Transcript:

Speaker The Bob Hope that I was introduced to is the Bob Hope on television specials in, I'd say the mid 70s, and so I got to know him at exactly the wrong time. And I think not it is not at his best. And to be fair, he was always great. I want to make that clear. He was always just it had always had terrific delivery. And and I've seen footage of him with his wife doing bits when I think he must be in his 80s and he's fantastic. And so I want to make that clear. It's just that the Bob Hope that I'm watching in the mid 70s, late 70s, early 80s, the culture's changed. And so Senate live comes on in nineteen seventy five. And it's this revolution and comedy is suddenly dangerous and it's filled with these young, you know, bad boys. And it's the whole attitude about comedy has changed. The whole culture has changed and it's become subversive and. And Bob Hope is doing sketches with John Forsayth, where he's dressed up as a Cabbage Patch doll and he's with Brooke Shields and he's pushing 80 and he's he's doing a sketch that you probably could have done 30 years earlier. So that's the Bob Hope I first see. And people of my generation weren't that interested. And so it was only later that I started to catch some of his work in movies. And. The person who I have a lot of credit to is Woody Allen, I read a quote by Woody Allen that he said, Bob Hope is one of my favorites. Why revered Woody Allen and still do. And Woody Allen was and is one of my heroes because, you know, he started as a writer like me. And then he got into performing and started, you know, and wrote prose, really great books. So I loved Woody Allen. And Woody Allen says, oh, I love Bob Hope really influenced me. And I thought, what are you talking about? How did Bob Hope influence you in any way? When did you ever dress up as a Cabbage Patch doll with John Forsyth? Then I went back and I started looking at seeing some of the movies. And you see it, you see that that the character that Woody Allen does is a character that I think was really, to a large extent invented by Bob Hope. Which is the, you know, the LECG, who's a coward, he's fast talking. Look at the way Woody Allen confronts an authority figure in any of his comedies from the late 60s and 70s. And you see Bob Hope confronting an authority figure, you know, the whole nice fella, you get muscles, he's got muscles.

Speaker Good, nice work out.

Speaker Nice for you backing up. It's a guy I always think of. Bob Hope is the guy who invented talking while backing up, smiling, complimenting, trying to get out of the room.

Speaker Good, nice fella talks big and then is confronted by the reality. So the guy who is like, if I see him, I'll kill him.

Speaker That's what I don't have, obviously kill him and then ha nice with the muscles and the swords, 20, that whole thing which I love and I've been doing since I was a kid.

Speaker And I first thought I got it from Woody Allen and then realized, you know, it's Bob Hope, it's the guy who's just trying to get out of the room with his life. And it's really fun to watch. And then you see, you know, Road to Zanzibar and Paleface and Son of Paleface and you see all the other road pictures and. It's just he's so much fun to watch Bob Hope.

Speaker What is it about that character you just. I think that impacts people like you and in other people so strongly that character witness protection, I think is, you know, for me, I.

Speaker As a kid growing up, I was not a terrific athlete. I was really skinny and wasn't a fighter. And the but I knew that I could be funny. That was my way out. And so I used to kind of do that character in, you know, through elementary school and high school. And people would laugh. It actually works its way and it would make girls laugh. The guy who is self-deprecating, it actually played to my sense of myself, which is I got to get out of this situation. It's the heart of why people develop comedic skills. It's a survival mechanism. And so I just liked that you could identify with Bob Hope. You know, you can identify more with Bob Hope than you can with Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby. I mean, he can sing and he's he's always the coolest guy in the room. And I could always identify with the Bob Hope who's put upon being being conned once the girl doesn't quite know how to get her and when confronted with danger, just wants to get out of there. And so I always, like a sponge, would absorb that kind of stuff and.

Speaker You know, I've spent years. I've spent twenty four years on television and whenever I'm around an authority figure. I channeled Bob Hope, so I remember once interviewing Ted Williams and it's the great Ted Williams and I'm from Boston and it's and it's one of the few interviews he ever did on a late night show. And he hadn't been seen in a long time. And this is shortly before he he passed away and he came on my show and Ted Williams said he's talking to me in this gruff manner about his years in Korea, the fighter pilot and how his wingman is John Glenn and John Glenn.

Speaker You've never seen a man like John Glenn. He embodied courage and masculinity and he had a look in his eye that told you he knew exactly what he was doing. And you felt safe because he was a real man's man and he had that quality.

Speaker And there was a pause. And I just channeled Bob Hope and I said, Mr. Williams, do I have that same quality knowing that I'm just giving him a giant softball?

Speaker And Ted Williams just looked at me and he went, no, I got this huge laugh.

Speaker And I'm channeling, you know, I'm channeling the the boastful idiot who and then getting slapped down. And that's all Bob Hope to me. That's Bob Hope.

Speaker That's you have a great story about meeting. I'm sure that I was working on The Simpsons.

Speaker I want to say this is about nineteen ninety one. And. They are one of the producers came in and said, we need somebody to go and record Bob Hope's voice. And this is give you some indication. It's a room full of comedy writers, and they come in and say he wants to record Bob Hope's voice and I thought I going to have to fight everybody to get this chance. People weren't that into it. Shockingly. Myself and a writer named Jeff Martin, our hands shot up and then went, OK, you guys go. Jeff Martin's a huge fellow writer on The Simpsons. He was huge Bob Hope fan. I'm a huge Bob Hope fan. So we went over to his house in Silverlake and we were just going to record it was a Bob Hope cameo in The Simpsons episode. And it had a great line in it, which is Bob Hope.

Speaker I'm not sure I'm remembering it correctly, but I think Bob Hope is doing some sort of USO show and and, you know, it starts to kind of fall apart almost like Apocalypse Now. And so the helicopter takes off and Bob is hanging on to the bottom of the helicopter. And he has this great line that the writers came up with. I didn't think of this line, but they're flying over the city escaping.

