Al Kelly: The Duke of Double Talk

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 vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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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

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7 comments

  1. HI Bob,
    I think a great aunt of mine, Dora, might have been the Dora that
    Ben Kalish married. I just read a biography of Al Kelly and it mentions Ben and Dora and their daughter Rhoda. My aunt also
    talked about a cousin Rhoda in Miami. I think that would be her.
    Funny thing is, I also had cousins by the last name of Greenberg in Miami.
    Still looking for more info on the Dora that Ben married.

    Like

    • Hi, Susan! You should contact Norman Friedman, he’s on facebook as I am. Tell him I told you to reach out to him. He’s my uncle’s brother-in-law and is of an age that would remember probably all the details. Friend me, friend him and keep me posted. :^)

      Like

  2. HI Bob, thanks for the quick reply. The Pickard or Pickardsky name is not familiar to me. Anymore info you could get would be great.
    Thanks!

    Like

  3. Hi! Thanks for spotlighting Al Kelly who was my Uncle’s Uncle or should I say my Great Uncle or my Uncle once removed?!
    Just want to mention that Al died at the Friars Club after he KILLED and then returned to his seat. Not at the dais. This was a tribute or toast (not roast) to Milton Berle so there was probably just a mic on a podium with the Comics doing their bits then returning to their seats. He literally took a bow and returned to his table and died. His wife and my uncle were there.
    This was in the Dining Room of the Friars Club. Friar Frank (Italian last name?) was a waiter then and helped to carry him out
    to the bar where they laid him out. He said that he was dead when they picked him up. The Friars Doctors (whom Frank said
    were pretty drunk!) pronounced him dead on the bar. Just some details from some witnesses for future postings…
    Happy Holidays!
    Best, BOB
    P.S. Al had a speech impediment, I think they told me he had a cleft palette, which aided his Double-Talk Routines.
    P.P.S. Joey Adams told me that Al was his partner for a time after Willie Howard died.
    P.P.P.S. The family always said that he made his most money at corporate gigs where he was hired as a visiting
    specialist or expert on something and more often than not, most people actually thought he was for real!

    Like

    • Hi Bob, The legend in my family is that Al was married to some relative of mine, I think on my Mom’s side. Do you have any idea of his wife’s name ( given and maiden)?
      Thanks, Sue

      Like

      • Yes, my uncle Leonard Pickard’s (formerly Pickardsky) aunt was married to Al Kelly (Abe Kalish) so I assume her maiden name was Pickard or Pickardsky too. I hope that helps. My uncle is still alive and I’ll ask for more specifics next time I speak to him.

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