carlin, Red Skelton, Flip Wilson, Danny Thomas, and Johnny Carson are really the exceptions.

by Richard W. Bray

Women (and Men) in Love

June 19, 2016
Simone De Beauvoir

Simone De Beauvoir

What about romantic love?  Is it merely, as the scientists say,  a trick played upon us by the chemicals in our brains, an evolutionary mechanism that provides a bond that will last long enough to increase a human offspring’s chances for survival?  Yes, probably.  But so what?  Romantic love’s utilitarian origins don’t preclude it from being good and beautiful.

There are several indications that the experience of heterosexual romantic love is in many ways different for men and women?   (I should point out, however, that men and women have many more characteristics in common than we have differences. We are not two separate species. Furthermore, there are myriad variations within members of each gender. And both nature and nurture account for differences between men and women: men’s and women’s brains function somewhat differently and, across cultures, we tend to be socialized in very different ways.)

Several years ago, Johnny Carson asked cartoonist Kathy Guisewhite: “What’s the difference between men and women?”*

Guisewhite replied: “I really don’t think men sit around discussing women the way that women are constantly obsessing about men. You know, we’re constantly asking each other, ‘Why are they like that?’ or ‘Why do they do that?’”

Guisewhite has a point. Women certainly do spend more time talking about men than men spend talking about women. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. And for most of Western history women were legally and socially subservient to men, passed along as chattel from father to husband.  This is still their situation in many parts of the world.

When your very existence is dependent upon pleasing someone who is bigger and stronger than you are, someone who has the legal right to assault you at any time, knowing your oppressor becomes an essential survival skill.

In her book The Second Sex, French feminist icon Simone De Beauvoir describes “The Woman in Love”

Since she is anyway doomed to dependence, she will prefer to serve a god rather than obey tyrants—parents, husband, or protector.  She chooses to desire her enslavement so ardently that it will seem to her the expression of her liberty; she will try to rise above her situation as inessential object by fully accepting it; through her flesh, her feelings, her behavior, she will enthrone him as supreme value and reality: she will humble herself to nothingness before him. Love becomes for her a religion (The Second Sex 643).

De Beauvoir chooses an epigraph for “The Women in Love” by Lord Byron which declares that romantic love is “to a man’s life, a thing apart”, while it constitutes “woman’s whole existence.”  This is not entirely true, of course.  Most men do fall in love, and a few of us have even died from a broken heart.

But how many men do you suppose would go out and buy a book like Relationship Rescue by Dr. Phil?


*Carson and Guisewhite quotations are reconstructed from my fallible memory

by Richard W. Bray