Speaker And Bob Hope just and he's holding his putter and he just says, let me down at that boat show like he sees a boat show. Happinesses set me down because that was kind of the rap on him at the time is, you know, he's always off to open a mall or do an appearance at a boat show. And I just loved put me out of that boat show. So that's the line we needed from Bob Hope. We needed a few other lines, but that's the one I remember.

Speaker So we go over there, they let us in. They tell us Bob will be with us shortly.

Speaker And they leave us alone and we're alone in this wood paneled room that has his scripts, leather bound, and there's pictures on the wall of like him with Peyton, I mean, pictures that nobody has, you know, him carving Mt. Rushmore, him, you know, putting the gold spike in the in the railroad that united the east and the west. I mean, he's just got the most iconic pictures that any comedian will ever have. He was he was the Zelig of the 20th century. He's everywhere. So it's you know, him at the birth of Eisenhower. You know, he's he's everywhere.

Speaker And we're just stunned. And we look out, we see us putting green and we can't believe we're in Bob Hope's house. And then he comes in.

Speaker This is very late later stages, Bob Hope. And he was very hard of hearing. And his daughter who worked with him brought him in, as I recall.

Speaker And we were introduced to him. We shook his hand and she said, Dad, these are the writers. You know, he had a lot of trouble hearing then.

Speaker And I was.

Speaker Really hoping for this great moment with Bob Hope, and at first I wasn't really getting that weaves because he's very old at this point and he's a little bit cranky and he records the line just me out of that boat show. And we get the line and then it's done and we start unpacking the equipment or the people do. And Jeff and I are going to leave and I'll never forget this because I stuck around a little bit and Bob gets up and he's walking out of the room and some guy who was with him, who worked with him said. Came up to him and said, Mr. Hope, one of the dogs, the vet called and he's not doing so well and we may have to put him down kind of thing, which was probably expected news.

Speaker And Bob, I'll never forget it just said, well, you better let me tell him. And then whistling and out of the room. And I was like, yes, I got it. Now you better let me tell him. And then he out of the room and up the stairs. And I don't know, I thought, like, OK, I got my little I'll remember that for the rest of my life.

Speaker So I had.

Speaker The pleasure of being in his house and shaking his hand and was not a big day in his life. It was a big day in my life.

Speaker That's great. Yeah, I saw the podcast. Mm hmm. And you referred to Hope as America's joke teller. Mm hmm. What did you mean by that?

Speaker I think you know Richard Zoglin in his book and. It was something that I wasn't that aware of. You know, I grew up.

Speaker And to me, the monologue was Johnny Carson. So when I grew up, I grew up thinking of the monologue, the way I still do today, whenever I go out and do a monologue in the back of my head, you're in the shadow of Johnny Car of Johnny Carson, because that's how we thought of it.

Speaker And I still prefer that rhythm. There are a lot of late night host now that have sort of adapted to certain that live. You know, they show clips and they sort of comment on them or they show the picture over their shoulder. And I still prefer, you know, personally, I'm kind of old fashioned. I like the setup, the joke. I like when the joke bombs having fun with it, bombing. And. So I thought that came from Johnny Carson, and then when you really do your research, you find out, you know, that's really Bob Hope.

Speaker Bob Hope was the one who I think might be the first one to take topical things that are happening in the news.

Speaker And he has a very clear style, which is the setup and then the joke. And you can see it in his all the times that he hosted the Oscars, the Academy Awards, and any time he appeared on television and did a monologue, setup, joke, setup joke. And he would he could pivot off that. If the joke didn't work, he could joke about the joke not working. And you can see that that's in essence, what Johnny Carson was doing. And hope, I think, was the first guy that did it. And he was kind of the chairman of the board. What Sinatra was to music chairman of the board. He is the biggest star you think of hope was the chairman of the board of comedy. I mean, he was the America's host. Now we live in an era where there is seven hundred thousand hosts. You don't know who the host is anymore. Bob Hope was the sort of master of ceremonies for America in the 20th century and.

Speaker No one questioned why is Bob Hope hosting the Oscars? What are you talking about, Bob Hope, he hosts the Oscars and there was no controversy about it, there was no will he be asked back?

Speaker Will he just host the Oscars? And you can see it? I think I saw not long ago I was watching his monologue from the nineteen sixty seven Oscars and. He comes out in the audience, is really happy to see him, and he's so comfortable, he's so comfortable, he's the most comfortable person you'll ever see host the Oscars because he's done it. One hundred and thirty times. He he's older than the Oscars. He's. Got more status, comedy's all about status, Bob Hope had more status than anybody in the room. So of course he's comfortable the way Frank Sinatra could just walk out on a stage and not worry. How is this going to go over? That's Bob Hope. So there's this confidence and this sense of authority.

Speaker And I think he was he'd earned that. He'd earned that for years and years and years and years of being really good and being this sort of preeminent comedian.

Speaker Was the one you watch was at the pass over?

Speaker I don't remember that joke, remember, it had just been a strike, the one I saw there. I think there had just been an after a strike and he was doing a lot of jokes about who he was. But I don't remember which was the Passover joke.

Speaker So our job was to say this is the time for the Oscars again, or as I call it at my house.

Speaker Oh, Passover. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he.

Speaker You know, one of the things that hope did so well. His tell a joke. And then the slight sadness, which, you know, I've stolen a billion times, obviously, Jack Benny had it to this idea that, you know, you tell a joke. At your own expense and the audience laughs and you can get a second laugh off of sort of the light going out in your eyes that you don't see that you've been humiliated. So you tell a joke at your own expense. The audience laughs and instead of a smile, a slight wistful sadness. And then you get your second laugh and then you can play with that. And I thank them because I, I think half the laughs I've had in twenty four years of late night television have been me not saying a word and just looking slightly sad.

