Well, being a child of the 50’s and 60’s, I can definitely say that I have been watching, absorbing and enjoying Comedy TV Shows pretty much since their inception. I can also say that, beyond a shadow of doubt, I have been heavily influenced by them and most probably they are partly responsible for me becoming an entertainer, which I have been for all of my life. With that being said, narrowing down my list will be next to impossible so I will just go through many shows I have loved, starting with the 50’s, work my way to the present and then try to compose My Top 10 List somehow.
Let’s Have Fun with Chuck McCann was a great Sunday morning show for kids and Chuck was a talented versatile performer. The show was always entertaining and very funny.
The Ernie Kovacs Show was a very funny and groundbreaking show. The things they did editing-wise was way beyond the technology of the 50’s and Ernie was a comedy genius. He was taken from us way too early in a car accident. Who knows what he would have achieved if he had lived longer in a medium that was just in it’s embryonic stages.
Sid Cesar’s, Your Show Of Shows was a classic show whose form has been emulated ever since. The cast of writers are a literal Who’s Who in The Comedy World: Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon to name a few. How could a show like that not be great, not to mention Sid Cesar himself. He was a great performer that was a genius at dialects.
The Jack Benny Show was a terrific show with a great cast of characters. Benny was the master of the ‘face’ and no one could milk a laugh longer with just a mere look at the camera more than him. The unique thing about the show was that the laughter most often hinged on the ‘Second Bananas’ that fueled the comedy of the show.
Amos ‘N’ Andy was a great show with such a array of characterizations. Kingfish was always scamming Andy someway, which was such a treat to watch unfold. Amos was the cab driver that narrated the show and there was Sapphire, Lightning and of course, Algonquin J. Calhoun. Unfortunately, the show was eventually pulled because of NAACP pressure of wanting to show Black Americans in a better light. It was a shame because the chemistry between Kingfish and Andy was priceless to watch.
The Red Skelton Show was a fun show of skits and characters that Red would perform with infectious laughter and was one of the first shows to have a weekly guest who would perform in the skits. You could tell by watching the show that Mr. Skelton was a sweet soul and he is dearly missed. He always ended the shows with, “Good Night and May God Bless”. Back at ya, Red.
The Original Tonight Show with Steve Allen was one of my favorite shows of all time. Steve created the Talk Show format as we know it today and had a cast of unforgettable characters that were used in many ways. Steve was a man of so many talents with a terrific laugh. I got the opportunity to meet him in Las Vegas once during a Comedy Convention and he was just as funny and gracious as I thought he would be.
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was a one of a kind show with so much clout. If you appeared on that show, your career was in tact and doors would open and your phone would ring off the hook. You could tell that Johnny was heavily influenced by his idol, Jack Benny, by the way he could just make a face into the camera and the crowd would explode with laughter. I had the honor to appear on the show and all I can say is that no talk show has ever approached it’s popularity since. I think it was the chemistry between Johnny and Ed MacMahon and I also believe that interviewing guests on a show is an art form in itself and Johnny was definitely the master at it. He knew how to make moments!
The Honeymooners was and still is one of the most watched syndicated shows of all time. I don’t think that there is anyone, that knows anything about comedy, that hasn’t been influenced by this show. Many people can quote, word for word, many of the most popular scenes that emanated from the series. Besides the greatness of Ralph and Ed in the show, you had Audrey Meadows playing Alice. She was simply the best and I don’t think the show would have worked as well without her. In fact, in later years when they did the show with some other people playing the part, it wasn’t as funny. She had the best deadpan face and to paraphrase Ralph, “Alice, you’re the greatest!”
The Dick Van Dyke Show was another great ensemble show, as well as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both had fantastic cast members and strong story lines that propelled their popularity for many years. Neither show had a weak character in their cast. Everyone was equally funny and shined.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a fantastic show for anyone going through their teen years in the 60’s. It was so different than anything else on American television back then and they were like the Comedy Beatles in a way. It was comedy for the Boomer’s generation. It also became responsible for opening the door to English Comedy on American TV. Of course, it was on PBS back then, which made it even more underground in the psychedelic era.
MASH was a groundbreaking show in that it’s setting was The Korean War and during this country’s time of The Vietnam War. Plus it had to overcome the popularity of the movie itself, which was no easy task, and be funny. It also had to survive cast changes throughout the series. It did all of that and more.
Saturday Night Live is amazing in it’s survival. It has had so many terrific seasons and bad ones but one thing has always remained constant: a barrage of many, many talented performers that have gone on to be very prominent in the comedy mainstream. You have to give Lorne Michaels credit for having such an accurate comedic eye for talent. What a track record!