The End of Gentle Humour

By William Thomas

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Gordon Arthur Kelly was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on July 17, 1912 to very little fanfare. In fact, his parents abandoned him when he was only a few weeks old and an evangelical preacher and his wife adopted him. When they moved to San Diego his life changed. The Great Depression hit America just after he graduated from high school and, at the age of 16, he rode the rails doing odd jobs to survive. Later, he graduated from teachers college, but took a job at KGR-Radio in San Diego because it paid more.

With that entry into the entertainment industry his career was enhanced, his life course was charted, and millions of North Americans laughed at him for the next half a century.

He created a radio show called People Are Funny and took it to television where it was a seven-year hit. In a kind and gentle manner, he made us laugh aloud and more importantly, he made us laugh at ourselves.

He was a handsome and dignified man who epitomized the “gentle” in gentleman. He loved children, had five of his own and, at 74 years, enjoyed one of the longest marriages in the history of show business.

By talking to children and not down to them, he created a unique form of humour that was a sensation on U.S. television in the '60s and is as knock-down funny today as it was back then.

Kids Say The Darndest Things was a “riot” for early family television. Gordon Arthur Kelly who became Arthur Gordon “Art” Linkletter upon adoption died May 26 this year at 97 years of age. His death marked the end of an outstanding human being and a talented, moral man. It also heralded, at least in the North American entertainment industry, the end of gentle humour.

Profanity, cruelty, sexism, racism or shock-jock was never a part of Art Linkletter’s world of comedy, but today they are the cornerstones of stand-up and sitcom shows.

Obscene humour is easy, which is why everybody’s a comedian on “Open Mike Night.” Clever and clean comedy takes hard work and talent, which is why, at this very moment, you can’t name a great comedian who works clean. The last time I attended Yuk Yuk’s, I needed a shower when I got home.

So as far as good, honest humour goes, Art Linkletter was a one-of-a-kind entertainer. Joey Bishop once said that Art Linkletter had interviewed so many children, he couldn’t talk to you without bending down. After years of working with children, the People Are Funny host once defined a child as an object halfway between an adult and a television set.

This is a test. If you do not find these excerpts from Art Linkletter’s Kid Say The Darndest Things funny, and I mean smile, chuckle or laugh out loud, then we’ve lost you to the new, but not improved, brand of humour.

These are actual question and answer exchanges between Art Linkletter and kids on his show:

“After one seven-year-old recited the Biblical tale of David and Goliath, how David felled the giant with a stone to the forehead from his slingshot thereby killing him, he asked the child what lesson was learned from the story.

The kid’s reply: “Duck!”

He asked another child if he knew the meaning of the saying ‘The early bid gets the worm’ and the kid said: “They’re welcome to it. I ate one once and it tasted like cold spaghetti!”

Art: "What kind of lawyer is your father?"
Kid: “The good kind. He gets people out of jail.”

Art: "Did your mom give you any instructions before you came on the show?"
Kid: "Yeah, she told me to keep my mouth shut."

Art: "How old is your mom?"
Kid: "My mom says she's 30 but she's really 36."

Art: "What does your dad do for fun?"
Kid: "He drinks beer and smokes cigars."

Art: "What about your mom?"
Kid: "She doesnít have any fun."

Art: "Where did your parents meet?"
Kid: "They were roommates at college."

After determining that the child did not receive an allowance, Art asked him how he got money.
Kid: "I get a nickel every day I don't have a damp bed."
Art: "How are you doing?"
Kid: "I made a dime last week."

Art: "What do you want to do when you grow up?"
Kid: "Nothing. I donít want to grow up."

After the child said she had no brothers or sisters, the host asked if she wanted some.
Kid: "Sure, I'm lonesome."
Art: "What does your mother say when you ask her for one?"
Kid: "She just groans."

When asked about her pets, a little girl replied: "I used to have a duck but it ran away. Then I had a turtle, but my father stepped on it. Then I had three goldfish, but my sister put water softener in their bowl and they softened to death."

Asked to describe the behaviour of his two-month-old baby brother, one child said he cried the whole night long.
Art: "Why is that, what do you think?"
Kid: "He probably thinks he's missing something on television."
Art: "Did you see Santa this year?"
Kid: "See him? I fixed him a bourbon and water."

Art Linkletter was always impressed by a letter he got from a kid that said, “I always watch you when I’m sick.” Most of us will remember this man when a great gale of laughter erupts at nobody’s expense.


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