This list of influential comics was Hopeless

Iain Todd says modern comedy owes a lot to Bob

Billy Connolly has been named the UK's most influential stand-up comic of all time, but I'd like to suggest someone else. He is a stand-up who performed for more than 60 years and received more than 2,000 awards. He made 50-plus films, hundreds of radio and television appearances and thousands of stage performances. He is Bob Hope.

Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham in May 1903. His family emigrated from the UK to the US when he was four but he always said that it was his grandfather who came from Hertfordshire that influenced his sense of humour. In later life Hope was delighted to receive an honorary knighthood for services to show business.

When Hope died Mel Brooks said: ‘Hope left a great legacy for all comedy filmmakers. He's shown us how to do it."

While Groucho Marx said: ‘Hope is not a comedian, He just translates what others write for him.’

So can a man who didn’t write his own material be the most influential stand-up comic? I believe so. The UK's most influential comic poll includes men who didn't write their own material such as Tommy Cooper, The Two Ronnies, and Morecambe and Wise. They are on the list for the way they could deliver a joke, perform a sketch or entertain an audience.

Hope was the master of delivering a punchline and that is the essence of great comedy. Whether it’s a shaggy dog story or a one-liner, it’s about how you tell it rather than how well you wrote it.

Hope’s influence can be seen in movies. He had the ability to connect with the audience to let them know that he was in on the joke too, he was always ready with a wisecrack, but when things went wrong he could normally be found cowering behind his leading lady. Watch a modern performer such as Bill Murray or Jason Bateman. They display the same confidence, the same wisecracks and the same ‘it's just a movie’ attitude to acting.

In the Forties Hope starred in a film called Ghostbreakers, a suspenseful comedy featuring mystery, zombies and mayhem. In the Thirties he starred in The Cat And The Canary about an eccentric family that fought over the fortune of a departed relative. Do they sound familiar? The plots could easily describe Ghostbusters or Arrested Development.

In the world of stand-up his initial influence could be seen on Bob Monkhouse, who was even dubbed the ‘British Hope’, in the masterful delivery and use of one-liners. Bob Monkhouse even wrote for Bob Hope on his British trips. If Jimmy Carr is the new Monkhouse then there is a direct line of influence back to Hope. Look at any comedian who delivers one-liners and you can see his style.

Hope’s influence can even be seen in acts such as the Mighty Boosh. Watch a ‘Road To...’ movie and see Hope and Bing Crosby playing heightened versions of themselves. One of the characters is musical the other believes he is a ladies’ man. The characters end up in fantastical locations and the comedy veers from the surreal (talking camels) to asides to the audience. Again, does this sound familiar?

Finally, Hope backed the troops before there was Help For Heroes. He raised money for charity before there was Comic rRlief. Hope had a Christmas special 20 years before Morecambe and Wise. He had lines that were as relevant today as they were back in the Fifties: ‘A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.’

Don't take my word for it. Woody Allen called him the most influential comedian of all time, saying: ‘The world was a happier place because of Bob Hope."

Published: 31 Jan 2012

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