A few minutes with Bob and Ray . . .
Those gentle--but relentlessly hilarious--satirists Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were in town the other day to promote “The New and Improved Bob and Ray Book.” Like their other books, this one contains samples of their fanciful sketches that have charmed radio audiences for nearly 40 years.
Their radio commercials also are a smash, and they’ve been in movies, done a Broadway show, hit the college circuit, appeared numerous times on “The Tonight Show.”
The book is very funny. Bob and Ray can reach a riotous level of absurdity by attaching detailed significance to such trifles as the purchase of flypaper and the invention of the safety pin. Their droll characters spoof journalists and politicians among others, and they’ve created such outlandish soap operas as “Garish Summit” to satirize about any subject imaginable.
Bob and Ray are now in their early 60s. Bob is shorter and thinner, Ray taller and fatter. They are an institution, their comedy association so strong that I can start laughing just thinking about them. I think of Bob and Ray and instantly hear Ray interviewing Bob as Harlowe P. Whitcomb, president of the Slow Talkers of America.
Ray: Where are you from?
Whitcomb: From . . . Glens . . . Falls.
Ray: New York?
Whitcomb: New . . . York.
And so on and so on. Well before the agonizing interview is finished, Ray is so exasperated that he is completing the slow-talking Whitcomb’s sentences for him. It was one of hundreds and hundreds of inspired pieces by Bob and Ray.
No wonder, then, that I immediately agreed when offered the chance to interview these two incredibly funny men when they came to town. I laughed practically all the way to their hotel.
I picked up the house phone and called Bob’s room. But there was no answer. I called Ray’s room, and Ray answered. “Am I too early?” I asked.
“Naw, oh, well, I . . . ,” he replied.
“Where’s Bob?” I asked. “Oh, I dunno,” he replied.
We agreed to meet in the lobby by the escalator. I turned around and saw Bob standing nearby. I introduced myself. “Hello,” Bob said.
We sat down and waited for Ray.
I asked Bob where he and Ray lived. “He lives on Long Island, I live in the the city (Manhattan),” he said. “Oh,” I said. “He goes up to Cape Cod in the summer and I go up to Maine,” he said. “Oh,” I said.
In setting up the interview, their publisher had mentioned that Bob and Ray were going to do a TV special on PBS. I asked Bob about it. “Oh, that’s sort of up in the air right now,” he said. “But you and Bob are still on NPR (National Public Radio), aren’t you?” I asked. “No, we just ended that run,” Bob said.
I asked Bob which medium he and Ray prefered to work in. “Oh, I dunno,” he replied. “Radio, I guess.”
“Has your comedy changed much over the years?” I asked Ray. “Is that a new building out there?” said Ray, looking out the window. “Our comedy’s about the same,” Bob said.
“How would you define your comedy?” I asked. “Oh, I dunno,” Ray replied. “Anti-pomposity,” Bob said. “We keep it simple,” Ray said.
I asked where they got their material. “Everyday happenings,” Ray said.
“Do you two spend much time together?” I asked. “No,” Bob said. “Except for a trip like this,” Ray said. “He lives on the island and I live in the city,” Bob said.
“I wonder how they clean the outside windows on that building,” said Ray, squinting. “Maybe they don’t clean them at all,” Bob said.
I asked Bob and Ray if they had any favorite routines. Bob shook his head. “Naw, I don’t have any favorites,” Ray said. “We’ve done so many, you know.”
“Are there any of your routines you’d like to burn?” I asked. “No,” Bob said. “No,” Roy said.
There was a long pause while Ray squinted out the window at the building. Bob smiled. “I just can’t understand it,” Ray said about the building.
“I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, because I’m your biggest fan,” I said to Bob and Ray, who are very nice men. “But I don’t think I’ve ever met two more talented people who were so dull in person.”
Bob nodded. “People are always saying that,” said Ray, frowning. “It beats me.”
Then Ray said nothing. And Bob said nothing. And I said nothing. There was nothing more to say. After an interview that lasted about 10 minutes, we shook hands and I excused myself, feeling that I somehow had been trapped inside a Bob and Ray routine with two Harlowe P. Whitcombs, as if this were “The Twilight Zone.”
That same night, Bob and Ray appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Not surprisingly, they were hilarious.