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Robert Orben, gag writer p1

READERSVOICE.COM gives a few samples from out of print books. This issue focusses on Robert Orben, who was a gag writer who died in February, at the age of 95.

Born in 1927, Robert Orben grew up in the Bronx. He started publishing books of gags at the age of 18, in 1946. He sold them at a magic shop where he worked (Stuart Robson’s Conjurer’s Shop Inc. 130 West 42nd St Manhattan). His mother paid for the printing. Magicians would buy the books to add gags to their routines. Later, comedians started buying the books. The books were popular in the 1950s and 60s and were probably overused in their nightclub acts.

He also wrote customised gags for comedians. And he wrote the monologues for Red Skelton and Jack Paar Shows. These were the tonight show style tv stars of the 1960s, before Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman and co. Later he started speech writing for Gerald R. Ford including when he was president of the USA. Mr Ford was a Republican and Mr Orben was reportedly a Democrat. It’s hard to imagine this combination working, at least these days: It’s not like they could avoid talking politics.

 In later life he gave speeches at corporate functions.  Here are a few gags from some of his gag books for comedians. They’re worth reading by comedians interested in learning how to write tight one liners. He said he modelled his style on people like Bob Hope and Groucho Marx. He was a gag machine who had an interesting career.

In his 1962 book The Ad-Libber’s Handbook he writes: One final note of advice: If they don’t laugh within two minutes of the punch line – to hell with them. They had their chance.

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