Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Slippery History of the Banana Peel Gag





A Slippery History of the Banana Peel Gag – 
and the Orange Peel Gag?

On September 18, 2014, at a ceremony held at Sanders Theatre, on the campus of Harvard University, the journal, Annals of Improbable Research, awarded the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics to a team of Japanese Tribologists, headed by Kiyoshi Mabuchi of the School of Allied Health Sciences at Kitasato University, Tokyo, for their  groundbreaking – er . . .  ahem – backbreaking study, Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin.  Although noteworthy for its rigorous application of scientific, physical, and tribological (Tribology is the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion) principles to explain an obvious, if little understood, problem, they were a couple hundred years behind the times.  People had been slipping on banana peels, and other fruit skins, and laughing at it for at least two-hundred years. [For a history of pies in the face - check here.]

The Banana Peel Gag


The slip-on-a-banana-peel gag has been a staple of stage and screen humor since at least the early 1900s.  I was probably first introduced to banana peel humor through Warner Brothers’ cartoons or The Three Stooges.  And Woody Allen may have reached the zenith of banana-peel humor in 1971, with a giant, genetically-engineered banana peel gag in his film titled, appropriately enough, Bananas.  It’s been a long, downhill slide ever since.  

But the gag dates back much further.

An article about Banana Humor, from Smithsonian magazine, singles out Harold Lloyd’s silent film, The Flirt (banana-peel slip at 1:00), as an early example of the “ol’ ‘shlub slipping on a carelessly tossed away banana peel’ gag.”  Others have credited Charlie Chaplin’s film, By the Sea (banana-peel slip at 0:40), from 1915, as the first known banana peel gag on film. 

But although those films may be some of the earliest-known, surviving banana-gag films, they were not the first such slips captured on celluloid.  At least two studios released films featuring banana-peel slipping before 1915. 

The Keystone Studios released an all-banana peel-themed film in 1913:

 “A Healthy Neighborhood” (Keystone), October 16. – Another screamingly funny comedy of the nonsensical sort.  Ford Sterling gives a most enjoyable characterization of Dr. Noodles, who places banana skins on the walk in order to get patients. This reel works up into a highly diverting situation.  A good comedy number.

Moving Picture World, Volume 18, Number 4, October 25, 1913, page 381. 

And Edison released A Modern Day Samson in 1914.

A Modern Day Samson.  By J. Edward Hungerford.  Comedy – Released Wednesday, June 17, 1914.  Unfortunately, on that very day, Mr. Strong slipped on a banana peel which had been carelessly left on the pavement in front of his house, and fell heavily.  On account of his curious construction, he was unable to rise, and when Algernon gallantly rushed to the rescue, his efforts resembled the frantic exertions of an ant attempting to lift an elephant.

Edison’s Kinetogram, Volume 10, Number 9, page 1914.



Slipping on bananas was already old-hat in 1917, when a film critic discussed the low-humor of slapstick artists, such as pies in the face, seltzer-bottle squirts, and slipping on banana peels.[i]

[(I have found even earlier examples of banana-peel humor on film as early as 1905. See my Banana Peel Update.)]

A poem, published in 1922, lists several tired, old visual gags, including banana peels, that always got a laugh:



Funny Stuff, by La Monte Waldron.

A fat man sat on Mary’s Hat.
The crowd just roared with glee.
The movie pie that smites the eye
Gets laughs from sea to sea.

The hurtling brick that hits the hick
Upon a wooden bean.
The slapstick’s whack upon the back
Convulsed both fat and lean.

Banana peels that trip up heels
Oft fill the throng with joy
The wind-swept lid is still a bid
For grins from man and boy.

The blackened eye of some poor guy
Begets the smiles of folks;
That swivel chair in the dental lair
Is good for many jokes.

A case of gout just makes ‘em shout –
As strange as that may seem –
Serves as a jest with all the rest;
Lumbago? It’s a scream!


  
The Washington Times, December 27, 1922, Home Edition, page 19.

But banana peel-slipping humor did not originate in films.


