Benchley's Influence

Shop at Woody Allen
    "The mirror in which the new Woody Allen could best see himself was the New Yorker. In common with James Thurber, Rober Benchley and S. J. Perelman, his acknowledged models and inspirations, Allen was a child of the magazine"
    --Woody Allen: a Biography, John Baxter (1998).

Dave Barry

    "I always wanted to be like Robert Benchley. Um, not in the sense of being dead. I'd like to be Robert Benchley, but not dead."
    -- Interview with Annenberg/CPB.

Shelley Berman

    "Even his [Berman's] asides dug deep -- about the nostalgic value of the phrase 'skate key' or 'those tiny embarrassing moments' (spinach between the teeth, a cigarette falling out of his mouth onto his lap) -- and helped make him the most purely 'observational' comic on the scene years before the term was in vogue. Most of it was Benchleyesque (Berman has long wanted to do a one-man Robert Benchley show but can't get the rights)."
    --Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s , Gerald Nachman (2003).

Erma Bombeck (1927-1992)

    "Erma practically inhaled the works of popular humorists including Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and H. Allen Smith. So it's not surprising that when given the opportunity to write for the school newspaper, she produced a humor column."
    --From erma's life: growing up on

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944)

    "Here, for example, is Robert C. Benchley, perhaps the most finished master of the technique of literary fun in America. Benchley's work is pure humor, one might almost say sheer nonsense. There is no moral teaching, no reflection of life, no tears. What Benchley pursues is the higher art of nonsense and he has shown in it a quite exceptional power for tricks of word and phrase."
    --Greatest Pages of American Humor (1936).

Bob Newhart

    "I think I was influenced by every comedian I ever saw work. That's the only way you learn how to do it. Certainly, Jack Benny ... I was also influenced by writers like Robert Benchley, H. Allen Smith, James Thurber, Max Schulman."
    on the occasion of Bob Newhart being awarded The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2002.

S. J. Perelman. Once describing himself as “wafer-thin, razor-sharp, and button-cute,” S(ydney) J(oseph) Perelman (1904–1979) was one of the great parodists of the twentieth century. He wrote mostly for the New Yorker throughout his long career.

His style was complex, almost surreal. The typical Perelman essay begins with a short quote from an advertisement or a newspaper article that has sparked his imagination (or more likely raised his ire). Soon the prose vectors off in unexpected directions, with intellectual terms bumping against low slang. Perelman's prose shines like a diamond: he was a slow writer, often spending hours honing just one or two sentences.

Benchley, praising his friend and colleague, S. J. Perelman, once said:

    "It was just a matter of time before Perelman took over the dementia praecox field and drove us all to writing articles on economics."
    --From the introduction to The most of the most of S. J. Perelman, p. vi.

Robert Benchley, another of the twentieth century's great parodists (perhaps the greatest of all, many say, though Max Beerbohm would have to be included in any twentieth century parody smackdown), had a style distinct from Perelman's in many ways. Benchley is easy to read aloud, for example, but Perelman is more challenging: the tight, convoluted sentences usually work best when read silently. For all that, Perelman could create masterful comic dialog: he wrote the scripts for the Marx Brothers’ comedies, Monkey Business and Horsefeathers, and later wrote the script for Around the World in Eighty Days. Like so many other writers seduced by Hollywood, though, he was unhappy during his tenure there.

Perelman’s essays are crammed with obscure references to art, literature, geography (he was a peripatetic world traveler), music, philosophy, religion, and popular culture. For example, the first few pages of “The Avant-garde Vernacular,” a typical Perelman essay (if there is such a thing), contain references to Truman Capote, Modigliani, Dolly Madison ice cream cones, Oaxaca, Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Capricorn,” and Arnold Schoenberg! Still, the prose remains light and breezy.

Many modern humorists owe a debt to S. J. Perelman, most notably Woody Allen and Britain’s Alan Coren. One also sees the Perelman influence in the writings of Wolcott Gibbs and E. B. White. Coren is perhaps the greatest living exponent of the Perelman style (with a British twist), though Allen’s books, Getting Even and Without Feathers, are paeans to Perelman.

[Above entry courtesy of Mr. Christopher Morgan, RBS Archivist.]

    "A good stuffy way to describe Benchley," S. J. Perelman once wrote, "would be to say that 'he occupies a unique position in American humor.' He occupies nothing of the sort. He is top dog."
    --from Benchley's obituary in the New York Times (November 22, 1945).

Will Rogers (1879-1935)

    "Will Rogers is the only living person who can get away with timely material and he changes his every day...If any wiser, more discerning satire for the ages than that has been produced in the last ten years, we haven't heard it."
    --from Benchley's column in Life magazine (February 15, 1923).

Jean Shepherd (1921-1999)

    "It's really too bad that Bob Benchley didn't live to see some of the things that pass for entertainment on TV today. Benchley would have had a ball lampooning the Life-Size Screen. He also probably would have made a fortune in it as a performer. He had a quality that all of us feel we have, but rarely if ever actually do."
    -- "Veni, Vidi, Vidiocy" The Village Voice (December 5, 1956)

H. Allen Smith (1906-1976) [ Fan Site ] [ Another Fan Site ]

    "One day a report reached me that Robert Benchley had decided to abandon writing forever. On behalf of mankind I hurried down to his apartment on Forthy-fourth Steet, backed him into a corner and said: 'Listen, you, The world will not permit this. You cannot quit us at this stage of the game.'"
    --Desert Island Decameron (1945)

James Thurber (1894-1962)

    Who confessed that the professional humor writer is plagued by ". . . the suspicion that a piece he has been working on for two days was done much better and probably more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924." --My Life and Hard Times (1933).

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