JoeMc on 05/05/2009 at 11:32AM
A popular genre from the early days of the American recording industry was the talking record. As much as people liked to hear musicians play, they also liked to hear people talk. Whether they wanted to hear Shakespeare intoned in the privacy of their homes, or whether they wanted to relive an especially memorable vaudeville performance, folks bought these sorts of records in droves. Comic monologues were the most common and probably the most popular of this genre of records.
Now, I must admit that I'm not generally a big fan of these kinds of records. The genre is typified by the records of Cal Stewart, a comedian who portrayed a yokel on an endless series of Victor discs in the teens and twenties. The humor is on the cornball side and Cal makes sure to laugh at his own jokes so you don't miss the punchlines. America has always had an affection for hayseed humor, the broader the better, but to my taste, Cal's material has not dated well.
However, there were other comedians of the era who did comic monologues that for my money still hold up. One of them is Fred Durprez, the subject of today's post.
Fred Duprez, who was born in Detroit in 1884, became a hit in American vaudeville through his comic monologues about wives and families. Decades before Henny Youngman became famous for his "Take my wife--please!" routine, Fred was on the boards recounting his marital joys and woes. Already recording by 1908, Fred made a series of cylinder and disc records on this time-tested theme. One of the most famous is today's MP3, "Happy Tho' Married." Issued in 1915 on an Edison Blue Amberol cylinder (there is a slightly earlier version on a 1914 Columbia disc), this record has all the hallmarks of Fred's style: a nudge-in-the-ribs tone, a light sarcasm, a playfulness about words ("union/onion"), and a tendency to rush his jokes so that you're hit with a new one almost immediately after you've registered the previous one. Sophisticated humor it's not, but then, people didn't go to vaudeville to hear Oscar Wilde. It still has its share of yuks.
Fred mined this seam for years afterward, making more records and writing light comic plays like "My Wife's Family." A move to London resulted in even greater success. In 1928, he appeared in the British edition of "The Cocoanuts," the play that launched the Marx Brothers in the States, and went on to write and appear in a series of British comedies like "Lend Me Your Wife" and "You Must Get Married" until his death in 1938.
Married or not, one thing you might realize after listening to this MP3 is that American humor hasn't really changed that much in a hundred years. Flip into Comedy Central some time and see if someone isn't doing "my wife" jokes! The only difference is that Fred Duprez was there first.