Sunday, February 25, 2007

invitation to an exorcism

For a good many years here, we NEO natives have lived in the shadow of fear cast by that cheap shot known as the "Cleveland Joke." So that I don't have to give it further power by speaking its name, henceforth I will refer to this phenomenon merely as the "CJ." I've tried tracing back its origins on Google and failed. My feeling is that there must be some sort of long karmic tail attached to birthing and nurturing a form of humor that gets its sad, sneering little life from making fun of somebody else's origins or affiliations. There must be a name for this sort of lame humor in the comedy world, something like "the takeaway."

So, to exorcise the CJ, the pathetic little insecurity that seems to plague our community, I guess we have to call it out, and to call it out, we have to know its origins and all its sources. These are the things of which I am unsure.

Did it start with Bing Crosby's razzing Bob Hope about his Cleveland origins?

Was it perpetuated by Maynard G. Krebs character (Valdis, did your family have any part in this?) on the Dobie Gillis show, when they trotted out "The Monster That Devoured Cleveland" routines, and did "Cleveland" become a one-word punchline, much as the word "work" did?

Did Lenny Bruce add to the mix? What about the radio jocks of the '60s & 70s, things like Mad Daddy and Wild Child? MAD Magazine? Cracked?

How about Ghoulardi, Ernie Anderson--did he get the laugh-o-meter mileage out of "Cleveland" as he did out of "Dorothy [Fuldheim]" and "Parma" and "Oxnard"? What about Tim Conway? David Letterman? Johnny Carson?

What screenwriters from Cleveland used the CJ when they couldn't think of what else to do?

Who continues to use the CJ today? Do any of our elected officials still toss out an offhand CJ apologetically, to make up for a deficit of friends and well-wishers? Is there anybody at all out there who actually thinks the CJ is funny or even remotely useful?

Finally, are any of us responsible for letting this play on and on? Aren't we all getting sort of tired of hearing about it?

I think what perturbs me most about the CJ is that, from my perspective, it just isn't so, it's never been so, and it's never been fair or honest. I've tolerated it thinking it would go away, and for me, it has. The requisites for the CJ to be real humor were never there in the first place. I'm going to consign the CJ to that quite place, where lie other nerdily clever phrases like "yo' momma" and it's sibling "your mother wears combat boots," "I know you are but what am I," and "so funny I forgot to laugh."

So far as I'm concerned, it's exorcised. I'm done.


  1. Tim,
    It's been commonly accepted that the main driver to these jokes, at least initially, was a Cleveland native who was a writer on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show staff. I can't tell you his name, but I'll now try to find it. Anyway, he gave it currency, and it took off from there. But of course, if the town didn't supply so much great material, it wouldn't have mattered. I think one has to live somewhere else for awhile to appreciate why this happened. There continues to be plenty about Cleveland about which to joke, including Clevelanders absurdly thin skin. I think it bothers most of them so much simply because deep down, they know there's much truth in these jokes.

  2. Thanks for helping fill in. I'm fuzzy on the Cleveland jokes because I was away from here between 1964 and 1978, on the far peripheries and not in the epicenter of the Clevejoke maelstrom. I only occasionally got to savor one from afar. I'm looking forward to seeing a few specific names, and then we can track the karma and speculate on the cosmic laws of compensation attributable to each individual jokester.