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Steve Allen made a mark in sketch comedy – Loveland Reporter-Herald

Steve Allen made a mark in sketch comedy – Loveland Reporter-Herald
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Let us return to the world of sketch comedy.

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Sitting down to a delightful meal with the CEO and her longtime girlfriend (a shorter time girlfriend for me) at Temporary Willard Manor West, I mentioned that I was writing a second column on sketch comedy.

I tried to briefly define it, then said “Let me create an example for you.”

I have written sketch comedy many times in the past but not at the TV-compensated level.

Here’s my example: There is a man dining with two women (easy casting at the time). He is trying to impress both of them with the thought of a future date.

He is somewhat nervous, being inexperienced  in matters of the opposite gender. They are comfortable but don’t know him very well.

The restaurant is somewhat pretentious hoping for a Michelin Star but the odds of getting a Michelin tire are better. The waiter is haughty and doesn’t envision an expensive wine or a big tip. The menu is limited with the prices printed in red on dark paper. The chef is suffering from a bad case of allergies.

Then it begins with the presentation of the wine menu to the man.

So, with clever actors it can be done as ad lib or I could write dialogue with hints of lines. That’s the crux of sketch comedy.

Done well, as some have through the years, it’s delightfully funny and many times laugh-out-loud humorous.

Another early television program that illustrated sketch comedy at its best was “The Steve Allen Show.”

Steve’s was a variety show hosted by him from June of 1956 to June of 1960 on NBC. It reappeared briefly on ABC and then in first-run syndication from 1962 to 1964.

Steve Allen was an early host of what was called “The Tonight Show” before launching his variety show.

It was truly that with musical guests interweaved with comedy and interviews.

The show fostered the careers of Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye and near the end of its run, Jim Nabors.

The most popular sketch was the “Man on the Street.” In it Steve interviewed the characters on the street with a question each week.

Don Knotts was the nervous Mr. Morrison with shaky mannerisms who would introduce himself as men such as a brain surgeon whose hands never stopped shaking and made claims such as he wrote a book on the art of precision brain surgery.

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Each week it was something different embodying the nervousness (something he later used as Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show”).

Another character was Gordon Hathaway as played by Louis Nye. He was usually the first to be interviewed by Allen and his greeting of “Hi Ho Steverino!” became a catchphrase (expected each week).

The third of the regulars was a man who couldn’t remember his own name. Tom Poston was the guy and each week he failed — no matter the coaching by Steve — to recall his name.

Later Pat Harrington joined the gang as Guido Panzini, an Italian golf player.

The sketch was a high point of each broadcast but not the only focus. Steve Allen — in addition to being a good musician and a writer of hundreds of songs — fostered the careers of many musicians.

His show coincided with the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and although Allen himself had little affection for the genre he presented Elvis Presley before he went on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Allen had Elvis decked out in top hat and white tie and tails of a “high class” musician singing “Hound Dog” to a live basset hound similarly attired.

He had taken a risk booking Presley, whose performances were considered risque at the time, and the bit was orchestrated both for comedic effect and to offset potential controversy.

RCA Victor (co-owned with NBC at the time) took the image from a rehearsal photo to put on the sleeve of the 45 rpm single of “Hound Dog” (yes, I had a copy).

That particular broadcast drew the largest audience in the history of the show.

Steve also booked Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis among the collection of early rockers.

Steve Allen was more than just an actor (“The Benny Goodman Story”) and a song composer.

In later years, he wrote and produced “Meeting of Minds” for PBS. The program format was to allow four famous personalities to introduce themselves in the first half of the show then to discuss critical issues in the second. Actors portrayed: Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, Cleopatra, Karl Marx (not one of Groucho’s brothers), Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale among others.

Allen and his wife Jayne Meadows frequently occupied one of the identities. The show was a critical hit earning Emmys and Emmy nominations.

It was not sketch comedy but was fascinating as I watched several.

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Steve Allen was a brilliant man who transcended American culture from composing to comedy to characterizations.



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