No one has given me more laughs in my life than the comedy team of Bob & Ray. Maybe it helped that much of their material involved send-ups of radio, but the duo had universal appeal.
Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding met in 1946 at radio station WHDH in Boston after their service in World War II. Bob was a disk jockey and Ray did the news during Bob's on-air shift. Their voices fit their roles---Bob somewhere in the tenor range, Ray having that bass/baritone "authoritative" voice that radio once required of men reading news copy. The two vets settled into an on-air compatability that ate away at the division of their roles. Their conversation evolved into improvised comedy and they became a New England sensation. Lured to New York, Bob & Ray became national stars on NBC. The increasing popularity of television only added to their appeal because they had a kind of Laurel (Bob) and Hardy (Ray) look to them and performed with such extremely deadpan faces that amplified the dryness of their wit.
Bob and Ray satarized the radio of their day. Believe it or not, there actually was a radio soap opera called "Mary Noble, Backstage Wife," a title begging to be ridiculed. The Bob & Ray version became "Mary Backstage, Noble Wife" and you don't have to have any memory of the radio soaps to enjoy what they did with it. As an interviewer, my favorite Bob & Ray routines involve pompous, vacuous one-on-ones of questionable news value. Thanks to YouTube, you can enjoy Ray's interviews with Bob as the world's leading expert on whooping cranes or the president (and recording secretary) of the Slow Talkers of America Society. Other characters included frenetic sportscaster Biff Burns (totally stolen years later by George Carlin) and the forever upcut man-on-the-street reporter Wally Ballou.
They were always being "rediscovered" with each new generation. Veteran public radio producer Larry Jospehson deserves enormous credit for reviving Bob & Ray's career in the 1980's when they enjoyed an evening at Carnegie Hall, a nice run on Broadway and an NPR series. Today Larry sells their old recordings at bobandray.com
The genius of Bob & Ray is reflected in their material STILL being funny all these years later. It's also remarkable that Bob & Ray never uttered a word that would offend grandma or the kiddies. Today it's almost impossible to be clean and get a laugh, but you can watch the old Bob & Ray routines and laugh to the point of tears. They were an influence on hundreds of comics still performing today. When Ray Goulding died in 1990, Garrison Keillor reached out to Bob Elliott and added him to the cast of his show. That was a classy gesture on Garrison's part and a recognition of the debt he owes to Bob & Ray. Though totally Minnesotan, "A Prairie Home Companion" regularly honors the legacy of a pair Yankees from an earlier time.
Bob has had the additional pleasure of witnessing the fabulous success of his son, Chris Elliott, as a comic actor. Father and son shared a sitcom for a time and Get a Life must have been enormously satisfying for both of them.
Bob Elliott enjoyed his 85th birthday in March. I thank him for being on The Bob Edwards Show and sharing his memories of one of the greatest comedy duos of all time---but I'm much more grateful for all the side-splitting laughter which began when I first heard Bob & Ray on NBC Radio's "Monitor" in the 1950's and continues to this very day.