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I listened to the land the profile of a nation in terms of its living language this week. Part two of the great American funny bone. Yes. Last week we spent 30 minutes in company with Ogden Nash Finley Peter Dunne James Thurber William R. Clarence Day and diverse unknown's who have left us with the lore of limericks tombstone inscription and tall tales. This week we continue with our examination and enjoyment of things that make Americans life. Listen to the land is produced by station w h y y Philadelphia under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Now here is your host and the writer Richard S. Burdick. When an able Defense employee discouraged by his failure to get a long promised promotion asked for a transfer to another Pentagon office his boss hit the ceiling. One morning during a long and unpleasant ruckus that followed an envelope marked strictly personal it was delivered to the irate boss. Inside was this fable told
by Tennessee and Kentucky mountaineers. Once there was a king and he hired a prophet to proffer him the weather and one evening the king aim to go fishing and the likeliest place was right close to his best girl's house. So take a notion to where was best clothes. So asked his profit was it liable to rain and the prophet says no King hitting a come anon not even a single saddle so a king but on his best clothes and started toward the fishin place and along come a farmer riding a jackass and a farmer he says. If you own a name and to get them clothes why did you best go back home because it's a coming on to rain a trash mover and a gully washer. And the kings as wild card I would profit to probably my weather and he a lot of the Dana comment on not even a suicidal so the king he went ahead and it come on a trash mover in a gully washer and the king's clothes were wet didn't his best girl she's seen him and laughed and
again went back home and throwed out his profit and he says fetch me that their farmer and they fetched him and the king says farmer I throwed out my profit $9 you to profit me my weather. The farmer says Well King I know profit. All I done was to look at my jack ass because of it's a coming on to rain is ears locked down and the lower they lops the harder it to come in under rain and this evening they were laying on a lap and the king says go home father I'll hire me a jackass and that's how it started and the jack asses have been holding all the high wage government jobs ever since. P.S. The civilian got his transfer. Well that was taken from Gerry klutzes gallon in the Washington Post and Times-Herald added to the long list of stories about the Pentagon and the stories called
walking papers. The ability to laugh at ourselves is one of the most characteristic of American traits. Unfortunately we seem to become more sensitive about this lately. I hope this is only a temporary susceptibility because if we lose our good natured objectivity we're in for a long dry period and I for one wouldn't want to be a part of it although later in the series in about see 11 more weeks I think to be precise We're going to devote an entire program to sports. It seemed only proper to include at least one sports item in this program on American humor. Baseball of course is unnatural. Not only because it's number one in popularity but because of its vulnerability to killing but to avoid being obvious which we always like to do in this series. I selected a piece not by an American but by an Englishman ABRI Menin a selection from his article A first
look at New York which appeared in a holiday mash magazine in the issue of October 1959. Mr Menand who was a delightfully perceptive and facile writer set down his observations of the great American sport in a style and with a point of view which are refreshing Leigh's sophisticated. And if you attuned to the spirit of an immensely funny hear from Holiday magazine October 1959 from a first look at New York as an Englishman in Yankee Stadium by Aubrey mountain. I had never seen a game of baseball in my life. I took it that the game would be rough strenuous noisy. It is in fact quite polished and at least in a game such as I saw filled with moments of ravishing physical beauty. It is a strange that Americans who are always willing to explain American things to a foreigner and at length are confused and tongue tied
when they speak about baseball. They seem almost ashamed and yet it is a work of art and one of the most polished. Their nation has yet produced. There was a diamond of grass on which young men come tanned dressed with a nostalgic and romantic touch in the fashion of boys. Some fifty years ago. They were watched by umpires closed in dark blue suits. To the right and left are chalk circles and which throughout each inning players kneel as they await their turn back to. The hieratic beauty of the pose of these kneeling youths so struck me that I forgot to ask what they were there for until after the game. But the ancient Greeks could not have thought of a more comely yet dramatic idea. Toward the front of the diamond facing each other at a distance. Stand to man. Who although one pitches a ball and the other has a bat are in fact like two fences behind a fence or batsman stands a man in armor who is there to catch the fence or pictures
ball. The fence or pitcher curls the ball with unbelievable velocity and it appeared to me no effort whatsoever save a short ritual dance which precedes the flow. One figure of which consists in raising a leg gracefully into the air. During this absorbing dance. The Fencer batsman less elegantly but with still with Grace moves his back and anticipatory gestures. The players near the bases dance on their own edging with light steps away from their proper positions. Thus the diamond during the moment before the ball is loosed is filled with a freshly controlled but unending movement an undue relation of athlete's limbs and bodies and builds excitement to the breaking point. The ball is pitched the better let us say hits and. The instantly the undulating movement of the athletes is turned and was snaking interplay of swift violent and sometimes astounding action. I have never seen men
run as these did in my life. They found in the air they lean on the air they slide and tumble to the ground with a force that should stun. One man I saw caught a ball by flinging himself yards along the ground until he ended stomach down lying flat. The ball held triumphantly above his hand. Yet. Not for one moment during his extraordinary feat that he loses grazers perfect control over every muscle in his body. Only a spectator who has watched baseball for years can savor all that goes on in those few 10 seconds. But it is enough and more for an ignoramus to rejoice in the sight of human beings doing difficult things with great skill. And like all great artists. The players are very cool and calm in the virtuosity is over. They walk sedately to their positions for the next display. All these intricate evolutions are scrutinized by the spectators in the yard when the watchful calm of students observing a great surgeon in an operating theatre.
