If you are of a certain age, you’ve undoubtedly seen Al Kelly — he was a frequent guest on tv shows fronted by the likes of Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs and Soupy Sales. He was much beloved for his one bit: announced as an expert on some subject, he would come out and speak in a very calm double-talk, using actual English words but scrambled and reassembled on the fly so as to be total nonsense. The very reasonable delivery would make you wonder what was wrong with your powers of listening and comprehension until you realized that it was a put-on.
Born Abraham Kalish this day in 1896, Kelly started out in kid acts in vaudeville (including the 9 Crazy Kids, of which Jesse Block was a also a member), and had also been a stooge for Willie Howard in his bit “Comes the Revolution”. When vaudeville dried up in the 30s, Kelly worked in the Catskills, which is where he originated his famous bit when he accidentally flubbed a line in his sketch and kept going. Kelly died a comedians dream death: he passed away on the dais during a roast of Joe E. Lewis at the Friar’s Club in 1966.
Here he is in peak form on Kovacs:
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc