.
  OTRRLabs-Beta

OTRR Magazine Search
Search    for 
or
Search by Genre:
Search by Network:
Search by Broadcast Year:
Search by Country:
 
Can You Top This?

Premiere Episode: 1940-12-09
Final Episode: 1954-07-09

Genre(s):
Game Show

RadioGoldindex Listing

Broadcast History:

Dates: 12/9/1940 - 5/12/1941
Network: Mutual
Days: Monday
Starting time: 9:30PM
Sponsor: Sustaining

Dates: 5/20/1941 - 1/22/1943
Network: Mutual
Days: Tuesday
Starting time: 8:00PM
Sponsor: Kirkman Soap Company

Dates: 10/3/1942 - 9/27/1947
Network: NBC
Days: Saturday
Starting time: 9:30PM
Sponsor: Colgate

Dates: 2/3/1943 - 9/19/1945
Network: Mutual
Days: Wednesday
Starting time: 7:30PM

Dates: 10/3/1947 - 6/25/1948
Network: NBC
Days: Friday
Starting time: 8:30PM
Sponsor: Colgate

Dates: 7/2/1948 - 9/25/1948
Network: NBC
Days: Saturday
Starting time: 9:30PM

Dates: 9/29/1948 - 5/24/1950
Network: Mutual
Days: Wednesday
Starting time: 8:00PM
Sponsor: Ford Motor Company

Dates: 9/23/1950 - 11/25/1950
Network: ABC
Days: Saturday
Starting time: 9:30PM

Dates: 1/2/1951 - 6/26/1951
Network: ABC
Days: Tuesday
Starting time: 8:00PM
Sponsor: Mars

Dates: 10/5/1953 - 3/26/1954
Network: NBC
Starting time: 10:15PM
Sponsor: Sustaining
Length of show: 15 minutes

Dates: 4/2/1954 - 7/9/1954
Network: NBC
Days: Friday
Starting time: 9:35PM
Length of show: 25 minutes

Series Synopsis: The premise of Can You Top This? was simple. The listening audience sent in jokes, which were read to a panel of well-known punsters, each of whom in his turn tried to top it. That’s all there was to it, except that the man who read the jokes (Peter Donald) and the trio on the panel were all showmen. At least two of them (Donald and Harry Hershfield) were considered masters of dialect, and all three members of the panel were veterans of vaudeville. The show grew out of joke-swapping sessions at New York’s Lamb’s Club. Ed Ford thought that a jokefest might make a good radio show. He became the driving force, producer, and owner of the series. The panel became known as the Knights of the Clown Table. They used no notes or scripts on the air, relying on their vast combined knowledge of punchline humor. It was estimated that, among them, they knew 15,000 gags, many of which could be modified to fit multiple situations. The rules required jokes by the panel to follow the same general topic introduced by the listener’s joke. But Ford, Hershfield, and Laurie were masters at switching elements. A Scotsman became an Irishman, a Chinese was a cowboy: the same joke worked with different window dressing, the only limitation being the quickness of the teller in a live format. Ford was known as “Senator,” a title given him at a Republicans Club dinner in the teens. He was the toughest of the three to make laugh, described by Tune In as “dour and sullen offstage as well as on.” Hershfield was a noted cartoonist and after-dinner speaker who gave an estimated 200 talks a year. Laurie had worked as a stickman in a gambling hall, as an exercise rider for a racing stable, and at “about 80 jobs” before gravitating into vaudeville and then radio. And Peter Donald was a radio man of long experience, notably the excitable Ajax Cassidy of The Fred Allen Show. The opening signature seldom varied. Announcer Charles Stark introduced the panel: “Senator Ford …” “Good evening.” “Harry Hershfield …” “Howdy.” “Joe Laurie Jr….” “Hel-lo.” Then he introduced Wilson, who explained the rules. Any listener could send in a joke. If the joke was selected for the air, the listener got $5 ($10 in later shows). If none of the wits topped the joke, the listener got $2 for each miss. A Colgate “laugh meter” was set up onstage in view of the studio audience. The meter was in the shape of a laughing face, with a gauge in its mouth that registered the decibel level, from 0 to 1,000, from the audience microphone. A reading of 600 on a contestant joke was considered good, but toppers were often in the 800s, and many hit the 1,000-mark. All contestants received recordings of Peter Donald telling their jokes on the air. Few jokes were original. Ford once said that in all his years on the show, there had never been a joke submitted that he hadn’t heard before. In the beginning, taboos were religion, politics, and arson. Nationalities were considered fair game, and Donald could “do” the gamut, Jewish to Irish to Italian. The show could expect protests from a group thus lampooned, though Time noted that “Scotsmen never protest.” Ford’s jokes often featured recurring characters—Ditsy Baumwortle, Elmer Smudgegunk, Mr. Snapgirdle, Mrs. Fafoofnick, Dopey Dillock, or Ockie Bopp. Joke-screener Betty North looked through as many as 3,000 submissions a week. To the list of taboos North added a few of her own. She would not send over anything on death, race, deformities, or stuttering. She looked for “fast jokes, talking stories that don’t require anything visual to put them across.” The age of a joke was no factor. An audience would laugh as freely at something from antiquity as from that morning’s newspaper. On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning
Creator: ***  
Cast: Peter Donald(Emcee)
Ed Ford(Dopey Dilldock, Mrs. Fafoofnick, Ditsy Bomwortle)
Senator Ford(Creator)
Harry Hershfield
Joe Laurie, Jr.
   
Director: Roger Bower
 Jay Clark
 Alan Dingwall
Announcer: Dennis James
 George A. Putnam
 Ron Rawson
 Dan 'Danny' Seymour
 Charles Stark