Speaker It's it's an amazing thing. The audience is laughing.

Speaker You don't make a joke about my impotence or you know, I'll have a huge star on and she'll talk about how exciting it was. You know, the most exciting day of her life was meeting Tom Cruise. And I'll say and, you know, how does this how does this rank being on my show? And all they have to do is just go, you know, it's good and. Just a little bit of and then, you know, they take that single off me slightly looking off to the side and, you know, I stole that from Hope and and Jack Benny and and Johnny Carson, who synthesized it from them. And, you know, everybody's doing their own little riff on it. But, man, it's great.

Speaker You talked a bit about what you thought about his character, so let's talk a little bit about what you saw in terms of what made him unique as a. Some people are verbal comics, some are physical.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, what did you see? He's enormously gifted and that sounds like it should be obvious that he's enormously gifted.

Speaker But when you see him in those films, you know, even today, you know, Paleface or Son of paleface or, you know, any of the road pictures, he is. So.

Speaker Fantastic, he is verbal. We all know he's verbal, he's so quick and verbal and you know that he's probably nailing everything on the first take. But it's also his eyes are always working and darting around, and I think it's Son of Paleface, he's at the bar and he's got this ridiculous pipe. And I've looked at that scene a bunch of I always just look at him. He's having fun with the pipe and his eyes are darting around and he's making wisecracks and but then he's just playing with the pipe a little bit and then looking at other people. And if the sound is off and I'm just looking at him, I'm laughing. And he's you know, he's one of the best verbal comedians ever. But I can watch him with the sound off. And I'm laughing because he's constantly. He's constantly up to something, he's constantly trying to figure out where the angle is, what's this guy up to? How am I in trouble here? I like her the way that guy looks scary and he's got this pipe and you should check out that scene. I don't know why. I'm just he's having fun and he's it's effortless or seemingly effortless.

Speaker He's, you know, he's got.

Speaker You know, certain people come along and they've just got, you know, Eddie Murphy's an example I've always thought of, Eddie Murphy is just, oh my God, that person is so talented. There's so they can do so much such a natural, you know, Bob Hope.

Speaker You look at him in those early pictures, and I think later on, the hope that I'm seeing in the 70s and 80s, you know, he's older, he's standing still and he's reading jokes off a cue card. And so you're losing a lot of what really made him different and special.

Speaker And when you see him in his prime, in his youth, he's he can do everything. You know, he's he's a great physical comic and he can dance and he can do stunts and he can, you know, get out these incredibly complex lines.

Speaker And his timing is absolutely pitch perfect. So you put it. And I even look at his hands sometimes he's he's his hands are fun to watch. There's just so much about him that's fun to watch and.

Speaker You know, how do you respond to, uh, when he breaks the fourth wall and talks to the.

Speaker Well, I think. You know, I think now maybe we take.

Speaker Today, we may take breaking the fourth wall for granted or feel like and I remember the first the first time I saw I think the first time I was in a movie, I was watching Blazing Saddles.

Speaker And at the end of the movie, there's a big fight. And then they crash through one to another soundstage and Harvey Korman runs off the stage off the set of the movie.

Speaker The bad guy runs off the set of the movie and he runs out of the Warner Brothers gate and everyone's running out of the Warner Brothers gate. And I love this because I drive into that gate every day to go to work after we shoot my show. But Harvey Korman comes tearing out of the Warner Brothers gate in his period costume, and he hails a cab and he says, get me out of this picture.

Speaker And then he is taken to a man's Chinese theater and and get shot. But spoiler alert. But that was I mean, I think I probably saw that when I was, I don't know, 12, 13 years old. And that blew my mind that people could, you know, that in a movie people could walk off a movie and escape from the movie set. And then it was a while later that I discovered the road pictures and they're talking about.

Speaker You know, that guy just came into the picture. What, he missed my song know, and there it's really fun and you're realizing, well, wait a minute, if my mind was blown by that in nineteen seventy five by Mel Brooks, what's it like when someone seeing that in nineteen forty six.

Speaker That's the first time they did that, that must have just completely just laid people to wait.

Speaker I mean, I just must have the first time someone actually looked at the lens and said, you sit down, you're blocking that lady's view. You know, let's get back to the picture that must have just shocked people and been hilarious.

Speaker And they're having so much fun in those those movies, the road pictures, they really they get better as they figure out what they're what hope and hope and Crosby figure out what their routine is. It just becomes so fluid and it's they're so effortless and they're having so much fun. And you can tell they're coming up. They're gag writers are coming up with lines 30 seconds before they film and they're taking shots at each other. And you can see it's just fun and not self-indulgent, fun. There are a lot of people that make buddies get together and make a funny movie where they make jokes at each other's expense. And it's self-indulgent, you say.

Speaker I would never say that I never thought I mentioned I had interviewed Woody Allen for this film. Yeah, he said not not once, but many times he's been somewhere. And he says, I really love Bob Hope. And people look at him strangely. Yeah, just. You mean that old Republican who did that? Do you feel terribly unhip when you tell your friends that you love Bob Hope?

Speaker No, I think it's come around. I think, um. I think.

Speaker You know.

Speaker Bob Hope was such a ubiquitous character on television that, you know, and he would do these specials for Texaco and he had a blazer kind of like this one, and it probably had a crest on it.

Speaker And so growing up, as a young kid interested in comedy and a punk, that didn't interest me that much. And so but I did start to appreciate him. And I'll never forget my writing partner, Greg Daniels, when we first came out to Los Angeles in nineteen eighty five, they we got a job at a show called Not Necessarily the News.

