Friday, May 30, 2014

What Might've Been: Can You Top This? (1970)

In the 50's, there were a couple of comedy games that made the rounds, then revived in the 70's.

The first of those shows to be revived was Can You Top This?, the concept of which is pretty self-explanatory. A contestant sends in a joke to be read by a celebrity joke teller. Three other comedians are then asked to top it. Apparently, this was the weakest of the comedy games, as this version only lasted 1 season.

Only one episode is available on YouTube. Wink Martindale is the MC. Richard Dawson (Hogan's Heroes) is the joke teller. Our panel consists of Jack Carter, Paul Winchell, and Morey Amsterdam (ex-The Dick Van Dyke Show), who doubled as a producer. Reportedly, Amsterdam held the rights to the series, and Four Star packaged the show for syndication. The studio was on its last legs at the time, since they didn't have any series on the network by this point. If memory serves, I believe Amsterdam was also continuing as a recurring panelist on Hollywood Squares, the better to plug Can You Top This?. Winchell didn't leave his ventriloquist dummies behind. Jerry Mahoney makes a cameo appearance at the start.

The jokes are told in much the same way they'd be if our stars were appearing on, say, The Tonight Show or any of the other talk shows. Winchell, of course, didn't do much stand-up to begin with, but acquits himself very well. It's just a pity this wasn't renewed for a 2nd season.

The other comedy games? It Pays to be Ignorant, which began on radio before going to TV, just like Can You Top This?, and was revived by Monty Hall & Stefan Hatos in the mid-70's, and Make Me Laugh, which Paramount brought back in 1979 with Bobby Van. It would've been renewed for a 2nd year, except that Van passed away after production ended. Laugh was the only one to return a 2nd time, this time on cable's Comedy Central, and lasted about 3-4 years with 2 hosts.

Can You Top This? merits an A.

No comments: