August 02, 2003


Was Christopher Hitchens a Bob Hope fan? Not exactly.

Imagine how Hitch would’ve reacted if Mother Teresa ever tried stand up. “I just flew in from a Calcutta leprosarium, and boy, are my arms tired ...”

Posted by Tim Blair at August 2, 2003 12:42 PM

I love Hitchens dearly but this is the sort of work-for-hire clip-slash-hit-job he should have known better than to do. Not having grown up watching Bob Hope on TV like the rest of us, having as much qualification to write about him as I do about Norman Wisdom or George Formby, he pulls half a dozen lame 80s Mondale jokes from the friggin' obituaries-- talk about the lazy stealing on deadline from the lazy-- and pronounces definitively on Bob Hope. If he's seen any of the dozen or two hilarious comedies from the 1940s and 1950s Hope made, he shows no sign of it. This is like writing a Katharine Hepburn piece when all you've seen is On Golden Pond and Love Affair.

Fortunately, there's a much better piece by Wilfred Sheed in the same "issue" of Slate. I disagree that Hope was terrible on radio, but the view of his movie work is dead on.

Posted by: Mike G at August 2, 2003 at 01:56 PM

Perhaps it's true that people on the left lack a sense of humor? Or at least, 'low-brow/humor for the masses' humor?

I thought Hope was pretty funny. I liked when he did his 'USO/entertain the troops shows' how he would tell jokes at the expense of the commanders and the president.

I also give the guy credit for going into war zones. I recall watching tapes of some of his shows and you could hear fighting not very far away. That must have taken some nerve.

Oh well. I bet Hitch dislikes the '3 Stooges' too.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at August 2, 2003 at 04:27 PM

How about Pee Wee Herman? "I just got back from the Pussy Cat Theatre and boy are my arms tired!"

Posted by: Charles at August 2, 2003 at 09:28 PM

And we can't forget our dear Indonesian friends, Mukhlas and "Smiling Jack" Amrozi. "We just got back from the trial and boy are our arms tied!"

Posted by: Charles at August 2, 2003 at 09:39 PM

You guys know that Slate's done this urinate on graves schtick quite a bit lately, wot?

Posted by: Brian J. at August 3, 2003 at 12:10 AM

I've long thought that the rush by conservatives to embrace Chris Hitchens has been unseemly. A pratt who shares your opinion on the war in Iraq is still a pratt.

Posted by: Simon Roberts at August 3, 2003 at 02:04 AM

he was spot-on about that nutjob diana

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 3, 2003 at 02:52 AM

I think Hitch has nailed it. I never found Bob Hope funny. Sorry, but there it is. As for Hitch's sense of humour - the man's a genius. He could do stand up.

Posted by: David Gillies at August 3, 2003 at 04:10 AM

Mr. Hitchens does not care for the humour of Mr. Hope: well, OK, that's his opinion. I do wish it were better informed, though.

Mr. Hope was not a stand-up comic, per se: he was a wit. I can recall several times in his movies when at the end of a scene he would turn away to go off-camera, and mutter "There's a joke there somewhere...". To Mr. Hitchens, this is unfunny, but it breaks me up as I try to construct lines. It is the difference between reading "Tom Sawyer" and any movie thereof: Mr. Hope is the book, John Candy the movie. I like both, why not?

Posted by: John Anderson at August 3, 2003 at 06:11 AM

My absolute favorite Bob Hope line comes from an episode of "I Love Lucy," where Lucy meets Bob Hope, tries to break into showbiz, hilarity ensues, etc. Lucy was disguised as a hot-dog vendor at a baseball game and somehow Hope got into some sort of fight as a result.

Anyway, later in the episode Desi Arnaz and Bob Hope are discussing the incident and Arnaz says, "I understand a hot-dog vendor started the whole thing," in his impenetrable Cuban accent. Hope clearly doesn't understand him, stares at him, asks him to repeat what he said; Arnaz does. It's still almost impossible to understand what he's saying, so Hope says, "You're trying to tell me something, aren't you?" completely seriously.

It got a huge laugh.

Posted by: Alice at August 3, 2003 at 06:33 AM

I suspect Hitchens of the school that believes it's not funny unless it is pointed and nasty. This is not Bob Hope.