Speaker And it was our first television contract and I never seen one before. And they said, you just have to sign this contract. And it had all the boilerplate in it about, you know, fire acts of God. This contract will all the stuff that's boilerplate that you never read in a contract. So they hand us these contracts and they say, you just sign these and then you're in television. And I remembered. Greg and I wanted to suggest that we put a clause in as a joke that this contract is null and void if Bob Hope should pass away, and they were like, what are you talking about? And I said, he is he does represent show business. And so if, God forbid, he should pass away during the term of this contract, the contract will be null and void. And we'll call it the Bob Hope clause.

Speaker And I remember the agent just being like, stop screwing around because you're being wise asses.

Speaker But that is how. He was such a.

Speaker You know, he.

Speaker It's in comedy, it's not cool to be probably too ubiquitous or too much of the authority figure and Bob Hope had been around for so long at that point. That that's kind of what he represented probably to people and, you know. You'd see them just cranking out the specials and they weren't particularly cool to people of my generation, saying it nicely as I can, and you'd see them on television appearances.

Speaker I could go on Carson. And you could kind of I mean, Carson obviously revered Bob Hope. But later on. You know, I had an opportunity to. Listen to Carson. Johnny Carson came by and he recorded a voice for The Simpsons, and this is just after he retired and no one kind of he left The Tonight Show and then months later, maybe six, nine months later, he came and recorded a voice of The Simpsons. I could tell he really liked being in a room with writers. He was probably liked being back with some writers again. So he chatted a little bit and we started talking. And, you know, Johnny started to talk about we've got him talking about Bob Hope and he's obviously revered Bob Hope. But he did acknowledge in that conversation that Bob could be frustrating to interview because for years he would try to really get to the inner Bob Hope.

Speaker And he would try to. You know.

Speaker He'd say he'd say, Bob, you've entertained for every president since FDR, you know, can you in that sentence?

Speaker And that's something, you know, Bob, you were there right after D-Day and you were near a German town that was shelled.

Speaker What was that like? I tell you, that was really something Bob wouldn't.

Speaker Was not introspective in that way, that was not what his he was not interested in that, and I think that was sometimes frustrating. For Johnny and you know, I'm not speaking out of turn, but that was.

Speaker That was probably.

Speaker The kind of Bob Hope that I was seeing, you know, on Carson appearances, you know, he had great jokes and you hear thanks for the memories, but I didn't even know what thanks for the memories was about.

Speaker I mean, people in my generation, you'd hear that and and Bob Hope would walk out and I didn't know what that song meant.

Speaker Now, for 20 years, his audience knew exactly why that was his song, because it was from this huge hit that he was in and it was his song. And he had always worked it into his routines. But my generation didn't know that.

Speaker So we weren't in on it. I think that's that's. For so long, but I think what happens is that.

Speaker As time goes by, as it is, I think people have more time in this world. Because of the Internet to see the good stuff, you know what I mean, to see the stuff where he's really in his prime and to discover it. That's my hope anyway, no pun intended. I just I really do think that.

Speaker That the idea that. People would see him, you know, in those road pictures or see him in a of paleface at the bar playing with his pipe or any of those great scenes, you know, I would just.

Speaker And you just laugh, I mean, I was watching a clip with my assistant and my assistant is, you know, 25 years younger than I am, and she was just laughing because, you know, he's he's headed out the door and he says, I'm getting out of town or my name isn't Joe Jones.

Speaker And he opens the door and a knife goes into the door and he goes and he shuts and he goes, hi. And he changes his name. You know, you, Jack Stevens, good to meet you. And you just laugh. It's such it's timelessly funny.

Speaker He's just, you know, he's so he's so good. He's just so good that. I think. The Cabbage Patch doll era will fade out and this other era. Will endure. That's. That's what I'm banking on.

Speaker What do you think it meant to America that you spent so much of his life entertaining the troops?

Speaker You know, when I read Richard Zoglin book, one of the probably the biggest revelation to me. When I learned more about Bob Hope was. Everybody in my generation knew that he entertained the troops and he invented entertain the troops. What I didn't know. Was how much of his career he devoted to it. He was constantly entertaining the troops, and especially in World War Two. How close he got to the action? I mean, he's. In a town that's that's shelled and hiding in the basement and thought, I'm probably going to die, that's how close he was to the action and how he it really meant a lot to him personally. So there's all these accounts that have been confirmed where he'd go and he'd entertain the troops and then he'd find out that, you know, one. Division or one brigade was 50 miles that way, they had to miss the show because they had been assigned over there and he said, well, where are they? And they would get in jeeps and go and find those people that missed the show and do a smaller show for them. And. So that was a revelation to me is how much he actually.

Speaker Did and. You know, one of the things that. It's going to add to that I'm thinking about it for a second, his.

Speaker He invented the way you entertain the troops, so a lot of performers have done it since, but I know that all the rules were invented by hope. And the times that I've entertained at bases and been overseas and done a show for the troops, I'm working off the Bob Hope playbook, which is you make fun of the commanding officers because you're the only one on the base that can. And it kills you, do your research and you find out what is it they what is it they're thinking about so that you know what you're talking about, try and live on the base.

Speaker You know, sometimes the last time I think I was in Qatar, they said you can stay in a hotel. I was like, no, I want to stay on the base. I wasn't trying to be selfless. I'm just trying to pick up what's happening on the base so that when I do the show, I know what I'm talking about. And it's there that I find out that they have a rule that you can have only two beers in any twenty four hour period. And by only by staying on the base, I learned that there's a good joke there. How about I I'm taking over.

Speaker And the new rule is you have to have twenty four beers in every three hour period and you switch that around and they love it because how does he know. And that's all stuff that Bob Hope did. Find out what the troops, what their life is like and make jokes that speak to them.

