Now, cut that out!

Old-time radio’s greatest comedy ensemble is still funny, and worth checking out

John I. Carney
5 min readDec 22, 2023

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The cast of “The Jack Benny Program,” standing in a line outside the doors of NBC studios. Jack Benny has his arms linked with Don Wilson and Mary Livingstone
The classic lineup, from left: Phil Harris, Don Wilson, Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Dennis Day, Eddie Anderson. Mel Blanc, not pictured here, played a number of characters, including Benny’s sputtering old Maxwell car.

Every now and then, especially if I’m driving further than just across town, I will turn on SiriusXM’s Radio Classics channel. I will stop and listen to “Gunsmoke” or “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar,” or other things if they happen to be on when I flip over.

But what I am always, always hoping for is “The Jack Benny Program.”

As my brother Mike would remind me, there are plenty of places where you can download or listen to “The Jack Benny Program” for free, on demand, and I think I need to start doing that more often.

Of course, if we’re talking about radio (as opposed to the TV version), in one sense there is no such thing as “The Jack Benny Program.” There was “The Canada Dry Ginger Ale Program,” or “The Jell-O Program,” or “The Lucky Strike Program,” or “The Chevrolet Program,” or “The Grape-Nuts and Grape-Nuts Flakes Program,” depending on whoever the show’s principal sponsor was that year. It was a common arrangement in radio’s Golden Age.

But make no mistake: Whatever name the sponsor slapped on it, it was the same show, with the same cast, running from 1932 to 1955 on radio. It was also on television from 1950 to 1965, though it was only weekly from 1960–1965. In this article, I am primarily focusing on the radio program.

Jack Benny was the star, but this was a true ensemble. Benny famously said in interviews, and told Johnny Carson by way of advice, that a good host doesn’t care who gets the laugh as long as there is a laugh. And many of the laughs on “The Jack Benny Program” were at Jack’s expense, delivered by the other cast members.

In real life, Jack Benny was generous and humble, but many of the jokes on “The Jack Benny Program” come from portraying him as the stingiest man in America — not stingy out of meanness, but just because he can’t bear to let go of a dime. And he’s also portrayed as vain and somewhat insecure — for example, always insisting that he’s 39, no matter how old he really is. (Jack Benny Middle School, in Benny’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, has “39ers” as the name of its athletic teams.)

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike