Write if you get a life

I don’t know how many readers remember Bob and Ray, the comedy duo whose bone-dry deadpan humor was a staple of radio (and sometimes television) for 40 years, starting in 1951 and coming to a suitably low-key close sometime in the 1990s. Their show regularly featured Wally Ballou, a flat-footed journalist who never quite managed to arrive on the scene of any interesting news, and Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, a long-running Helen Trent-type serial. Kurt Vonnegut was a diehard fan — at his suggestion, they were featured as newscasters in Between Time and Timbuktu, a hard-to-find made-for-TV quasi-anthology of Vonnegut’s stories — and their comedic DNA can be found in the work of Garrison Keillor, George Carlin, Al Franken and David Letterman.

They had their tag lines: “Write if you get work” was a favorite sign-off, as was “And hang by your thumbs,” and Bob and Ray fans didn’t have to explain why those phrases cracked them up — any more than Monty Python fans need to analyze why “This . . . is . . . an . . . EX-PARROT!” is one of the funniest bits conceived by the human mind.

One of their most quietly surrealistic routines was a hobby feature that included regular interviews with the editor of Wasting Time magazine. One of the guests (played by Ray Goulding, if I recall right) had spent 20 years collecting the numbered tickets from deli counters. Harr harr — what could be more ridiculous than that? Well, after 30 years and the rise of the Internet, life imitates Bob and Ray.

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