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Is that what's botherin' ya, bunky?
March 31, 2014 1:06 PM   Subscribe

You say you just learned of the passing of comedian Eddie Lawrence last week at the age of 95?
He was best known for his 1956 routine "The Old Philosopher", in which he gloomily described a litany of sometimes absurdly funny mishaps then changed gears into a cheerleading chant ending in "NEVER GIVE UP (BANG! BANG!) THAT SHIP!*" It was a big hit single (and Dr. Demento staple**) and led to a series of follow-ups, including "Son of the Old Philosopher", the Christmas-themed "Merry Old Philosopher", "The Radio DJ's Old Philosopher" (filled with inside-the-biz jokes) and "The Old Philosopher On The Range", as well as radio commercials based on the bit: "Leave It To (John) Leavitt"***.

He had a long career on radio, documented in this 2011 interview.

And he did many other comedy records, none as popular as Old Phil, including "The Good Old Days (Rock and Roll!)" (an old fogey rants on the 'good old days' as of 1958) and "What Do You Want for Christmas? (I Want a Jagwa)" (a Santa's Lap worst case scenario).

One routine, "Abner the Baseball" was adapted into a theatrical cartoon, leading to a second career writing and doing voices for toons, more recently for Mark Evanier's Garfield series.

This is The Old MetaFilterer, saying "Good night, Eddie."
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*always precisely popping the P in SHIP to avoid being misheard, though his younger fans often happily did so anyway.
**Here he is performing it a few years ago at a "Dr. Demento Live" stage show.
***NOT MeFi's Own The Whelk
posted by oneswellfoop (22 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
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He never gave up, never gave up, never gave up * * that ship.
posted by Bromius at 1:45 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


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posted by Iridic at 1:54 PM on March 31


He also worked with Nilsson!
posted by pxe2000 at 1:57 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


It might just be that I'm a few generations off, but I really don't get the ** that ship thing at all. Here's to a bygone era of humor (apparently).
posted by brenton at 1:58 PM on March 31


Oh, my Dad used to recite bits of that. I guess that era of humor is gone, but even though I'm not old enough to have lived through it I still have a warm feeling for it - not socially relevant, but very silly, sweet, and kind.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:06 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I think what it was is, a style a humor in which instead of just referring to some outside thing, it set up its own pattern, and referred to it later.

Ah well. SHAAAA-VING CREAM, be nice and clean, shave every day and you'll always look keen!

BTW, did you hear about the new sound? It's the newest sound around.
posted by JHarris at 2:10 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


I'd never heard of Lawrence before, and while I enjoyed listening to this, I think brenton is right—I think you basically had to be there. That said, if somebody could explain the dominant paradigm that was being subverted with this routine, I think that context could be really interesting.
posted by waldo at 2:10 PM on March 31


(And posts like these are why I love ol' foopy. Good on ya.)
posted by JHarris at 2:12 PM on March 31


He also used to do bits on Square One TV as The Old Philosopher! I loved his stuff.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:16 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


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posted by Earthtopus at 2:20 PM on March 31


... if somebody could explain the dominant paradigm that was being subverted ...

Again, I'm about one generation behind, but the idea that humor should "subvert the dominant paradigm" sounds like an idea that came later. A lot of his humor just seems to be silly. There's also an element of pushing to an extreme the American idea of self-help, Dale Carnegie, think positive no matter what and you'll succeed. It's got a long history but I think of it as being pretty big in the post-war years. Witness: Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:42 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


I really don't get the ** that ship thing at all.

It could be Eddie Lawrence (born Lawrence Eisner) was named after James Lawrence, the ill-fated navel commander best known for his 'dying command': "Don't give up the ship!"

Something I didn't know until I just now looked it up...
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:14 PM on March 31


I would kill for that kind of silliness. Something between doge/Nyan Cat and subverting the dominant paradigm would be nice.
posted by Peach at 3:56 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


He used to do this act on Ed Sullivan and other variety shows in the 50's but like many vaudeville and Catskills performers, he only had a single shtick. Television quickly used these guys up and then discarded them. Guy Marks was another one...