Posted by: Ken Summers at August 3, 2003 at 06:50 AM

Having just read the Hitchens piece, I think he should stick to politics. It's one thing to say that one doesn't think Bob Hope was funny (I'm of the opinion that he was sometimes on, sometimes off), but it's quite another to act as if your finding him not funny somehow made you some sort of ultimate arbiter of just what was funny and what was not. It wasn't enough that Hitchens didn't care for the Bob Hope brand of humor -- notice the frequent digs at the sort of audience that humor was supposedly aimed at? "Bland, safe," indeed. I'm glad Hitchens is sensible when it comes to fighting Islamicist terrorism, but otherwise he's still an elitist, lefty asshole.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 3, 2003 at 09:11 AM

His book on mother Theresa is histrionic and puerile. The faults he lists boil down to 1) she accepted money from bad men and; 2) She supported the catholic position re contraception, abortion and divorce.

It’s laughable. He’s a pathetic little man teetering on the edge of sanity.

Posted by: Simon Roberts at August 3, 2003 at 12:13 PM

It's no great surprise that Hitchens (or anyone else for that matter)didn't "get" Hope.

Comedy and music are probably the two most subjective forms of entertainment there are. I learned long ago never to recommend either to someone I didn't know well, as they would invariably not like my choices.

There are many popular comedians that I don't "get" either - Billy Connolly chief among them. But to say that these comedians aren't funny would be wrong. It's just that people other than me find them so.

The giveaway line from Hitchens is "Hope never stretched or challenged an audience in his life". I have been bored rigid by too many "stretching" and "challenging" comedians trying to force their lefty agitprop down my throat to be taken in by this line.

In fact it's a sure bet that for any form of entertainment at all - including plays, films,novels and art - "stretching" and "challenging" are similes for third-rate bullshit.

Long live the easy laugh!

Posted by: The Mongrel at August 3, 2003 at 12:34 PM

Oh, come on.

Bob Hope wasn't funny.

The "Simpsons" admitted it a few years back, in the episode featuring a Hope/ Lisa Simpson U.S.O appearance.

If Fox TV could admit as much then, why can't Hitchens now?

Posted by: Block at August 3, 2003 at 01:22 PM

Hey, "Block", there is no such thing as "admitting" someone isn't funny. What can be "admitted" is that you said someone was funny when you didn't actually think so. So what you are doing is accusing people who say Bob Hope (or anyone else) is funny of being liars. Tell me, Block, why would people lie about their opinion on so trivial a question? Since you are so wise I figure you should know the answer.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 3, 2003 at 01:42 PM


Why do people lie about all sorts of things?

It's easier to pretend that a cultural icon like Bob Hope was funny, than to admit he was just a hack who ogled women's tits on stage in front of American troops.

Bob Hope--funny as a turd that just won't flush.

Posted by: Block at August 3, 2003 at 02:27 PM


Name a funny comedian before 1960.

Posted by: Simon Roberts at August 3, 2003 at 02:39 PM

I'll bet Block can't name a funny comedian before 1980.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 3, 2003 at 02:41 PM


I thought we were discussing unfunny comedians, like Bob Hope?

But rest assured; next time an actual funny comedian dies, and people lie and call him/her unfunny, I'll let you know.

Bob Hope--The Pauly Shore who made it.

(Oh, no...don't tell me you find Pauly funny too?)

Posted by: Block at August 3, 2003 at 02:57 PM

Some of Bob Hope's gags would have to have been carbon-dated.
I always thought he was about as funny as a barbed wire enema- which would be funny if it was given to somebody else.

Posted by: Habib Bickford at August 3, 2003 at 05:08 PM

Simon Roberts seems to have distilled CHristopher Hitchens arguement against Mother Theresa rather brutally to fit them into those two points. So be it. Those two points suffice.

Posted by: James Hamilton at August 3, 2003 at 06:29 PM

Bob Hope had a certain screen persona that could be quite funny--an aspect of his career frequently mentioned by Woody Allen. But most of the jokes he told just lacked genuine wit. I liked the guy and I appreciate what service he gave to his country, but I wouldn't want to insult his memory by lying to myself or anyone else that he was some kind of genius. Many, many years ago Bob Hope was on David Letterman (probably 1985 or so) and Letterman was trying to interview him and Hope was just incongruously inserting these canned one-line jokes that weren't very funny. The whole thing was just sad and more than a little weird. I remember feeling sorry for him: the cultural-awareness gap was so immense. And the reaction of Letterman was priceless. This of course was back before Letterman's brand of ironic detachment was mass-packaged and had infiltrated every aspect of US popular culture, making it the sickening thing, for the most part, that it is now (e.g., John Stewart). But, hey, don't get mad at me, the hip thing now is to be sincere.

