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Robert Orben interviewed about his gag books – Page 4

The daily routine of a gag machine...

READERSVOICE.COM: What people or styles of humor influenced your style of humor?

ROBERT ORBEN: Oh, certainly Bob Hope and Groucho Marx.

In fact there have been times in the past when people have said I’ve sounded a little like Groucho Marx.

I don’t agree with that. But that short one-liner to the point, that’s strictly Bob Hope and Groucho Marx.

RV: Are you still doing that newsletter?

RO: No, I did that for about 30 years and I stopped doing that in 1989 when I turned 62.

I felt it was time to spend more time doing what I want to do.

When you do current material, someone once said, with the next deadline it’s out of date. Well, not totally, but I did it twice a month and it was about a hundred jokes an issue and it was all very topical so I had to read and read and read.

Unfortunately as we’ve discussed, not books, but everything else to keep up to date.

RV: What sort of things magazine wise do you read today and newspapers?

RO: Well, the same thing I did then. I got a few newspapers.

I get all three news magazines, Time, Newsweek and the U.S. News.

And maybe 15 or 20 other magazines that I still get… magic magazines to know what’s going on.

In fact I just turned down an offer to go out to a magic convention and be interviewed on stage akin to what you’re doing now but I had a conflict with a speakers’ conference.

I still do speeches and workshops.

RV: What’s your general daily routine?

RO: What it used to be was getting up at four o’clock in the morning drinking a lot of coffee, reading the newspapers, making notes, and then at six o’clock writing until I had written 25 jokes.

And if I did it in three or four hours I’d reward myself and take the day off.

If it took 12 hours to write 25 decent jokes I would keep at it.

And that’s seven days a week. I was a workaholic.

RV: What about when you were doing the Red Skelton Show, what was your routine there?
RO: Same thing. Only then I would first start off writing Red’s material because it was making me the most money…and then, although when you write jokes you really have to think is this joke right for one client or another?

I was simultaneously, as I mentioned before, writing for Barry Goldwater, Red Skelton, and Dick Gregory. Well obviously those jokes were not interchangeable. (laughter)

So you had to put yourself in the mindset of the person you were writing for.

RV: What years were you writing for the Red Skelton show?

RO: 1964 to 1970.

RV: Ok. And you were liviing in Los Angeles, was it?

RO: Los Angeles, yeah. It was a lovely six years. I enjoyed it tremendously.

RV: And so each day you’d… How often did the show go on?

RO: Once a week. I wrote the monologue on the shows, so this was the six or seven minutes that Red opened the show with.

And it usually came to about 28 jokes but I would write between a hundred and a hundred fifty jokes each week, and pick the best and then the routine could be done.

RV: What was your deadline there?

RO: Well, you always write pretty far in advance.

I think we were writing three weeks in advance.

Because re-runs also were used for the show so you couldn’t get immediately topical.

RV: So the same routine there, getting up at four a.m.?

RO: Absolutely. (laughs)… You couldn’t be too topical but…you knew what that audience was concerned with.

RV: Ever considered writing memoirs or a life story?

RO: Well I do have a book Speaker’s Handbook of Humor and it’s published by Merriam-Webster.

And that’s probably as much memoirs as anything because I talk about a lot that’s happened in my life, and pertains to how to do speeches, how to write speeches, how to use humor.

But a memoir as such, memoirs generally don’t sell, and ah, unfortunately, I’ve never been a note-taker and I would come back from these different events, with television and with business, whatever, with wonderful anecdotes and think I will never forget that, and I have.

-copyright Simon Sandall.