Occasionally I heard someone shouting encouragement or advice to one of the players. These shouts famous and all descriptions of the game that I have read were I found not spontaneous bursts of words but dithyrambic speeches resembling those in which the chorus of a Greek tragedy admonishes deplores or sympathizes with the actors who as with the Greeks take no notice whatsoever. They add to the general air of formal beauty. From time to time the spectators relieve the strain of watching by eating hot dogs. I ate one myself. And cannot say that they add to the general air of formal beauty. Yet they must ritually be eaten. Arabian hosts offer guests the boiled eyeballs of sheep. And the stranger within the gates of the Yankee Stadium should eat his hot dog in the spirit with which it is given him. They match the architecture of the place. I think in fact its designer must have lived on. The
spectators do not jump up and down at exciting points of the play any more than a congregation leaps to its feet at turning points in a sermon. If they need to stretch their legs they do this too in a formal fashion. At one point in the game the supporters of the visiting side rise and flex their leg muscles at another equally perscribe the supporters of the home team all stand up to the stranger. It as surprising as the way audiences get to their feet at a fixed point in Handel's Messiah. In the 1920s and 1930s there lived a humorous spokesman for a familiar American type the educated but be fuddled urban never never is a Yiddish word and Alexander Woollcott once described a Navajo
as the person you forget to introduce at parties. Well Robert C. Benchley a very perceptive articulate man with a delicious sense of humor was the spokesman for this type. And he left many fine essays in his published books which are available in the public library. But I will always like this one quite wild called turning over a new ledger leave. He says New Year's morning approximately 92 million people in these United States will make another stab at keeping personal and household accounts for the coming year. The trouble with all of these well-intentioned January budget systems is that they presuppose on the part of the user an ability to add and subtract they take it for granted that you're going to do the right thing. Now with all due respect to our primary and secondary school system this is absurd here and there you may find someone who can take a page of
figures and model them over so they'll come out right at the bottom. But who wants to be a man like that. I mean what fun is it get out of life always sure of what the result is going to be. As for me give me the regular method of addition by logic. That is if the result obtained is 12 removed from the result that should have been obtained then ergo 12 is the amount by which you have miscalculated and it should therefore be added or subtracted as the case may be to or from the actual result somewhere up there in the middle of the column. So in the end the thing will balance and there you are with just the same result as if you had worked for hours over the page and quibble over every little point and figure there is no sense in becoming a slave to numerical signs which in themselves are not worth the paper they're written on. It is the imagination that one puts into accounting that makes it fascinating. If free verse why not free arithmetic. Let's take for instance a family was in Common say seven hundred fifty
thousand dollars a year exclusive of tips in the family or a father mother and a fox terrier. The expenses for such a family come under the head of liabilities under distributed among six accounts. Food lodging extras extras incidentals and extras for this couple I would advise the following system. Take the contents of the weekly pay envelope. Fourteen thousand four hundred twenty three dollars and eight cents and lay them on the kitchen table in little piles. So much for meat. So much for eggs. So much Fred he's of plaster etc. until the kitchen table is quite covered then sweep it all into a bag and balance your books as the student of French says. While there it is. By way of outlining beforehand just what you can spend on this and that and it is usually done that it might be well to take another family with a representative
income. Let us say that there are four in this family and that the income is about $1000 per year to small. If such a family would sit down some evening and draw a chart showing fathers earning capacity with one red line and the family spending capacity with one black line they would not only have a very pleasant evening but they would have a nice neat chart all drawn and suitable for framing. Some people profess to scoff at the introduction of bookkeeping into the running of the household. It is simply because they never tasted the fascination of the thing. The advantage of keeping family accounts is clear. If you do not keep them you are an easily aware of the fact that you are spending more than you were earning. And if you do keep them you know it. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been called a children's book for adults. I think perhaps this is my favorite
