Vaudeville Humor: The Collected Jokes, Routines, and Skits of Ed Lowry

Vaudeville Humor: The Collected Jokes, Routines, and Skits of Ed Lowry

Vaudeville Humor: The Collected Jokes, Routines, and Skits of Ed Lowry

Vaudeville Humor: The Collected Jokes, Routines, and Skits of Ed Lowry


Vaudeville Humor: The Collected Jokes, Routines, and Skits of Ed Lowrycontains vaudeville jokes, skits, and routines from the first three decades of the twentieth century originally compiled by comedian Ed Lowry (1896- 1983). Although occasionally found in bits and pieces in anthologies and in some period dramatic comedies, vaudeville humor has never before been available in one collection- performers rarely if ever kept a record of their jokes and routines. Fortunately, Ed Lowry was an inveterate collector. He kept copious notebooks of jokes and routines that he not only commissioned but also stole from other comics, clipped from newspapers, and copied from now defunct popular magazines of the day. Editor Paul M. Levitt has reorganized the material into categories that preserve some of the flavor of Lowry's scrapbooks yet provide for finer distinctions. Part one, "Jokes," is organized by subject matter and cataloged by genre, dialects, and wordplay. From "Accidents" to "Work," this exhaustive catalog of humor features over one thousand jokes with topics that range from city slickers and country hicks through midgets and old maids to Swedes and tattoos. Part two, "MC Material: Biz, Jokes, Routines, and Skits" is germane to the job of master of ceremonies, routines, and skits. It features topics from fractured fairy tales to stuttering. Part three, an appendix, "Ed Lowry Laffter,"reproduces a privately published collection that is now a rare collector's item. "Although some of the jokes can undoubtedly be found in other places," explains Levitt in his introduction, "I know of no source as rich as this one for the twenties and thirties, a period so abundant in humor that for years afterward it fueled radio, cinema, and television."


If stealing jokes had been a crime, most vaudevillians would have ended up in jail. So great was the traffic in stolen jokes that the trade itself became a source of humor. At the conclusion of their acts, comedians would dash off to other vaude houses to hear competitors' routines. Shamelessly taking what they liked, sometimes altering the material, sometimes not, they rarely if ever acknowledged the source of their humor. When radio comedians became popular, the stage performers also stole from them—and vice versa. The traffic became so blatant that one wag quipped, "I was listening to the radio in order to steal some gags. Some of them came so fast, I almost dropped my pencil." But piracy had begun long before the advent of radio and was nothing new, as some doggerel from the early 1920s makes clear.

Good old King Tut, a waggish nut,
Made all his people happy;
He made up jokes to please the folks,
And some of them were snappy.
His ancient puns are famous ones,
We never can forget them,
Howe'er we try; they cannot die—
Ed Wynn will never let them!

Tut little dreamed, as people screamed
And doubled up in laughter,
That other wags would use his gags
Three thousand long years after.
He didn't know the radio
Would ever be perfected—
And that his wit would bolster it
He never once suspected.

But every night his nifties bright,
Revived by Pearl or Bernie,
Have got us awed when sent abroad
On their ethereal journey.
His merry quips, when on the lips
Of Jolson, are so funny
That sponsors rush and crowd and push
To pay Al heavy money.

We do not know the debt we owe
To this long mummied punster,
Nor how his stuff has smoothed the rough
For many a modern funster.

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