Friday, July 9, 2021

Radio Quote of the Day (Bob and Ray, on a Corrupt Mayor of 'Skunk Haven, New Jersey')

Journalist [played by Bob Elliott]: “The story of this man’s trial has been front-page news of most newspapers across the country for the past several weeks. He is the corrupt mayor of Skunk Haven, New Jersey, Mayor Ralph ‘Moody’ Thayer. Mayor Thayer…?”

Mayor Thayer [played by Ray Goulding]: “Thank you…”

Journalist: “…Down through the years, through your various administrations, you've managed to riddle each and every department with corruption, from the top all the way through even to the visiting nurse association. I’d like to ask you a question, and don’t answer right away. Give it a little thought. Would you say it's easier to be corrupt now than it was, oh, ten or fifteen years ago?”

Thayer: “Oh, my, yes! Here ten or fifteen years ago it was a disgrace to be corrupt. Now it's a rich, fertile field. I would recommend it to anyone with a devious mind, who is willing to put in long, long hours without working hard.”—Bob Elliott (1923–2016) and Ray Goulding (1922–1990​), “Corrupt Mayor” routine, in their Bob and Ray: The Two and Only LP (1970)

I came across a transcript of this skit (which I have only reproduced in part) while leafing through Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss, Tom Davis’ 2009 memoir of serving as a writer and occasional on-air performance in the early years of Saturday Night Live. I did a double-take when Davis wrote that he and his SNL partner Al Franken “owe no greater debt than to Bob and Ray.”

I was so surprised because SNL humor, especially in its formative years, has tended towards an edgy, irreverent brand of humor seemingly at odds with the older Boston-originating radio comedy legends. (Indeed, in a 1984 interview with Bill Wedo of The Morning Call, Goulding, in a none-too-subtle slap at this style of humor, noted, “You watch them doing jokes about cripples. I don't see anything funny about a cripple.")

Nevertheless, in an appearance on the TV show, the initially reluctant Bob and Ray were convinced by Franken and Davis to perform a skit mocking Rod Stewart’s “"Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

I have another reason for liking Bob and Ray’s “Corrupt Mayor” skit: It evokes knowing chuckles and nods of recognition from anyone hailing from New Jersey. Despite its small size, the state enjoys a well-earned reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. In fact, a 2019 review of political scandals in the Garden State referred to “A Jersey Tradition,” and Steven Malanga’s article from the same year in City Journal castigated “The ‘Miserable’ State.”

What makes this tradition so long-lasting—and such a rich source of comedy for the likes of Bob and Ray—is its bipartisan. In a 2014 post on the burgeoning “Bridgegate” scandal, I took note not only of the culture of contempt that then-Governor Chris Christie imparted to his aides, but also to the arrogance of his Democratic predecessors over the prior decade, Jim McGreevy and Jon Corzine.

“Skunk Haven,” indeed! Pick any spot on the map and you won’t be far from the home and power base of today’s counterpart to Mayor Thayer!

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