Thursday, December 12, 2013

Take my Oyster. . . Please!

The oyster stew routine started out as a monologue joke.  A version of the joke was printed in James Melville Janson's 1899 joke collection, Encyclopedia of Comedy: For Professional Entertainers, Social Clubs, Comedians, Lodges and All who are in Search of Humorous Literature.  The joke went as follows, "And they had oyster stew.  It was the worst I ever saw: small, half-starved oysters, and the water they were in was not hot enough to kill them.  They were alive, and the minute I broke the crackers in the stew the oysters came from the bottom and ate the crackers."  Frank Bush, a popular dialect comedian and monologist, used this joke in expanded form during an appearance on the Keeney vaudeville circuit in December, 1915.  A Variety critic noted, "Bush was among those present with a batch of stories, most of them new, but a few, alas, lamentably old.  In the latter class that hapless tale about the restaurant stew in which the oyster ate the crackers was heartlessly paraded.  The funny thing about this last mentioned gag is that the audience laughed uproariously at it." 

Frank Bush
It was a funny situation to imagine and it was even funnier when Mack Sennett's special effects team got around to creating a physical oyster that could pop out of a bowl of stew and snatch away a cracker from Billy Bevan.  The rest is comedy history. 
Dutiful But Dumb (1941) 

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