What is a New Year's Resolution?
Something that goes in one year and out the other! After much deliberation and deep thought.. nearly a full five minutes.. I've decided to declare It Pays to be Ignorant the "official" Third Banana old-time radio series. I've always loved the show, but upon closer inspection I've found it really encompasses the entire Third Banana experience, so to speak. Between Tom Howard, George Shelton, Lulu McConnell and Harry McNaughton, we have our UK contingent (McNaughton), comedienne (McConnell), and comedy team (Shelton and Howard). Between the four we have vaudeville experience (Howard, Shelton, McConnell), burlesque (Shelton and Howard), Broadway (all four), film (all four), and radio (duh). The comedy is low, loud and anarchistic, the medium and format obsolete (in the US), and the cast is like a Mount Rushmore of Third Bananas. I can't think of a more thoroughly Third Banana-ish anything, really. So there you have it. Our first "official" thingamabob.
Created in 1942 by WELI program director Bob Howell, the concept was tailored by Howell's co-worker (and eventual wife) Ruth Howard as a vehicle for her father Tom and his comedy partner George Shelton. IPTBI is primarily a parody of Information, Please and Dr. IQ, taking the "board of experts" from the former and the venerable "Pay that man five silver dollars!" tagline from the latter. Too frequently it's classified as an actual quiz program which it most certainly isn't. The guests invariably win a token amount for "stumping the experts" with such questions as "Who painted Whistler's Mother?", but otherwise it's simply a free-form comedy show. Contemporary critics panned it and predicted it would have a short run (it lasted for a decade). Even today it seems that It Pays to be Ignorant isn't overly liked among OTR aficionados. Despite being a consistent ratings winner, it isn't mentioned once in Arthur Frank Wertheim's otherwise authoritative Radio Comedy. Why the animosity? Unfortunately, IPTBI cannot be classified as an "acquired taste". Either you find wordplay, terrible puns, and general vaudeville patter funny or you don't, and if you don't find one episode of IPTBI funny, you might as well forget the rest. It's either wonderful, addictive fun or less preferable than a root canal. Decide for yourself. Archive.org has a nice set of 35 shows that you can download here... and just for fun, here's the show's catchy themesong. Below is a two page spread from the October 16th, 1937 Radio Guide featuring Tom Howard's novel (and frugal) nautical-themed basement. At the time, Shelton and Howard were the featured comics on NBC's Sealtest Sunday Night Party. Daughter Ruth can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of page one. Pipes from Tom Howard's collection are fairly common on Ebay.
ADDENDUMB: On April 1st, 1946, a British version of It Pays to be Ignorant, entitled Ignorance Is Bliss, premiered on the BBC Light Programme. The series was apparently a letter-for-letter copy, using the same scripts as the American show (right down to the catchphrases!), and with stand-ins for Howard, McNaughton, McConnell, and Shelton. Regrettably, from the sound of the clip found at the bottom of this page about the show, what it couldn't duplicate was the verve and spirit of spontaneity of the original. It's worth noting that Lulu McConnell's replacement is Gladys Hay, none other than Will Hay's daughter.