book one that I never tire of re reading. One of my favorite humor humorous passages is one in which Huck first encounters the Granger for its shortly after a steamboat has caused him and Jim the runaway slave to leap from their raft and make their separate ways to shore separated from his companion who finds his way through the night to the Granger for it's a strangely attractive family whose feud with the shepherds ans provides some of the novels most poignant passages but Huck's introduction to the Grand your friends and their house is all fun. The perceptive warm all embracing fun that was the core of Mark Twain's genius. It was a mighty nice family and a mighty nice house too. I hadn't seen no house out in the country before that was so nice and had so much style it didn't have an iron latch on the front door and or a wooden one with a buckskin string but a brass knob to turn same as houses in town. No work no bed in the pile or nurse sign of a bad heaps of Pollards in towns had beds in them. There was a
big fireplace that was bricked on the bottom and the bricks was kept clean and red pouring water on them and scrubbing them with another brick and sometimes they washed them over with red water pink that they call Spanish brown same as they do in town. There was a clock on the middle of the mantel piece with a picture of a town painted on the bottom half of the glass front and around place in the middle of it for the sun and you could see the pendulum swing in behind it. It was beautiful to hear that clock tick and sometimes when one of the peddlers had been along and scoured her up and got her in good shape. She'd start in and strike one hundred fifty four she got tuckered out. It wouldn't take any money for. It was a big outlandish parrot on each side of the clock made out of something like chalk painted up gaudy by one of the parents was a cat made a crockery a cracker a dog by the other and when you're pressed down on they squeaked but they did not. Their mouths never looked different or interested. They squeak through underneath. It was a couple a big wild turkey wing
fan spread out behind those things on the table in the middle of the room was a kind of a lovely crockery basket that had apples and oranges and peaches and grapes piled up in it which was much redder and yellower and prettier than real ones as but they weren't real because you could see where pieces had got chipped off and showed the white chalk or whatever it was underneath his table had a cover made out of beautiful oil cloth with a red and blue spread eagle painted on it and a painted border all around it come all the way from Philadelphia they said they were some books too piled up perfectly exact on each corner of the table. One was a big family Bible full of pictures. One was Pilgrim's Progress about a man that left his family. It didn't say why. I read considerable in it now and then the states the statements was interesting but tough. Another was friendships offering full of beautiful stuff and poetry but I didn't
read poetry. Another was Henry Clay's speeches and another was Doctor guns family medicine which told you all about what to do if a body was sick or dead. It was a hymn book and a lot of other books and there was a nice split bottom chair and perfectly sound too not bagged down in the middle and busted like an old basket. They had pictures hung on the walls mainly Washington's in Lafayette's and bottles and Highland Marys and one called signing the Declaration. There was some the called crayons which one of the daughters which was dead made her own self when she was 15 years old. They was different from any pictures I ever seen before blacker mostly than is common. One was a woman in a slim black dress belted small under the armpits with bulges like a cabbage in the middle of the sleeves and a large scoop shovel bonnet with a black veil and white slim ankles crossed about with black tape and
very wee black slippers like a chisel and she was leaning pensive on a tombstone on her right elbow under a weeping willow and her other hand hanging down her side holding a white handkerchief and a reticule and underneath the picture it said Shall I never see the more alas. Another one was a young lady with her hair all combed up straight to the top of her head knotted there in front of a comb like a chair back and she was crying into a handkerchief and had a dead bird laying on its back in her other hand with its heels up and underneath the picture it said. I shall never hear the ice weak Europe more allies. There was one where a young lady was at a window looking up at the moon and tears running down her cheeks and she had an open letter in one hand with black sealing wax showing on one edge of it and she was mashing a locket with a chain to it against her mouth and under the picture and said And art thou gone yes now Art gone alas.
These was all nice pictures I reckon but I somehow didn't seem to take to them because if ever I was down a little They always gave me the fan tods. Everybody was sorry she died because she had laid out a lot more of these pictures to do in a body could see by what she had done what they had lost. And I reckoned that with her disposition she was having a better time in the graveyard. She was at work and what they said was her greatest picture when she took sick and every day and every night it was her prayer to be allowed to live till she got it done but she never got the chance. It was a picture of a young woman in a long white gown standing on the rail of a bridge all ready to jump off with her hair all down her back and looking up to the moon with the tears running down her face and she had two arms folded across her breast and two arms stretched out in front and two more reaching up to the moon. And the idea was to see which pair would look best then scratch out all the other arms.
