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Today, 'Joke' Is Just a Four-Letter Word

June 10, 1996

As the writer in 1947 of the first commercial television show ever produced (west of the Mississippi; I don't want to take the blame for the entire country), I can sympathize with the problems of the older comedy writers in Josh Getlin's excellent article "Exit Laughing" (May 26).

But they're wrong. They all made a terrible mistake. They outlived the comedians. There is no comic around today who gets laughs through warmth and sentiment--or would dare to try. No more George Burns, Jack Benny or Danny Thomas, of whom it was said, "He's the kind of guy who cries at basketball games."

Welcome to the 21st century, fellas, where laughter is a four-letter word.

Good night, Gracie.

MELVILLE SHAVELSON

Studio City

*

In your article "Exit Laughing," on May 26, you mentioned Jack Benny's best-known gag, the classic "Your money or your life." The joke was written by the late Milt Josefsberg and John Tackaberry, both contemporaries of the great comedy writers covered in your story.

Milt delighted in telling how the joke came about. He had the "Your money or your life" line, but could not come up with a retort. He kept pitching lines and discarding them while Tackaberry remained silent.

Finally, an exasperated and angry Milt challenged John to throw a couple of his own lines rather than just lie on the couch. Tackaberry snapped back, "I'm thinking it over!" The two writers looked at each other and started laughing--and a comedy masterpiece was born.

TONY DiMARCO

Los Angeles

*

The wonderful article about the old-time writers hit the mark.

What splendid radio days they colored with their humor. The writers didn't have to resort to vulgarities to get laughs as is done today.

DOROTHY R. GEIGER

Northridge

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