November 4, 1965: Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen lectures on American humor at the Armory

On this day in Duluth in 1965, noted ventriloquist (and father of actress Candace Bergen) Edgar Bergen performed at Duluth’s 1915 Armory, treating the crowd to his old-time radio schtick featuring dummies Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and Effie Klinker. While the appeal of a ventriloquist act performing over the radio might seem unlikely to today’s audiences, the Duluth News Tribune review reminded readers that that “was king of the airwaves for decades before TV and the modern fad of ‘sick’ jokes were born.” Indeed, the paper said, “Bergen’s humor hasn’t changed” since his glory days and the performer preferred “puns and fast one liners.” Examples? “Show me a happy couple and I’ll show you two miserable people.” “To eat or not to eat, fat is the question.” The event was billed as a lecture on American humor, but it was mostly just Bergen’s old radio show onstage. He did mention that laughter had restorative power and that “people who cannot laugh at their own foibles get sick: The surly bird gets the germ!” Bergen stayed at the Hotel Duluth while visiting the Zenith City, and there he told reporters that he was critical of television, stating that it “burns up comedians too fast.” Then he made a statement that holds true today: “Above all, good shows are only as good as their writers, and writers have to be developed through years of practice and experience.”

Mortimer Snerd, Edgar Bergen, and Charlie McCarthy. (Image: Public Domain)