Home / Retro Redux: Before Weird Al, Newhart And Sherman Tickled America’s Funny-Bone

Retro Redux: Before Weird Al, Newhart And Sherman Tickled America’s Funny-Bone

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Comedy albums have gone through some ups and downs through the years but have been around for a long time, and generally fall into one of two types. They're either straight comedy, such as a recording of a comedian's act, or novelty music — sometimes satirical but often just plain silly. (A subject I've touched on before — Silly Songs.)

In the 1950's and early 1960's, comedy albums went through a period of booming popularity. There were some that were pretty risqué for the times, and records by Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx, and others were difficult to find in some areas. But there were many comedians who aimed for mainstream America, and they could be hilariously funny too, even with tamer material.

Many of the funniest started as radio stars, and moved to TV and records from there. In the 1950's, the comedy team of Bob and Ray made a lot of people laugh with their spoofs, and moved effortlessly from one medium to another.

There were lots of other comedians making a name for themselves – Shelly Berman was one – but the guy I remember best is an ex-accountant who is now mostly known as a TV sitcom star, but at one time he was the hottest thing around.

In 1960, this fledgling comedian put out his first album, The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart, and it made him a star. It earned him a Grammy for Album Of The Year, and I was one of the millions of people who plunked down some hard-earned cash and bought it. His self-written, deadpan-delivery monologues – usually performed as one side of a conversation – were classics, and my friends and I never tired of hearing them.

The early 1960's saw the rise of another comedy recording star, but in this case one who specialized in silly, satirical songs. Like Spike Jones before him, he found ways to take familiar songs and twist them in a way that gave them a kick — and made them funny too. His name was Allan Sherman, and he was a multi-talented guy who actually had a long and fruitful career as a writer and producer before dying in 1973, but will always be best remembered for his songs — especially one particular tune.

In 1962, his album of parody songs, My Son The Folk Singer, became a huge success, and "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" (AKA "Camp Granada") was the breakout hit. The song was based on Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours", an old classical piece with a familiar melody, but Sherman added lyrics that made it sound like a letter written by a homesick summer camper. It hit gold, with huge sales and a Grammy win too.

Sherman provided the inspiration for Weird Al Yankovic, who paid him homage on the cover of his first record, and was also famously linked to him during his appearance on The Simpsons, when Homer accused him of stealing Sherman's act.

The material might seem a little dated now but humor never goes out of style, and I'm betting it will still get a chuckle out of most listeners.

Bob Newhart – "The Driving Instructor"

Allan Sherman – "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah"

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