There was Comedy Before 2005

Ken Levine knows cuz he sure wrote his fair share of it. As did a few others he’s very happy to remind us of:


by Ken Levine

As some of you know, I am in Andy Goldberg’s Improv Workshop on Wednesday nights. It’s always a blast. I did a scene a few weeks back with a fine improver (if there is such a word), John Content. It was a “Man on the Street” scene. You’ve seen those. Jimmy Kimmel does them frequently – an interview snags passersby and asks them various questions.

I was the interviewer and John was the “man on the street.” We got the preliminaries out of the way. I asked him his name and where he was from (New Orleans). The objective of this exercise is to force you to really create a “character.”

At that point John launched into a hilarious ridiculous story involving UFO abductions, space cows, God knows what. He got big laughs. But what made it funnier was that he delivered it all very matter-of-fact. As he was unspooling this absurd raft of bullshit a thought hit me. When he finally took a breath I interjected, “You’ve said some very interesting things. I don’t want to just slide over them, so let’s back up a bit. What part of New Orleans?”

This too got a big laugh.

John answered my question then launched into more outrageous nonsense, much to the delight of the audience.

I finally broke in with “What side of the street in New Orleans?” Again, a big yuck.

The bit worked for several reasons. First, John figured out immediately what I was doing and played along. And secondly, the construct was very funny. We all know interviewers who don’t listen.

But here’s the dirty little secret: I was essentially doing a Bob & Ray routine. Bob & Ray were a radio comedy team back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their sketches were uproarious. Always dry, always underplayed, but their premises were always absurd and their timing was impeccable. Although they did not do this exact bit, they did a lot of similar interviewer-guest sketches. Once John launched into his crazy UFO scenario I thought to myself, “This feels like a Bob & Ray sketch. What would Bob & Ray do?”

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