Bob Elliott - aka ' Ballou - Signs Off At 92

Bob Elliott, half of the comedic Bob and Ray team and a deadpan skewer of both Madison Ave. and the media it supported — and that also supported them — died of throat cancer at 92 Tuesday in his home in Cundy's Harbor, Maine.

Elliott and Ray Goulding, who died at 68 in 1990, “were among the drollest and most inventive pop-culture satirists of their generation as writers, producers and actors,” writes Adam Bernstein for the Washington Post. “Mr. Elliott also was the patriarch of a comedy family that included his actor-writer son, Chris Elliott, and a granddaughter, actress-comedian Abby Elliott, both former cast members of ‘Saturday Night Live.’”



Bob and Ray’s “primary target was radio itself,” Dennis McLellan writes for the Los Angeles Times. “As Elliott told the New York Daily News in 1992: ‘Our original premise was that radio was too pompous.’” 

That included advertising blather that was inevitably filled with hyperbolic claims and empty promises.

A typical bit of theirs was called “The Bob and Ray Overstocked Warehouse,” in which Mr. Elliott announced, deadpan: “We have 124 full cases of canned corned beef, which are clearly stamped ‘San Juan Hill, 1898.’ If you do not find this corned beef all you had hoped it would be, just leave word with the executor of your estate to return the remaining unopened cans to us,” recall Peter Keepnews and Richard Severo for the New York Times.

 “The team’s ersatz advertisements included exhortations on behalf of the Monongahela Metal Foundry (‘Steel ingots cast with the housewife in mind’), Einbinder Flypaper (‘The flypaper you’ve gradually grown to trust over the course of three generations’) and Height Watchers International,” Keepnews and Severo write,

“Sketches ranged from the ‘Bob and Ray Mystery Tune’ (winners received $18 ‘in cash,’ plus a free breakfast at Rudy's House of Dry Toast) to the call-in opinion program ‘Speaking Out’ (‘I think the Prince of Wales should be a civil service job’),” writes the LAT’s McLellan. “And they poked fun at commercials, with ‘sponsors’ such as Cool Canadian Air (‘Packed fresh every day in the Hudson Bay and shipped to your door.’)”

The team was also adept at poking holes in windbags and self-important authorities and newscasters.

“Elliott [drew] laughs as sportscaster Biff Burns — ‘This is Biff Burns saying this is Biff Burns saying good night’ — and goofy man-on-the-street reporter Wally Ballou,” writes Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter. The latter always came on air following some static with the entry line, “…ly Ballou.” 

Elliott’s experts included “Darrel Dexter, the Komodo-dragon expert, from Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” in a skit transcribed in a 90th birthday profile by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker thatcites their tremendous impact on today’s comic sensibility. 

Rothman quotes from a 1982 profile in the same magazine by Whitney Balliett that referred to Bob and Ray as “a surrealistic Dickensian repertory company, which chastened the fools of the world with hyperbole, slapstick, parody, verbal nonsense, non sequitur, and sheer wit, all of it clean, subtle, and gentle.”

“The duo's partnership began at a local Boston station, where Elliott, a disc jockey, and Goulding, a news announcer, began bantering on air between records,” Chris Erikson writes for the New York Daily News. In 1946, “that sparked an afternoon show, which in turn led to a popular show on NBC.”

Over the years, “they took turns serving as the straight man, interviewed each other, made fun of everyday life and often mocked their medium,” as Barnes writes.

They were a perfect partnership, in fact, whose mutual respect for each other oozed through their wry repartee.

“‘I like jokes, but Ray and I, we never did jokes,’ Elliott said in a 2011 interview with the Archive of American Television. ‘We weren’t in that line of humor. We each contributed our own kind of observations. I’m glad to have people look at, and laugh at, and respect, and get some creative juice out of what we did by observing,’” Margaret Lenker recounts for Variety

A collection of 238 of their radio sketches can be heard on the Internet Archive. An appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” features a performance of their “Most Beautiful Face Winner” skit. There is also an Official Bob & Ray Websitewith both mp3 files for sale and pointers to additional free downloads of their material.

Laugh a little, whydoncha?

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