4 November: It’s Miller time

Joe Miller's Jests Future collectors of classic network radio will become very familiar with the name Joe Miller. Fred Allen wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to make Miller fodder for fresh jokes in the network radio era. The eighteenth-century British actor inspired a published collection of jokes that became synonymous on radio with old, time-worn, corny jokes.

The irony is that Miller himself wasn’t exactly a laugh-grabber. He’s said to have told extremely few of the jokes gathered in Joe Miller’s Jests. And the volume wasn’t even published in Miller’s lifetime. Dramatist/anthologist John Mottley (don’t tempt me!) collected the original edition in 1739; what does it tell you that he published it pseudonymously? (As Elijah Jenkins, Esq.)

Miller was said to be the subject of a kind of in-joke at the Black Jack Tavern on Portsmouth Street in London. A frequent patron, as were others among his fellow Drury Lane players, Miller was thought to be serious enough a fellow that his companions fell into the habit of crediting all new jokes to him. Which is, of course, a rather ironic jest at the expense of a man whose name became synonymous with corn by way of a volume collecting jokes he never told.


The CBS Radio Workshop: Colloquy #4—The Joe Miller Joke Book (CBS, 1956)

Colloquial (no pun intended), idiosyncratically engaging look at humour over time, as well as the actor who inspired Joe Miller’s Jests. Serious to a fault though he may have been among his companions, Miller could have been synonymous for far, far worse than corny jokes.

Host: Frank C. Baxter, Ph.D., professor of literature at the University of Southern California. Cast: Virginia Gregg, Joseph Kearns, Peter Leeds, Ben Wright, Daws Butler, Howard McNear, Jay Novello, Joe Forte. Announcer: Unidentified. Sound: Gus Beige. Writer/director: Paul Franklin.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Burns & Allen Show: Playing Mrs. North (Comedy; NBC, 1941)
Fibber McGee & Molly: New Furniture (Comedy; NBC, 1941)
The Fred Allen Show: Mash Notes (Comedy; NBC, 1945)
Our Miss Brooks: Connie Tries to Forget Mr. Boynton (Comedy; CBS; AFRS rebroadcast, 1951)
Broadway is My Beat: The Paul Holland Murder Case (Crime drama; CBS, 1953)
Gunsmoke: Crowbait Bob (Western; CBS, 1956)



Bruce Belfrage: On the Victory at El Alamein (BBC, 1942)—The Axis retreat in full from El Alamein, following the second such battle near the Egyptian railroad halt, thus freeing Egypt and the Suez Canal especially from the Axis. This is considered a major turning point in the war’s Western Desert Campaign.

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2 Responses to 4 November: It’s Miller time

  1. rnigma says:

    By “Jana Bellow” could you have meant Jay Novello?