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NEIL SCHMITZ A Bob and Ray Retrospective Text: Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding. Foreword by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Write if you get work, The Best of Bob & Ray. New York: Random House, 1975· Audio: Bob & Ray: The Soap Operas, 4 vols.; Classic Bob & Ray, 4 vols.; The Best of Bob & Ray, 4 vols. Vintage Bob & Ray, 2 vols. New York: The Radio Foundation (RADIOART): P.O. Box 2000 GPO, New York, NY 101 16-2000. IBEGiN with a testimonial. I owe my tough trim body, my radiant health, to Bob & Ray. Pop in a cassette from Larry Josephson's wonderful RadioArt collection as you begin your morning exercise. Pump iron. Do your hundred sit-ups. Robert Brackett Elliott and Raymond Walter Goulding, radio artists, in their easeful funny way, entertain you. Time flies. You forget you are exercising. They are so droll, so preposterous. The inflatus of humor helps you stretch muscles and joints. Each side of the cassette is exactly a half-hour in its play. When you get up in the morning, you don't think, groaning, of the exercise you must do. You think, brightly, of listening to some Bob & Ray. You exercise in order to listen to Bob & Ray. Bob Elliott, born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1923, is still with us. Ray Goulding, born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922, is gone. Bob & Ray, the radio performance, extends from 1946, their first show on WHDH in Boston, Matinee with Bob and Ray, to 1986, their final show on NPR, The Bob and Ray Public Radio Show. It is one of the great oeuvres in Arizona Quarter^ Volume 55, Number 1, Spring 1999 Copyright © 1999 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004-1610 152Neil Schmitz American humorous literature. George Herriman's cartoon strip, Krazy Kat, had similar duration and sustained excellence. Herriman did a single gag, Ignatz hurling a brick at Krazy, for almost thirty years, 19121941 . The brick was immense in its meaning. Herriman got from it a brilliant humorous poetry: Krazy's mewling babytalk, Ignatz's ratty jive, Herriman's own Joycean captions. The cartoon took place in Coconino County, Arizona, Grand Canyon country, and its desert perspectives, its odd mesas, its desert skies, were surreally drawn. In Krazy Kat Spanish is almost a second language. In Krazy Kat interspecies love is always offered, always rejected. Bob 6k Ray, the performance, is just as deep, just as long, in its ingenuity, its characterization, its single endlessly productive gag. A literary retrospective is in order. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has in fact begun the evaluation. His essay, "Bob and Ray, An Appreciation," written for the catalog of The Museum of Broadcasting exhibit, "The Bob & Ray Retrospective, June 15-July 10, 1982," raises several important issues I want to explore in this essay, one of them being the substantiality of their humor, its capacity, its competence. What humor carries, what humor does, is, of course, always a serious question in Vonnegut's fiction. Think of what is loaded into the phrase, "so it goes," in Shughterhouse -Five (1969), the title-page of which describes the author as a "fourth-generation-German-American now living in easy circumstances on Cape Cod [and smoking too much], who, as an American infantry scout hors de combat, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, 'The Florence of the Elbe,' a long time ago, and survived to tell the tale." There is a craft kinship, Vonnegut, Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding. He takes them into the phrasing ofhis humor. "What was inherently comical about radio is comical about television today: the necessity of seeming well worth paying attention to, even when less than nothing was going on. Bob and Ray, both serious radio announcers at one time, one day discovered that they coirld be comedians by intentionally trying and failing to be wonderful when less than nothing was going on. / Their jokes turn out to be universal, although deeply rooted in old-time radio, because so much of life presents itself as the same dilemma: how to seem lusty and purposeful when less than nothing is going on." How do Bob 6k Ray universalize, escape the tyranny of the referent, the discourse of a particular radio show, its characters, its...


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