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posted by jim in austin at 4:04 PM on March 31


> Television quickly used these guys up and then discarded them.

On the contrary, judging from his Wikipedia entry he stayed regularly employed as an actor and writer for most of his life.

Since a big chunk of his career was spent on Broadway and the early years of television, there's not as much of his work to remember him by as there are for movie actors of the same period.

As for being a one hit wonder, well, that's one hit more than any of us will have.
posted by ardgedee at 4:25 PM on March 31


That said, if somebody could explain the dominant paradigm that was being subverted with this routine

This was a hit in 1956, subversive comedy didn't really become a thing that escaped the interests of law enforcement until after J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972. I use Robert Klein as an anchor here, as a comedian who popularized a "that guy you knew in the dorms" persona and observational style. The Old Philosopher was simply funny for funny's sake, these days probably described as "silly." It's almost a different comedic discipline, but it worked for the (at least) half-century prior.

Kliph's tweet announcing Lawrence's death was a huge nostalgia blow for me. I remember the bit very well from my childhood in the 70s, probably via Demento, but that was also an especially fertile time (I think) for comedy, as stand-up gained prominence and the old guys were still around and working quite a bit, showing up on TV and the radio, etc.

Here's to ya, bunky.
posted by rhizome at 4:37 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


> ...if somebody could explain the dominant paradigm that was being subverted with this routine, I think that context could be really interesting.

There isn't any specific thing being targeted in his The Old Philosopher routine. As others here have said, it's a riff on the notional good ol' American stick-to-itive-ness. The Old Philosopher is drawing that out to absurd extremes and the big marching band playing behind the "Never give up!" sections punches it even farther.

It's just meant to be silly, and I wouldn't look for pointed commentary in it.

I don't know if a modern routine based on the same premise could go over as well. It would be hard to avoid writing something that ends up sounding like an extreme variation on conservative radio talk show rhetoric.
posted by ardgedee at 4:46 PM on March 31


On further thought, I'd say if there was a dominant paradigm being subverted, it may just be the truism that, "everybody loves a parade."

"Broad comedy," refers to its relatability, and thus appeal.
posted by rhizome at 5:50 PM on March 31


Personally, I think the 'subverted paradigm' was definitely the "Power of Positive Thinking" branch of the Self-Help movement, which was especially potent in the late 50s when he recorded the bits. But like all the most "popular" comedy of the time, the message was painted over with a thick coat of general silliness. Not a time to be TOO subversive, and the title "The Old Philosopher" just misleading enough to help it slip through the cracks.

And it wasn't just the sad violins and the big brass band music in the background, it was the sudden jumps between them that got the most laughs (and how his voice changed between the parts - he was a skillful voice actor, as both 1940s radio and 1960s-and-beyond cartoons knew well.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:00 PM on March 31


While Mr. Lawrence probably wouldn't have used the word, all comedy is subversive.

Take the seemingly simple joke, "Take my wife... please."

In the course of four words it manages to be subversive in at least two separate ways:

1) It subverts expectations about language and storytelling. You think you know what the setup phrase "Take my wife" means, but the punchline retroactively changes the meaning from "Take my wife, for example" to "Take my wife away."
2) It subverts the idea that married people are happy or, if they're not, they certainly shouldn't talk about it publicly.
3) For bonus points, it uses the first type of subversion as the "sugar" to put the listener off guard and get him to laugh at the rather unpleasant idea that the teller would like to be rid of his wife.

In the case of "The Old Philosopher," it's right there in the title. He's lampooning not only self-help but in general the uselessness of advice from those who present themselves as wise. In the first few examples, not giving up the ship could possibly help in some way. But by the end he's talking about someone whose car is struck by lightning and who is drowning in inescapable mud. Obviously no amount of not giving up the ship is going to help, and anyone who gives that advice is now proven a fool.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:01 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


RIP Mr Lawrence: you made me laugh.
posted by On the Corner at 2:23 AM on April 1


I've caught myself actually psyching myself up Old Philosopher style. I guess the spoonful of silliness helps the positive thinking go down. So thanks for that, Eddie!
posted by whuppy at 8:17 AM on April 1


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