Today is the birthday of the one and only Merwyn Bogue (1908-1994), better known by his professional name Ish Kabibble.
What a mysterious thing is this Ish Kabibble — old time show biz buffs know him from appearances on Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor’s radio and tv shows, and the occasional cameo in a movie. A dim, vaguely foreign character with a pudding bowl haircut like Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, he was both a character comedian and a cornet player in Kay Kyser’s band. Most people I think could be forgiven for assuming that he was Jewish, or at least from New York City.
NEVER ASSUME! Bogue is a Scottish surname; he was from western Pennsylvania, and attended college in West Virginia. The origin of his persona goes something like this:
There is a Yiddish phrase, “Nisht gefidlt”, which means “it doesn’t matter to me”. Out of this (apparently), the nonsense phrase “Ische ga bibble” may have evolved, to which tradition has ascribed the meaning, ‘I should worry?”, which became one of Bogue’s catch phrases.
In 1913, songwriter Sam Lewis came out with the popular song “Ische Gabibble” based on the phrase.
Then in 1914 Harry Hershfield debuted his comic strip Abie the Agent, starring the character Abe Kabibble. (Thus explaining that remark of Chico Marx’s when he meets Rosco W. Chandler in Animal Crackers — “You’re not Abe Kabibble?”)
In 1931, Bogue started performing with Kiser’s band. One of his specialty numbers was the song “Ische Gabibble”, out of which arose his character and his role as comical sidekick to bandleader Kay Kyser in nightclubs, and on radio and film. He played the role until the early 1950s, when he retired and went in the real estate business. I’ll eat my hat if he was not an influence on Andy Kauffman.
To find out more about the history of show business and strange comedians like Ish Kabibble, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.