The Banana Peel Gag On-Stage

“Sliding” Billy Watson (not to be confused with Billy “Beef Trust” Watson[ii]) is the man most often credited with inventing, or perfecting, the banana-peel pratfall.  Although it seems unlikely that he would have been the first person to slip on a banana peel (or other fruit peel) on stage (peel-slipping humor goes back nearly one-hundred years before he performed), he does seem to have invented, or perfected, a unique style of slipping and sliding that won over audiences and may have influenced other comedians.

In an interview in the 1930s, Billy Watson reportedly said that his trademark sliding style was inspired by watching someone trying to maintain their balance, after slipping on a banana peel.  Family lore[iii] holds that he slid off the stage, into the orchestra pit when he first performed the bit. 

The move, which became known among comedians of the time as the “Sliding Billy Watson step,” involved sliding his feet on the floor, without moving forward.  He used talcum powder on his shoes to maintain the desired degree of slipperiness.  Charlie Chaplin performed the “Sliding Billy Watson step” in Gold Rush (at 7:35), as he struggles to stay in place, as a strong draft blows through his Klondike goldfield cabin.  Watson is also believed to have performed a related move, now generally referred to as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk.

In early 1908, Billy Watson got his first big break, performing in a touring company of, Me, Him, and I. He must have been good; within the year, he was the headliner with The Girls from Happyland:

The Sun, December 13, 1908, Section 3, Page 6 (The typesetter inverted his middle initial)


The Girls From Happyland, coincidentally, was also the first big break for Fanny Brice, who was famously portrayed by Barbra Streisand in, Funny Girl.  By 1914, Billy Watson may have been one of the highest-paid, if not THE highest-paid, performers in Vaudeville, at $5,000 a month.  



“Sliding” Billy also took his sliding shoes to Hollywood (well, actually, Philadelphia).  In 1914, he starred in Wizard Films’ production, The Crazy Clock Maker,[iv] which was also one of Oliver Hardy’s first films:

Oliver Hardy is listed as“Bab Hardy;” probably a misspelling of “Babe,” a name he used early in his career.

Later in his career, "Sliding" Billy teamed up with another, little-known pop-culture icon, Tommy "Bozo" Snyder, whose character, Bozo, in the comedy, Wise Guy in Society, may be the origin of the word, "bozo," meaning a stupid person.  The two performed together in Burlesque in the 1920s.

Although I could not find any written record of Watson slipping on a banana peel, on stage or on film, it seems likely that he would have done so, at least on occasion.  When “Sliding” Billy started his sliding act, slipping on banana peels had been hilarious – and dangerous – for a long time.


Slipping on Actual Banana Peels – Funny? Or Not?


Banana peels were not always a laughing matter.  Banana peels could kill:

Slips on Banana Peel, Killed.
Jacob Bopp, a chauffeur of No. 1137 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn, slipped on a banana peel yesterday and died withing a few minutes of a fracture of the skull.

The Evening World, October 30, 1917, Final Edition, page 12.



I guess the humor depended on the outcome; and on or whether you were slipper or the slippee:

When a Banana Peel is Not a Joke.
On the vaudeville stage and in the movies, actors slip on banana peels, and the joke is enjoyed, but when a woman walking the streets of Ogden suddenly drops to the sidewalk and a banana peel is the cause, the joke disappears.  That is what a prominent woman thought yesterday when pursuing her duties in the improving of health conditions in Utah, she went down with a thud and had to be assisted to her feet. . . .

“Has the city no ordinance against the throwing of banana peelings on the sidewalk?” The answer was, “Yes, but the ordinance is not enforced.”

Then, she said, “It is about time, and I am going to appeal to the newspapers.” And she immediately proceeded to gain the desired publicity.

“I once saw a young man,” she said, “who fell as I did, but he was less fortunate for, in going down, he struck on his elbow and so shattered the bones as to leave him a cripple.  I am resolved to guard against some other woman or man having the experience I have had through the careless act of some one who does not think.”

The Ogden Standard, April 30, 1919, Last Edition, page 4.

Bananas peels were dangerous enough to land themselves at Rule II in a safety handbook targeted at grade-schoolers:

Rule II. Throw skins and nutshells into the rubbish-cans.  A bit of orange or banana peel carelessly thrown upon a pavement may make one cripple.  THINK SAFETY.

Lillian M. Waldo, Safety First for Little Folks: First Steps in Civics, New York, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1918, page 45. 

