Bob & Ray, masters of subtle satire

by

Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding
Radio comedy pioneers Bob Elliot, left, and Ray Goulding paved the way for Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, and A Prairie Home Companion. (Photo courtesy HighBridge Audio)
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A pioneering radio duo who some say laid the groundwork for modern American comedy has been captured on a new four-disc set.

"The Very Best of Bob & Ray: Legends of Comedy," from HighBridge Audio in Minneapolis, spans the entire 40-year career of the comedy team of Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding.

Bob & Ray perfected a unique style of humor: subtle, but a little edgey, absurd, but not outrageous. It was a gentle yet satirical take on 1950s America.

Bob & Ray's dry, character driven brand of comedy was the forerunner for everything from Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld to Johnny Carson and a Prairie Home Companion.

INSPIRATION FOR MPR HOST

Former Minnesota Public Radio host Dale Connelly first heard Bob & Ray when Garrison Keillor played clips on the old Morning Show.

When Connelly took over the show, the shadow of Bob & Ray loomed even larger.

"No, in fact I admit to stealing from them shamelessly," he said. "But, we were never popular enough to get caught."

Regular Morning Show listeners will definitely remember a character Connelly and his partner Tom Keith, aka Jim Ed Poole, created--the intrepid, nasally, adenoidal reporter Bud Buck.

"Bud Buck was Wally Ballou," Connelly said.

Wally Ballou being one of Bob & Ray's best known characters, who was equally intrepid and nasal.

"And if you compared the voices, I could still go to jail for it," he said.

DEFINITIVE COMPILATION

HighBridge Audio in Minneapolis, which specializes in unabridged audiobooks and public radio collections, released "The Very Best of Bob & Ray," but it was assembled by the duo's archivist, Larry Josephson in New York. Josephson poured over hours and hours of old releases, tapes and cassettes sent in by fans to pull together what he calls a definitive compilation.

"I tried to cover the waterfront, so to speak," he said. "I tried to choose a spectrum of different kinds of routines, and this latest album is kind of my choice of the very best of the best of our collection."

Over the course of 96 tracks you hear soap opera episodes, expert interviews, commercials and other features. There's also selections of some of Bob & Ray's classic bits, recorded during a special performance at Carnegie Hall, including "The Slow Talkers of America."

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

If you listen to enough Bob & Ray, you realize how much timing is at the root of their act. That timing and rhythm enthralled "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" host Peter Sagal when he listened to Bob & Ray on AM radio in New York as a kid. Hearing old Bob & Ray routines reminds him how influential they were, but also how much comedy has changed.

"One of the things I've noticed is that comedy has gotten crazier and comedy has gotten more lunatic," he said.

And, according to Sagal, quicker to the payoff. Bob & Ray's humor took longer to develop because it had more dimensions.

"You know it wasn't just 'this is the president of the slow talkers of America,'" he said. "It was the guy reacting to the president of the slow talkers of America and going slightly nuts. That's what made it great."

Sagal says he's a little hesitant to listen to the "Best of Bob & Ray" collection. He's worried it'll sound old fashioned and reveal how much comedy has moved on. But he's hoping it'll bring back one of his favorite childhood memories, of listening to the radio for an entire hour just to hear a Bob & Ray sketch.