Monday, July 03, 2006

Celebrate the 4th with American humor at its best: the prolific, relatively unsung comic genius of Jean Shepherd.
Harry Shearer recently created a two-hour tribute show, with generous helpings of Shepherd's unique brand of humor. There's Twain, Thurber, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Richard Pryor in the pantheon of American comic geniuses, but perhaps the most prolific of them all was Shepherd, who created 45 minutes of new material every weekday for over 20 years, with a two-hour live show broadcast from the Limelight club on Saturday. In his early days, he would spin tales of his youth and American absurdities for nearly five hours a night. As KCRW describes him:

"Likened to a jazz musician, compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, and hailed by Marshall McLuhan as “the first radio novelist,” radio storyteller JEAN SHEPHERD had the ability to tap into the American psyche by drawing on his own often bizarre life experiences and sharing them with an audience of devoted fans and listeners." Check out the tribute show here:
Jean Shepherd

To hear a sampling of his staggeringly inventive story-telling, check out this link to some Mp3 files [click on the music icon for streaming, the down arrow for downloading].

If you grew up in the New York area, you may remember him on WOR late-night radio. But as the audio documentary points out:

Shepherd is perhaps most widely known for the quirky film, “A Christmas Story” about Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB gun he hopes Santa will bring him which he wrote and narrated, and which is trotted out on television during the holiday season. He wrote articles for magazines as diverse as MAD, Playboy, Car and Driver and Field and Stream. Several collections of his stories were published (“In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” and “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories”). And he created the intellectual equivalent to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” scare with his “I, Libertine” book hoax, in which he and his listeners created a national furor over a totally non-existent book…which nevertheless managed to get itself banned in Boston. Later in his life Shepherd appeared as a commentator on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” as well as a series of PBS television programs.

But Shep, as fans and friends called him, began his career and established his reputation on radio. Beginning in Cincinnati on WSAI-AM in the early 1950s, he later moved to Philadelphia and then to New York, enrapturing listeners for more than two decades in his late-night slot on 50,000 watt clear-channel station WOR-AM. For a time he even broadcast live on Saturday nights from The Limelight in Greenwich Village, spinning tales for two hours at a stretch.

You now have hours of entertaining tales as near as a click of your mouse. Enjoy!

Update: For more information on Shepherd and Web resources for his material, check out the Jean Shepherd Project.

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