Speaker And when you see Bob Hope and if he's in Korea or Vietnam, you know, there's more footage obviously from that era. But he. He knows what he's talking about. He's speaking their language. And he knows that if you're talking to the Army, you make fun of the Navy, if you're talking to the Navy, you make fun of the Army, you know, there's a certain there are these certain things that just work. And he invented all of them.

Speaker I think unless someone was doing this in the civil war and we don't know about it, you know, Jebediah Franklin was just, you know, was out there on a mule going from town to town doing stuff like that, saying the Vietnam.

Speaker What kind of a tightrope, as a comedian are you walking where the times are tough, it was different than world. Mm hmm.

Speaker He's got a different type of sometimes he felt like, yeah, I think four things got dicey for Bob Hope. During the Vietnam era, because there's a counterculture suddenly and you know, when Bob Hope is entertaining in World War two, there's no controversy when he's entertaining for the troops in the Korean War, there's no controversy. And so in his message to the troops was always everybody back home was pulling for you and it was true. Now he's saying the same thing in Vietnam. And everybody knows that's not really true, that's tricky and. You know, he still had great jokes and he still put on an amazing show for those for those troops, but the reaction at home probably wasn't the same. I think the troops were, you know, I guarantee you the troops were thrilled to see him and they were thrilled to see Raquel Welch.

Speaker I mean, so I don't think it was controversial with the troops that he was entertaining. But then you've got people back home.

Speaker And by this point, you know, familiarity breeds contempt. This comedian has been around their whole lives and now they're more interested, you know, in their Cheech and Chong record than they are in that guy. Again, he's become your uncle. That comes by every Thanksgiving and tells his stories. And and now he's telling you, you know, don't worry, we're going to win this Vietnam War. And you and everyone back home is pulling for you. And you have people hearing that saying, no, we're not. And why are you involved in this, you know, why are you this is not. They're not interested, and I think that was probably very confusing.

Speaker But that's show business we. It happens to everybody in the business you. You know, you're constantly struggling to the ground beneath you is always changing in show business, and you think about Bob Hope, who had really been in show business since vaudeville and his entire life. And it's always pretty much the technology's changed, but he's always known. Exactly. He's always had his finger on the pulse of what's happening. And now it's nineteen sixty seven. Sixty eight. Sixty nine. And suddenly.

Speaker He doesn't understand.

Speaker And that's must have been, you know, I imagine, hurtful and probably confusing.

Speaker And, uh. That's.

Speaker And I'm just imagining that that that was the case. I don't know for sure. Do you think he's going around? You know. I can't say that I can't say that Bob Hope stayed around too long because. At the end of the day, you're judged by your best work. That's my philosophy. So. He got a lot of joy out of performing, and it's what he did. And so who is anyone to say you need to stop now and go play Scrabble in a room and eat pudding like you know? You know, you could say that to any anybody that's been in comedy more than 10 years. Did you have you stuck around too long? You just keep doing your work and. Hoping that you hit a fresh vein, you keep mining, you stay in the mine, you go down every day and you hope that you hit a fresh vein, and if that means you don't for three years, you just keep at it because it's what you do and you love it. So I wouldn't say Bob Hope's stuck around too long because I feel like he earned the right to perform as long as he wanted to perform. And, you know, and I intend to stick around way too long. So who am I to judge Bob Hope? Who's the much bigger deal and the huge star? I'm all in favor of sticking around way too long. I'm. I really want to wear out my welcome, and that probably started four years ago.

Speaker That's funny. You already talked about the.

Speaker We touched on this a little bit, but I'd like to follow up on in the Zoglin piece, you refer to him as enigmatic. Yeah, I think you touched on it when you were talking about what, Johnny.

Speaker But talk a little bit more about the.

Speaker We live it's.

Speaker We live in this area now that is so different. We live in an era of everybody baring their souls and entertainers are supposed to do it and they're rewarded for it. Reality television has changed so much of what's asked of a performer. And so.

Speaker You know.

Speaker Comedians now are constantly talking about their pain and what's happening in their life, and they're it's they're they're emotional and it's what we want from them. And Bob Hope comes from this different era. And. In that era, you made people laugh, but you didn't talk about your personal life.

Speaker And Bob Hope is kind of a cipher, he's hard to read. You're not going to ever watch an interview with Bob Hope. I doubt you'll find an interview with Bob Hope where he opens up about.

Speaker Anything emotional?

Speaker And you think about how shocking that is, because in the world we're in today, everybody's telling you way too much. And then you have Bob Hope, who's from this completely different generation.

Speaker And. People.

Speaker This thing that that people don't realize about Bob Hope, probably because for so much of his life, he was one of the richest people in show business, but he was desperately poor, desperately poor, and he was an immigrant. So his family, his dad's a stonecutter in Wales. And they come and they they move here and I. I forget which city he's living in, is it Cleveland is living in Cleveland and he has got nothing. And he is struggling, I mean, to to eat, and he's a boxer for a short period of time and I think he wanted to the name Packie E and hope is just. You know, completely self-made and the interesting thing about people. That are truly poor when they're young because they don't find it romantic or funny or cute. They do it the way Abraham Lincoln never they wanted him on his campaigns to talk about you were you, Bill, you lived in a log cabin and you had to work with an axe. And Lincoln never wanted to. They kind of made him, but he didn't want to because he hated his childhood. He hated being that poor. It was a nightmare for him. People who have experienced real poverty are affected by it. And I think Bob Hope. It's just the sense I have and I could be completely wrong, but I think he built this persona, he built Bob Hope, he created Bob Hope, and he was not interested in dismantling him for anybody. He wasn't interested in, like opening the door and saying, yeah, but, you know, when I was a kid, we were desperately poor. I was a boxer for a while and I wasn't making it. I was on Broadway. I didn't think it was going to work. I you know, my my one of my partners died. None of that's amusing to him. He doesn't want to get into that. He wants to keep it light and he wants to keep moving and he wants to get out on a laugh. That's Bob Hope.