But as I was saying she died before she got her mind made up and now they kept this picture over the head of the bed near room and every time her birthday cake come around they hung flowers on it. Other times it was a head with a little curtain. The young woman in the picture had a kind a nice sweet face but there were so many arms and made it look too spidery seemed to me. This young girl kept a scrap book when she was alive and she used to paste obituaries in accidents and cases of patients suffering in and out of the Presbyterian observer and write poetry after them out of her own head. It was very good poetry. This is what she wrote about a boy by the name of Stephen dolling butts and fell down a well and was drownded ode to Stephen dolling Botts deceased and did young Stephen stick him and did young Stephen die and did the sad hearts that can and
did the mourners cry. No such was not the fate of young Stephen dolling bots. Those sad hearts around him thickened was not from sickness shots. No whooping cough did rock his frame nor measles drear was spots not these impaired the sacred name of Stephen dolling bots despised love struck not with well without head of curly knots nor stomach troubles laid him low just to heave dolling bots. Oh no. Then a list with tearful eyes a wild sty his fate due to his soul did from his cold world fly by falling down a well. They got him out and emptied him. Alas it was too late. Is spirit was gone for the sport aloft in the realms of the good and great. We're recording this programme of course so we could go back in
the race. The effect of me breaking myself up here reading that but I don't think I well I think it's all part of the chain he has of Mark Twain that's so hilarious you can't read it as many times as I've read that thing aloud. I just can't read it without breaking up and Jim killers up there all huddled over in red in the face when I get off on time. Here's a dizzy tale about a man who saw of all things a unicorn in his garden and the unicorn is one of those fabled animals with a body like a horse and with a single horn growing out of his head. I say Fable because this is a fable written by the fabulous James Thurber like all fables that has a moral. Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn. Quietly cropping roses in the garden the man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke or there's a unicorn in the garden he said.
Eating roses. She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him. A unicorn is a mythical beast she said and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there. He was now browsing among the tulips here unicorn. So the man and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The Unicorn ate it gravely with a high heart because there was a unicorn in his garden. The man went upstairs and roused his wife again. The Unicorn ate a Lily he said. His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly. You are a booby she said and I am going to have you put in the booby hatch. The man who had never liked the words booby and booby hatch and who liked them even less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden thought for a moment.
We'll see about that. He said he walked over to the door. He has a golden horn in the middle of his forehead he told her. Then he went back to the garden to watch the unicorn but the unicorn had gone away. The man sat down among the roses and went to sleep. As soon as the husband had gone out of the house the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could. She was very excited and there was a gloat in her eye. She telephoned the police and she telephoned a psychiatrist. She told them to hurry to her house and bring a strait jacket. When the police and the psychiatrist arrived they sat down in chairs and looked at her with great interest. My husband she said saw a unicorn this morning. The police looked at the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist looked at the police. He told me it ate a Lily she said. The psychiatrists looked at the police and the police looked at the psychiatrist.
He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forage she said. And a solemn signal from the psychiatrist the police leaped from their chairs and seized the wife. They had a hard time subduing or force you put up a terrific struggle but they finally subdued her just as they got her into the straight jacket. Her husband came back into the house. Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn. Asked the psychiatrist. Of course not said the husband. The unicorn is a mythical beast. It's all I want to know is that the psychiatrist take her away. I'm sorry sir but your wife is as crazy as a jaybird. So they took her away cursing and screaming and shut her up in an institution. The husband lived happily ever after. MARL don't count your boobies until they are hatched. The great American funny bone parts 1 and 2. The N..
I'm sure the during the past two weeks I've omitted a favorite of yours and as a matter of fact not everything that I've included has been a favorite of mine but the items have helped to provide a cross-section of the range and types of American humor and that's perhaps a key to one facet of our multifaceted national character. There are such an ever increasing number of things to think about and worry about these days that our sense of balance and proportion is threatened. A laugh a chuckle or just an inner glow of amused appreciation can supply a good tonic of equanimity. Next week's subtitle is all about love and love is indeed what it's all about. Love runs quite a gamut of types and forms and not all love is what we normally think of when we hear and use the term. I hope you'll plan to be with me next week for 30 minutes of love with nary a mention of Dan Cupid. Until then this is
Dick Burdick saying. Thanks for joining me and so long. Listen to the land is produced and recorded by station W.H. y y Philadelphia under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is James Keeler inviting you to be with us next week for the program all about love on the Listen to the land with your host and narrator Richard does Bertie. This is the end AB Radio Network.
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Listen to the land
The great American funnybone, part two
Producing Organization
WHYY (Radio station : Philadelphia, Pa.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-7w677g3f).
Episode Description
This program, the second of two parts, takes a look at American humor writing.
Series Description
America's literary heritage is explored through readings of short stories, poems, folklore, journalism and legends. The series is narrated by Richard S. Burdick.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Announcer: Keeler, James
Host: Burdick, Richard S.
Producing Organization: WHYY (Radio station : Philadelphia, Pa.)
Writer: Klutz, Jerry
Writer: Benchley, Robert, 1889-1945
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-54-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:37
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Chicago: “Listen to the land; The great American funnybone, part two,” 1960-02-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “Listen to the land; The great American funnybone, part two.” 1960-02-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: Listen to the land; The great American funnybone, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from