How Bob Hope transformed monologue misfires


Bob Hope was known for his off-the-cuff comedic style and quick wit. Comedian Conan O’Brien and actor Tom Selleck discuss how Hope was a master of improvising when a joke didn’t land or he fumbled a line.

Major support for This is Bob Hope… is provided in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and Roslyn Goldstein. Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Judith and Burton Resnick, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, and public television viewers.

The filmmakers and American Masters would like to thank our advisors for their time and expertise in making this documentary: James Baughman, Thomas Doherty, Michael Frisch, Kristine Karnick, Laurence Maslon, Clayton Koppes, Robert Snyder and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley.

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 Carson because that's how we thought of it, and I still prefer that rhythm. There a lot of late night hosts now that have sort of adopted the Saturday Night 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. It's a great business, and today TV is a great educational force in this country. In this country, there isn't a child over four who can't draw a horse from memory. That's a good joke the way I tell it, huh?

So I always thought that came from Johnny Carson, and then when you really do your research, you find out you know, that's really Bob Hope. If a joke landed flat, he was aware it was flat, and he'd share that with us, and that was funny. They tried to stop the shot - shiron - a siren - surearaoh... I don't know why I use my Sunday set on these days. If they can do it on a regular schedule it'll save Conrad Hilton a fortune in night watchmen. I may wait that one out. Of course my clothes will go out of style, but I'll wait.