Speaker And.

Speaker Today, people would be trying to psychoanalyze him until, you know, seriously in this interview or or they'd be wanting, you know, that's what we want from our performers now.

Speaker And he was never going to give that ever. And that's fantastic.

Speaker That's a great point. It really is.

Speaker Yeah, I think he.

Speaker You know.

Speaker I think it's one of the reasons why. And this is pure extrapolation, but if you say did he stick around too long, he constructed Bob Hope and perfected Bob Hope and needed to keep that going, you know, because when people say, well, you can stop now and sit around and think about your childhood. No. I would rather. Cut the ribbon at that boat show. And and, you know, just let's talk about that, actually.

Speaker He had a reputation for doing one hundred one hundred and fifty benefits.

Speaker Yeah, really public service seems to be very important.

Speaker Yeah, really important. Yeah.

Speaker What do you observe about hope in that regard and from your point of view, is that important public service when you have a degree of fame?

Speaker I need to get paid. I want to make it clear the public service thing that Bob Hope did, I admire it, but personally.

Speaker You know, you show me this and then I'm going to the hospital, then I'll talk to the kids now. Yeah, obviously, I think, you know.

Speaker Bob Hope.

Speaker He's hard to read, and my generation from my generation, he came across as the Republican who, you know, is getting a big check from Texaco to tell jokes and so the whole thing can feel a little compromised and then. You find out how much benefit work he did and and the USO, you realize the extent of the USO shows and he was very sincere about that. That's the impression I have, is that it meant a lot to him to give back.

Speaker And I think he was, you know, very sincere about Zoglin has.

Speaker And the Richard Zoglin book, he has letters that Bob Hope wrote back to fans, and you practically start crying when you read them. They're really lovely. They're lovely letters to people. You know, he'll get a letter from someone who said, you know, I tried to come see your show, but I couldn't get a ticket. And but, you know, and then he'll write them back and say, well, I'm so sorry you didn't get to see the show. And, you know, I've I've been to Buffalo and I love that city. And, you know, he's he took time to really respond to that person. And, you know, that's when you see a different guy than the Texaco board member who's reading off some cue cards. And you realize that that's real. He did care about those people.

Speaker That's great, that's great.

Speaker Now, as making this film, I have to think about how am I going to tell this story?

Speaker Storytelling. You had something I thought was great, I read somewhere, somewhere that he thought it could pardon me for reading, he said you once said that hope story is not just the story of an individual, it's the history of an era in America.

Speaker Yeah. What did you mean by the. If you have to pick one person who.

Speaker Uh. Mean we get this, makes sure I get this right.

Speaker If you have to pick one person who traces the history of modern showbusiness, you can't find a better guy than Bob Hope because, you know, he starts out and he's in vaudeville and.

Speaker Vaudeville is where everything starts. And so he's a performer in vaudeville and he's doing that for a long time, trying to get his break and then he's on Broadway. And then he's on the radio. And every time they invent a new medium, Bob Hope gets there and he conquers it and then he's in film. And when television comes along, he becomes Mr. Television. And he was never intimidated by a new technology.

Speaker He would say it wasn't that kind of Bob Hope. Let's go. You know, I think if he was here right now and they said, you know, we just invented this hologram, like, let's get into it, let's do that, you know, put me on a hologram. Let's go. You know, let's let's have at it, you know, throw that hologram thing on me. Let's do it.

Speaker You know, he would not be intimidated. And so many performers were you know, there's this someone made the point to me once that.

Speaker Walt Disney.

Speaker It's a great example of someone who was never intimidated by technological change, any time something new came along, you know, he figured he figured it out and then led the way.

Speaker So, you know, he starts out drawing comics and then animation comes along and he figures that out and then he television comes along. No problem. We got that. We got and then he theme parks. I got that. He just kept embracing what was what was new. And Bob Hope, you know.

Speaker It's stunning to think of 15 different ways of entertaining people of 15 different technologies were built. I'm sorry, 15 different technologies were created during Bob Hope's lifetime.

Speaker And he figured all of them out and figured out how he could be funny in that format. That's stunning. That's really stunning. And who does that? And you don't.

Speaker You know, you think about it, I'm watching what I'm doing, my late night show in the nineteen nineties, I remembered all of us taking a break. Because Bob Hope, it was his last Christmas special that he did and he was the one he did with Dolores where she was on camera, which I think I hadn't seen before, but they needed her to kind of guide you through it. And it was supposed to take the conceit was it was their house in Palm Springs and people are coming over and this might be like nineteen ninety six or something. And all of us young punk. Right. You know, me and Odenkirk and Louis C.K. and Robert Smigel were sitting around and watching a Bob Hope special. And we're, you know, and whatever we thought of it at the time.

Speaker It's remarkable that we're all sitting there being entertained by Bob Hope, watching his TV show in nineteen ninety six when he started in vaudeville. And he's conquered every medium in between, so, you know, I always do think of him. Oh, everything's connected here, Woody Allen, obviously a huge fan of of. Bob Hope and very influenced by Bob Hope and Woody Allen made this movie Zelig, where which is one of his great movies, where he shows up everywhere, Zelie can just morph and become, and he's always showing up in different places and he's at every great event that's ever happened. And I always feel that way a little bit about Bob Hope. It's he's just everywhere. He's in every photograph of like there's the. There he is with Stalin now. There's Vladimir Lenin is there. Oh, look, you know, the Seven Day War, yeah, he's there. Look, he's you know, Nixon's going to China. There's Bob Hope. He's, you know, just look carefully at any photograph of a major event, you know, and you'll probably see him there.

Speaker And it's absolutely incredible. And he defines.

Speaker You know. Not only is he part.

