Teachout: Bob Hope’s Success Was Because He Wasn’t Jewish

Terry Teachout, reviewing Hope: Entertainer of the Century, Richard Zoglin’s new biography of Bob Hope, isn’t much of a fan of Hope, believing him to be overrated as a comedian and safe in his humor. Consequently, Teachout believes Hope’s massive success was due to his WASP identity (“WASP Without a Sting”):

For even though Bob Hope’s work is no longer capable of holding the attention of modern audiences, it is still interesting to learn the details of how he turned himself into a star and then managed to stay on top of the mass-culture heap long after most of his less-driven contemporaries had vanished from sight. But Zoglin, for all his admirable thoroughness, inexplicably fails to emphasize the central fact about Hope and his career—one that not only goes a long way toward explaining why he was so successful, but also why we no longer find him funny.

Simply: He wasn’t Jewish…

Even though Hope was a first-generation European immigrant, there was nothing remotely ethnic about his stage manner. He was among the few successful WASP comics of his generation, and despite the fact that he hired such Jewish writers as Larry Gelbart and Mel Shavelson, the jokes they penned for him lacked the sharp ironic tang of Jewish humor that is to this day one of the essential ingredients in American comedy.

I’ve recently come to appreciate Hope’s humor, and believe the high points of his long and checkered career, are as good as comedy gets. Some of the ‘Road to…’ movies with Bing Crosby are terrific, others are terrible, but all contain at least some prime Hope moments. My Favorite Brunette (1947) is a great parody of classic film noir, a hot commodity at the time.

Ironically, it was the uber-Jewish Woody Allen who appropriated much of Hope’s self-mockery and comedic delivery, something Allen has long acknowledged, with perhaps late-era David Letterman (another Hope fan) exhibiting the most Hope influence.

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