Posted by: Mort Sahl at August 3, 2003 at 08:13 PM

I don't see why anyone gives a shit what Hitchens or Block or anyone else thinks about a particular comedian. Bob Hope must have occupied a great deal of Hitchens cerebral gymnastics for him to take the time to vent on Hope after he was dead. Comedians are like sports stars, after a while they pretty much go through the motions, usually for contractual reasons, when most would rather be somewhere else. I would imagine in Hope's later years this too was the case. There are plenty of comedians and actors that I just don't find funny. They, however, do not stimulate me to the point of ranting like a peckerhead on a global scale, hell I don't even think about them, I turn the channel. But hey; that's just me.

My guess is that Hitchen's real beef with Hope goes back to the 60s and the Viet Nam conflict. That decade and war is one lefties, and especially Hitchens, can't let go. And Hope was not someone 'ol Hitch would agree with about Viet Nam. Hitchens', and probably Block's also, dislike of Bob Hope sounds more personal than anything else. It reveals Hitchens' professional, and possibly personal, shortcomings than anything else.

Posted by: D2D at August 4, 2003 at 12:31 AM


I don't have a beef with Bob Hope. Kudos to him for supporting the troops and all that. More power to him for standing up for his beliefs. At least he made it to Vietnam.

But he wasn't funny, dude. Not 'ha, ha' funny anyway.

Why do you have to turn this into a personal thing?

Bob Hope--Funny as rectal cancer

Posted by: Block at August 4, 2003 at 01:27 AM

Because dude, you're criticism of Hope is just not subjective, or objective for that matter, it's straight out mean. I'm sure people with rectal cancer find you 'ha, ha' funny. Sheesh.

Posted by: D2D at August 4, 2003 at 01:47 AM

Why, Block, does my disagreeing with you mean I must like Pauly Shore? Oh -- maybe you were trying to be funny. You weren't, though.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 4, 2003 at 02:12 AM

Of course, Bob Hope is credited by most with "opening up the fourth wall" in movies. Sure, he was bland, but maybe his brand of humor was suited for certain times or certain people. Just as I can appreciate the satire of both Swift and Juvenal for different reasons, I can appreciate Bob Hope as well as Lenny Bruce for different reasons.

As far as "challenging the audience . . ." if Sturgeon's Law (90% of _everything_ is crap)is true, then probably 99% of most "challenging" or "stretching" art is crap. Its the good percentage that makes it worthwhile.

Finally, attacking a dead man, or using a dead man as a prop for attacking someone/thing else, is really, really lame, and tends to show one's own total lack of ability.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at August 4, 2003 at 06:02 AM

Maybe the Poms just have it in for Bob Hope - maybe they never forgave him for leaving England. Check out the Frank Johnson article in the current issue of the Spectator.

Posted by: TimT at August 4, 2003 at 11:22 AM

Hey, TimT, your links were busted, so I fixed them. Folks, don't forget the quotation marks around the urls when you put a link in.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 4, 2003 at 11:38 AM

Why is a Comedy Festival called a Comedy Festival?

Posted by: Pooh at August 4, 2003 at 12:26 PM

Thanks Andrea... I'm still learning HTML, so little things like quote marks tend to pass me by...

Posted by: TimT at August 4, 2003 at 12:52 PM

Here's Mark Steyn on Hope at 100:

If you only remember one thing about him, it’s this: Bob Hope has made more people laugh than anyone in human history. He’s the only comedian to have been, over the years, the Number One star in radio, in film, and then television, at a time when each of those media was at its highpoint.


When you’re that big – when you’re as mass as mass media can get – you don’t have hardcore followers, you’re not a cult or a genius like Buster Keaton or Monty Python. The old Broadway saw – “Nobody likes it but the public” – could be made for Hope.
Posted by: Oscar Jr. at August 4, 2003 at 01:04 PM


Don't lie. You know I'm funny. You're just denying it for reasons known only to you.

Posted by: Block at August 4, 2003 at 04:20 PM