Speaker Of so many moments of transition in American entertainment, he kind of mastered them. And seem too happy about it. He was not. You know, he's great on the radio, he's fantastic on the radio, but then he's great in the movies and he's great on television and I'm sure he was amazing on on Broadway. And I bet he was fantastic in vaudeville.

Speaker It's pretty incredible if he'd be today, he would probably have a YouTube channel and he would have no fear about it. Let's go. We don't have a YouTube channel. How do I get paid? Well, you don't really get paid, Bob. Well, how does it work? What's what are we doing here? All right, let's go. Let's go. You know, he'd have to do that. He had.

Speaker He's he's.

Speaker Just remarkable and it's. And that's the thing over time. You know. I'm when I was in my teens and 20s, hypercritical about comedy and hyper, just opinionated, very adolescent, you know, most things suck, but that's really cool.

Speaker You know, and very few things are good, but most things are bad, not just a young gunslinger attitude.

Speaker And then the more time goes by. The more and you lose that testosterone and mine's all gone, I'm technically now a very attractive woman, but but all that stuff fades and you just respect talent.

Speaker And craftsmanship. And so, oh, my attitudes about Bob Hope and his 1980s specials in those sketches that I didn't like and. The jokes where the football players would come out and he would switch from one camera to the other camera or the other camera to the other camera and felt lazy to me, all that stuff, all that adolescent.

Speaker I'm so cool. Stuff has fallen away. And what's left is. He might be one of the most talented, naturally talented comic forces that we've had, he's certainly in a very rare, rarified group of complete.

Speaker I know this is American masters, but he was a complete mastery of the craft of making people laugh and.

Speaker And it's nice, I think that I think that's appropriate, that, well, Vietnam, you know. Well, what did you think? You. Stick around too long. What about those shows in the late 80s with the bad sketches and it all melts away.

Speaker And then you look at him in those films with Bing Crosby. Well, performing, you know, on the radio. And there's you know, it's what he's an artist. He's a great artist.

Speaker Yeah, I'm so disappointed you had nothing to say.

Speaker The sad thing for you guys is I would happily there's no one here saying he's got to go.

Speaker This is a and I just I mean, I love it's kind of therapeutic to talk about these things a little bit.

Speaker But, you know, what's interesting is you seem to have a real appreciation for those that came before so many today. It's just right now in the moment. That's it.

Speaker Yeah. About you know what's interesting? I have the same. The feeling about.

Speaker W.C. Fields, W.C. Fields, to me, as someone who.

Speaker Doesn't get a fair. Sheik. I I don't think. Young people know him.

Speaker And he was another guy's older than hope, but he was another person who had been one of the greatest jugglers in the world and had performed for all the crown heads in Europe and then got into comedy and. God, he's amazing and a complete mastery of his craft and, you know, you watch W.C. Fields and you think, why don't everybody know W.C. Fields? Why doesn't everybody intimately know the Marx Brothers?

Speaker I feel that way about Jack. Yeah, folks, watch them all the time.

Speaker You know, I was fortunate because I grew up my father.

Speaker Israel is has been a comedy fan since he was a boy, so he made us very aware of Jack Benny and he actually had. Tapes, this is back when you like Jamma cassette eight track, somehow we got an eight track of some Bob Hope. Radio shows, and we would listen to them when we were kids. And. They were they were so good and and I loved watching him and like so many other people, I've, you know, Jack Benny's imprinted on me, you know, Johnny Carson's imprinted on me.

Speaker These are nice ways of saying I steal, you know, Peter Sellers, Warner Brothers cartoons. It's this. You just take everything, you absorb everything, and it gets in there. And then you don't even realize sometimes you know where it comes from.

Speaker And that is. You know. Something we all have to accept is.

Speaker You're here and then you're not and you do this work, but.

Speaker This whole this person should be better known, we should know this person well, that's you know, that's up to YouTube now and that's up to the Internet and people finding it and discovering it and.

Speaker You know, I remember I used to collect tapes or radio shows when I was a kid, and there's a Benny show. Have you ever heard this one, which I thought spoke to you, you were talking before about a man of immense confidence, hope? And he was like this, it's it's like you're on a bus tour of Beverly Hills, here's the home of so-and-so, here's the home of so-and-so and I'm looking and it's like ten minutes. No, Jack Benny, 15, 20. Twenty four minutes. No Jack Benny. Twenty five minutes. Now, here's no jack jacket at twenty seven and a half minutes to now on the right here is the home of Jack Benny Stager, the star of stage. Right. And you hear somebody pull the cord from the back of the bus and driver.

Speaker This is my that's a twenty seven minute set up for one line. That's great. Funny if anybody else.

Speaker That's great confidence not to be in his own show for twenty seven and a half.

Speaker You know, something about and this is true about Bob Hope too, that is harder to come by now. Things are so fractured now there's there's so much entertainment and were this added culture and there's so much happening and you're supposed to keep so many different stories straight. And who's this person? And that's the new person and what happened to him. And, you know, there's I mean, there's so much to keep track of today with entertainment.

Speaker There was this air of show business where everybody knew what your character was. And so Bob Hope everybody was in on the joke, everybody knew that he and Crosby feuded, everybody knew that, you know, he was sort of the cowardly letch. Everybody was in on the joke that he wanted an Oscar but never got one. You know, he had and it's the same thing with Benny. Vain about his age, cheap mean Jack Benny had more of those than anybody. And everybody was in on it. I mean, so. You know, Bob Hope can show up at the Oscars and make a wry remark about, you know, not getting an Oscar and everybody in the room knows the joke. You know what I mean? It's and they've been in on the joke since they were a kid. So there was a familiarity back then, there were fewer entertainers and we we knew their back story or the back story, they wanted us to know better and.

Speaker That must have been a fun time because. You know, everybody was in on it. Whereas today, you know.

