…ly Ballou Out. RIP Bob Elliott (1923-2016)

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Long before there was Monty Python or Mr. Show or Tim & Eric or The Kids in the Hall or Comedy Bang! Bang! (and its extended podcast universe) or any of the awkward comedy that feasts on laughter in the silent spaces in between and mistimed cues and odd dissonant interactions and mismatched characters conversing past one another, there was the comedy team of Bob & Ray.

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding started as members of the Boston radio community in the 1940s. Their casual banter on one another’s shows earned them their own show by 1946. Bob & Ray’s broadcasts were mixtures of largely improvised running soap opera parodies that would go on for years, downright bizarre man on the street interviews, and whatever else captured their comedic whimsy.

Goulding passed away in 1990, but Bob Elliott continued to show up around television. Elliott revived classic roving reporter Wally Ballou, still jumping the gun on his intro, for Al Franken’s short-lived series Lateline. He backed up his son Chris in the inimitable and grossly under-appreciated Get a Life, portraying, fittingly, ne’er-do-well protagonist adult paperboy Chris Peterson’s begrudgingly tolerant dad. I was lucky enough to see him, alongside Chris and his granddaughter Abby (they are almost certainly the only three generations of a family to appear on Saturday Night Live) at NYC’s Paley Center talking about his career in radio.

While it feels a bit silly to be sad over the death of a 92-year-old man I never met (other than a quick handshake at the aforementioned Paley Center event) — especially one whose worldly accomplishments were so lofty and lasting. Part of it is that he’s one of the last living links to a long-ago era. More so, it’s the fact that tapes of grainy recordings of Bob & Ray’s sketches lent to me by my superfan uncle got me through many a long car trip, and cheered me up at many a low moment — as great comedy should — so it feels almost like the loss of a cherished friend.

Here’s Bob (& Ray) improvising as NASA mission control reporters in a forgotten great TV Movie from 1972, Between Time & Timbuktu, with a fittingly kooky plot of a citizen astronaut being launched into Kurt Vonnegut’s stories…

 

 

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