Bob & Ray are classic American humorists who started in 1946 at WHDH, Boston. Bob was a disc jockey, Ray a newscaster. They riffed during the handoffs, something like local news anchors do today, only funnier. The station liked them so much they were given a daily afternoon show, “Matinee with Bob & Ray.” When Red Sox or Braves games were delayed by rain Bob & Ray filled in with their special brand of humor. Some of these shows are included in our RadioArt® Bob & Ray albums.
In 1951 NBC brought them to New York to work on Monitor and to do a nightly 15-minute television show that followed the Camel News Caravan. Cloris Leachman or Audrey Meadows played Linda Lovely. On radio Ray did all the female characters like Mary McGoon and Mary Backstayge in falsetto. For the television show, they shot Ray from the neck down wearing a house dress.
During their 40-year career, Bob & Ray appeared on just about every radio and television network, and on major local New York stations WOR, WINS, and WHN. I invited them to perform at a conference I organized for public radio producers and managers held in Glen Cove, NY in the spring of 1981. They were a big hit with the 20- and 30-something audience. I called Bob & Ray the next day to ask them to do a series for NPR, The Bob & Ray Public Radio Show. They had been off the air for several years, but were busy doing commercials for a wide range of clients, including Piels Beer. They played Bert and Harry Piel in a legendary series of animated spots. Great advertising, lousy beer! Many of their commercials, including the Piels spots, are on our albums. (BR004, BR006, BR009. BR015, BR017, BR018)
The NPR shows are captured on the Best of Bob & Ray, Volumes 1-4, BR001-BR004). In 1984 I produced two sold-out concerts in Carnegie Hall. The Carnegie Hall shows turned out to be Bob & Ray’s farewell performances (Ray died in 1990). They are captured on our album, “Bob & Ray: A Night of Two Stars, recorded live in Carnegie Hall.” (BR 026).
Bob & Ray’s targets–commercials, infomercials, game shows, soap operas, fatuous radio shrinks, bloviating politicians, rigged contests, and public service announcements from corporations who “really care” about the environment—are still with us in the cable age, only more so.
Bob & Ray is for smart people: they’re satirists, not comedians. They don’t tell jokes like Bob Hope or do stupid physical comedy like The Three Stooges. Many of their routines run more than 4 minutes. The joke slowly builds until it explodes in your mind.
Bob & Ray were admired and imitated by every comedian and humorist of their time, including Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman, George Carlin, Garrison Keillor, Kurt Vonnegut and Andy Rooney. Many of them “borrowed” Bob & Ray material and characters. Keillor’s “writer,” Nattily Dressed, is very close to Bob & Ray’s Nattily Attired. Lifting material has long been a part of comedy tradition. Bob & Ray were inspired by two old time radio shows, “Vic and Sade,” and by Raymond Knight’s “Cuckoo Hour.”
Their signature routine, “The Slow Talkers of America,” belongs in the comedy pantheon alongside Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” and Jack Benny’s “Your Money or Your Life.”
Some of my favorite things about Bob & Ray include their sheer intelligence and talent; their acute ear for language, cant and cliché; their sense of timing; the hundreds of characters they created, all performed either by Bob or Ray, including the immortal Wally Ballou (–ly Ballou); the lovable Marys (McGoon and Backstayge) and affable dolts like Webley Webster. Their work is deeply moral. They used humor to express their anger at the corruption and stupidity of much of American culture. And to make people laugh.
I’ve devoted 30 years of my life to collecting and restoring Bob & Ray recordings for old and new fans. Bob & Ray’s humor is ageless. You needn’t have heard “Mary Noble, Backstage Wife” to enjoy “Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife,” absurd on its face. Knowing the original adds to your enjoyment of the parody, but it works either way. The one exception might be “Awful Godfrey, “a thinly disguised Arthur Godfrey, who was, by reputation, a vain and viscous man (he famously fired singer Julius LaRosa on the air for “lack of humility”). Bob & Ray’s parody of Godfrey skewers him expertly. Bob’s impression of Godfrey is uncanny.
We offer more than 100 hours of Bob & Ray and Jean Shepherd on CD, including “The Very Best of Bob & Ray,” 5 hours on 4 CDs, selected from all of our CDs (BR024). It’s the perfect starter album, and makes a great gift. The booklet includes a long, insightful essay on Bob & Ray by the Canadian critic, Kerrie Mills. Worth the price alone.
I’ve remained Bob & Ray’s producer for all these years simply because they make me laugh. When asked how their partnership lasted 40 years, they replied, “We made each other laugh.” (They also didn’t spend much time together after work.) I hope the current generation of Bob & Ray fans will buy these CDs and pass them down to their children and grandchildren, keeping Bob & Ray alive forever. I’m pleased that Bob & Ray have now joined the Radio Archives collection.
Hang By Your Thumbs, and don’t forget to Write If You Get Work.
-Larry Josephson, proud to have been Bob & Ray’s producer for 30 years and counting.