Speaker I can never quite be sure what what people know about my situation or my story, and I think it's true of a lot of comedians now you just you. You know, there's so much noise out there that you can't you can't who can walk into a room of a couple of thousand people and think, everybody knows my deal, you know, they were all in on it. But Bob Hope could pretty much throughout the world, he could do that.

Speaker Because you did, that's a great one. Great point, Richard, I think.

Speaker You said I was sorry for how you look like you, OK, I can do that, I can fix that. Pick up what? I can do it. I'll just start that story again. Sure.

Speaker Thanks.

Speaker Recreate everything I just did from that point on, it's a little yeah, and you'll do it in a way that chills you all to the bone. All the ticks will be exactly the same.

Speaker OK, look, I thought I had that. OK, OK, let's get to the one. Yeah. They're adding human flesh color to me. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker So, yeah, so a writer, Jeff Martin and I from The Simpsons, our hands shot up and they said, you can go and record Bob Hope's voice.

Speaker So we got the directions and we drove over to his house in Toluca Lake.

Speaker We were let in and they said, Mr. Hope will be with you shortly. And they left us there. And Jeff Martin and I are in this wood paneled room.

Speaker With all of Bob Hope, yeah, he got it. Let's talk to two of the things you don't mind. Sure.

Speaker Um, I think they may have shown you some of the clips, but one of the thing that struck me when I was watching some of these shows is that when a sketch goes bad, he had this ability to just take an ad lib his way out of crazy. What are your memories of that and how hard is it for a talent to do?

Speaker I think Bob Hope new. It's something you a lot of people need to learn eventually, but mistakes are gold and that when something goes wrong, it's your chance to shine, that the written sketch is there, as I always kind of the jungle gym that you're supposed to play on, but then it's what you do with it that is ultimately the magic. And something going wrong can obviously be fantastic. I mean, Johnny Carson was obviously a master of OK, here's the sketch and here's what we got. But that's not really where all the fun is. The real fun is it going off the rails or it not working so well and. Letting the audience know that, you know, and I think Hope was just so confident, I mean, he is he's so confident and he's so smooth that if something goes off the rails, he's not worried.

Speaker And audiences feed off fear. If you let them know that you're worried or you're uptight about something not working, then they tighten up. But if you let them know.

Speaker That.

Speaker That didn't work, and I don't really care, because I find it rather amusing that it's not working and in fact, it's an opportunity for me to have more fun than we would have had otherwise. Then you've got him. And so.

Speaker I'm not as familiar with with. You know, I'm trying to think back to those that's probably more from like the, you know. Variety show era that I don't know as well, but you've just described it.

Speaker Yeah, OK, terrific. Yeah. Um. We should send you some of them, but they're just. When it goes off, as you said, it goes off the rails and he literally takes control.

Speaker Yeah. And admits his way out of this.

Speaker Right. Well, what you're seeing with, you know, I think a lot of his confidence, Bob Hope's confidence comes from the fact that he.

Speaker And so much cockpit time and so much he had so much flight time, meaning he had so much experience. This is a guy who had been performing constantly since he was a very young man in every conceivable situation, from vaudeville to Broadway to radio to movies to television. He's overseas. And he's got natural talent, but he's also got. Millions and millions and millions of miles worth of experience. So what you're seeing when a sketch goes a little off the rails or something isn't happening is a guy who's been there a thousand times, a hundred thousand times.

Speaker And isn't worried, isn't going to break a sweat. And his heart's not going to skip a beat because this has happened to him.

Speaker Oh, yeah, I, I remember in nineteen twenty one when the prop broke. You know, I remember in nineteen fifty two when, you know, the the audio went out and then the, the, you know. He's not going to be he's going to get flustered because he's the most experienced. Performer in the world, you know, pretty much at any given point in his career.

Speaker That's great. Last question then we sort of touched on it, but what's his legacy? How should he be remembered?

Speaker I like to keep it simple with comedy. I. Think, you know, when you talk about what someone's legacy, it's just making you laugh, it's that simple. It's it's me just before this interview.

Speaker Backstage, someone showing me a couple of Bob Hope clips that I knew already, but just to refresh my memory. And I'm there with my assistant, who's in her early 30s and. She doesn't know Bob Hope and she's seeing these clips and she's laughing, she's just laughing, that's the legacy to me is that.

Speaker His really good stuff is timeless, and it's not the topical jokes for me that endure.

Speaker Do you know what I mean? It's all the stuff that doesn't need a reference. Bob Hope, trying to act like a tough guy at a bar in the Old West is funny. He is funny doing that and, you know, saying I want a lemonade and then getting a look in in a dirty glass.

Speaker You know, it's just funny. That's a great joke. And he and him constantly, you know, looking, darting.

Speaker That's something everybody can relate to. We've all been afraid. We've all been intimidated by a sexy woman. We've all been in over our heads and tried to talk our way out of it. And then no one does that in a funny way than Bob Hope.

Speaker So to me, his legacy is those great clips of his from the 40s in the 50s. They're going to be funny a thousand years from now, you know, because people will still be able to relate.

Speaker To that character that he perfected that week.

Speaker Scared, scheming, double talking, you know, con man with the darting eyes, that guy is funny a thousand years from now.

Speaker Two thousand years from now, but not three thousand years from now, because things get pretty dark then, but that's a whole other there's a whole other American masters. Yeah.

Conan O'Brien
Interview Date:
2017-06-16
Runtime:
1:10:25
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Conan O'Brien, This is Bob Hope...." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 16 Jun. 2017, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/937
APA CITATIONS:
(2017, June 16). Conan O'Brien, This is Bob Hope.... [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/937
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Conan O'Brien, This is Bob Hope...." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 16, 2017. Accessed April 16, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/937