Jack Benny

Icons of the Century

If drollness as a mode of modern expression has a godfather, it’s Jack Benny. Forget your Letterman, Maher, even Carson, no, the master of the long, ironic pause, the exasperated retort, the fixed glare is Benny, the once and future king of comedy.

Like many of his peers, Benny spent his early years in vaudeville. Success suggested a film career, but it was more in radio and later television, two more intimate media, that he made his indelible mark. The celebrated cheapness and bad violin playing, these were Benny’s trademarks.

But they covered a barely concealed humanity that made his ostensibly unpleasant qualities endearing rather than rebarbative.

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