He’d always been funny and many thought that was actually his main talent. So he hit the road as a stand-up, starting slowly on the local circuits, playing any place that would have him. It paid off.
Spotted by a producer for NBC, Gobel was offered a gig and began doing his own comedy show in 1954, a show that used many of the mediums top writers, including a young Norman Lear. It was still considered the ‘early days” for television and talent was everywhere.
The show was a hit, a quiet alternative to some of the wackier comedy fare on TV in those days. With homespun lines like, “My uncle was the town drunk – and we lived in Chicago” and “If inflation continues to soar, you’re going to have to work like a dog just to live like one,” the show attracted some of the bigger names like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart. There were catchphrases added to the vernacular, phrases like “I’ll be a Dirty Bird.” And the writing was first-rate. The following year, George won an Emmy Award for “most outstanding new personality.”
The show ran for almost six years. While George had tried his hand at acting, it never really took. So when it ended, he went back out on the circuit. His popularity had dipped a bit, but his TV fame was able to get him booked onto all of the top shows of the day – Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Flip Wilson – and most pointedly, The Tonight Show.
Carson always loved comics and George was one of his favorites. One of television’s more famous moments occurred when Gobel appeared on The Tonight Show, following Bob Hope and Dean Martin. George started to give Carson a hard time about his coming on last and having to follow two major stars. He quipped to Carson, “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?”… and Carson just lost it. A classic was born.
Another of his famous bits involved a character called “Lonesome George,” where Gobel came on stage with a guitar, started to sing, but got sidetracked into a story, with the song always left unfinished after fitful starts and stops. This was a comedic technique that was later perfected by the Smothers Brothers.
Towards the end of his career, George did what many comics did – he played Vegas. His career was slightly renewed again with appearances in the 70’s on The Hollywood Squares, but he never hit the earlier heights. He died in 1991.
What I remember most is, he did what the great ones do…he made you laugh. That dirty bird
Filed Under: Featured
About the Author: Lawrence Dorfman is the bestselling author (Yeah, right) of The Snark Handbook; The Snark Handbook: Insult Edition; The Snark Handbook :Sex Edition; and the forthcoming Snark Handbook: Politics and Government Edition (really good at the whole naming thing, eh?). He honed his snark chops while working in publishing for more than 30 years. Like you really care.