Jack Benny may have been the most influential air talent of all time.
That must seem like a pretty bold statement, especially since Benny’s radio career ended over 50 years ago.
His influence is felt even today.
Benny was a brilliant comedian. But his real gift might have been his ability to know good comedy from bad.
It was Benny who defined roles for his characters in a way no one had ever done before.
He created a true format for the radio show that became the template for modern television sitcoms.
He understood how to build a character and avoid the temptation of changing it simply because he was bored.
I’ll bet most readers; even those who have never heard Benny’s work know a few things about his radio character.
Benny was cheap. He was vain. He drove a Maxwell and kept a guard in his basement to protect his money. He played violin badly and was forever 39.
The Benny character was so well defined on radio that it actually bothered him in real life. He was in fact a good tipper and quite generous.
The Benny cast consisted of several players over the years. The rotund announcer Don Wilson, who was never really as fat as the jokes about him indicated.
Real life wife Mary Livingston played the role of Benny’s not quite girlfriend. She always got the last word on him.
Phil Harris the playboy band leader. Rochester as Benny’s valet, And the naïve vocalist usually played by Dennis Day.
So what makes this show relevant today? In my view the Benny cast was the forerunner of today’s morning show. They built it around characters the listener got to know intimately. The characters interacted through topical humor.
How are your morning show roles defined? Would your listeners be able to explain the characters on the show?
Do any of the players standout because they are so well defined?
Many shows often lack clear character roles. What is allowed or not allowed in their on air banter? Are the boundaries clearly defined?
Imagine your morning show as a sitcom. Are the characters as well defined as those on Seinfeld?
Why is each person on the show? Can you define stronger character traits that they can use to build into their interaction and topics?
What do the listeners know about each character? What can you add that will give each greater depth and definition?
The right character definition helps make the morning show more interesting and more memorable.
Listen to some of Jack Benny shows. The writing is brilliant and they are amazingly topical sixty years later.