To be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is not a particular defect or shortcoming in, say, a cable repair man or a Supreme Court justice or a Navy Seal. These jobs can be performed humorlessly with no loss of efficiency or impact. But to be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is a serious drawback, even lapse, in a comedian. And the late Bob Hope devoted a fantastically successful and well-remunerated lifetime to showing that a truly unfunny man can make it as a comic. There is a laugh here, but it is on us.
Give a man a reputation as an early riser, said Mark Twain, and that man can thereafter sleep until noon. Quick, then—what is your favorite Bob Hope gag? It wouldn't take you long if I challenged you on Milton Berle, or Woody Allen, or John Cleese, or even (for the older customers) Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl. By this time tomorrow, I bet you haven't come up with a real joke for which Hope could take credit.
There were many cringe-making references last week to Hope's doggedness in entertaining the brave boys overseas. I have met more than one veteran who says that those USO concerts were the last straw. Here's Canby, extracting the last ounce of brilliance from a Hope gag in Saigon after an officers' billet had been blown up by the Vietcong. "I was on the way to my hotel, and I passed another hotel going in the opposite direction." Nobody had the bad taste to recall the moment at which Hope was openly booed by the grunts in Vietnam: He was to the comedy of the war what Nixon was to its negotiation and what Billy Graham was to its husky religiosity.Posted by tstubbs at August 09, 2003 05:01 PM | Trackback