(Fred Allen: Parr, Carson, Leno, Letterman, O'Brian all point back to him)
Last week I ran a Jack Benny Christmas program and mentioned how Benny and Fred Allen were two of the most influential comedians of the 1930s and 1940s, even to the point of having a decades long "feud". Benny went on to achieve greater heights with Television in the later 50s and 60s, but Allen didn't make the transition before his sudden death in 1956. But Fred Allen, whose dry wit and gift for improvisation proved to be just as much a cornerstone in radio and television comedy, and one that can be directly traced to the monologues of Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno. Both Benny and Allen started out in vaudeville, a popular form of live variety entertainment before the days of Television - an art form which is completely forgotten now. The schedules and demands were grueling, but they proved to be some of the greatest forums of experimentation in comedy. The audiences were tough and the hours were long - but from those circumstances emerged some of the greatest performers in American entertainment history.
This particular Fred Allen show is the last one of 1939 (December 27th) - it's a more or less New Years show. Allen had been starring in his own radio program (Town Hall Tonight) for a little over three years by this time and was still in the process of evolving. I will offer later examples in the coming months in order to give you a better idea why Allen was so influential. But for now you can get some indication of who this comedic genius was.