Throwing orange peels and banana peels in the trash seems like good, sound advice.  But it also raises a question; if slipping on banana peels and orange peels are equally dangerous, why are banana peels so funny and orange peels not so much?  No answer is forthcoming.  But orange peels, as a matter of fact, were considered funny before bananas became more commonly available.  The earliest orange peel-slipping references pre-date the earliest documented banana peel humor by several decades. 
 

Orange Peels In the Theater

Although orange peels have probably always been slippery, the earliest accounts of orange peels do not mention that fact.  And while many of those early references relate to theatrical performances, the orange peels are not on stage; at least not intentionally.  The audiences in the cheap seats threw orange peels onto the stage, and rained them down onto the gentlemen and ladies in the good seats:

[The public] treated her very rudely, bade her ask pardon, and threw orange peels – she behaved with great resolution, and treated their rudeness with glorious contempt – she left the stage and was called for, and with infinite persuasion was prevailed on to return . . . . (Wilkinson.)

John Genest, Some Account of the English Stage: from the Restoration in 1660 to 1830, Bath, H. E. Carrington, 1832, Volume 4, page 334.

When James Baptiste Couteau, an acquaintance of Marat and Robespierre (he spent time in prison with both of them), visited Dublin, he encountered a similar scene:

Now and then they dropped down emptied bottles on the company of the Pit, and yet not above three or four skulls at most were broken by them; then they flung chewed apples and orange peels at the boxes, and upon the Stage: they frequently made the Ladies blush, and the Beaus tremble, hissing or clapping them just as the fancy was uppermost, and sometimes giving them ludicrous nick-names, which were well understood, and in general very characteristical.  In short, it was consummately pleasant to observe how miserable they made all the decent-looking people in the Theatre.

The Confessions of James Baptiste Couteau, Citizen of France (translated by Robert Jephson), Volume 1, London, Debrett, 1794, page 165.

A comic account of a theater in London described the same, general, atmosphere:

In the upper part of the house, I saw men and women, behaving very indecently, and above these were a parcel of roaring people, called the gods, who asserted their superiority by throwing down nut shells and orange peelings upon those below.  But the oddest sight of all was a number of persons fast asleep on the front benches of a place called the pit.   These I was told were critics, who came there on purpose to judge the merits of the piece and the performers.

Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. (James Kirke Paulding), Salmagundi, Second Series, volume 3, New York, Haly and Thomas, 1820, page 29.

Audiences in Hawaii also suffered from bad behavior:

As we take the liberty to comment upon the actors, it is but fair lay to note the audience also a little.  We would then ask (we speak to the boxes) that the crunching of pea-nuts and strewing the shells along with orange peelings about the floor and in the passages be in a measure abated.

Polynesian (Honolulu), November 17, 1860, page 2.

Although none of these accounts expressly mention anyone slipping on the orange peels, it is easy to imagine that someone (intentionally or not) slipped on an orange peel on stage somewhere, in an ancient precursor to the modern banana peel pratfall. 

But orange peels were known to be slippery; and were also used for comedic effect, even if not on stage, just like bananas would be used later.

Orange Peel Humor


The oldest account of getting a laugh out of slipping on an orange peel, that I could find, is from 1817.  A character in a novel regrets having thrown orange peels at an innocent peddler during his school-days:

In the passages through which he was to pass, we set stumbling blocks in his way, we threw orange peels in his path, and when he slipped or fell, we laughed him to scorn, and we triumphed over him the more, the more he was hurt, or the more his goods were injured.

Maria Edgeworth, Harrington, a Tale, London, R. Hunter, Volume 1, London, R. Hunter, 1817, page 46.:

London’s Royal Academy had orange peel problems:

Miss Franklin, with her mother and her friend, began to mount the extremely inconvenient, wretchedly dark, filthy dirty, and eminently disagreeable staircase of the Royal Academy, slipping over scattered orange-peels, covering their gloves with dust, if accidentally touching any part of the balusters or walls, during the horrid ascent, the abominations of which, are scarcely recompensed by the entertaining absurdity of beholding Hercules with his apples in a brass wire bird-cage, at the bottom of it.

Theodore Edward Hook, Love and Pride, volume 1, London, Whittaker & Co., 1833, page 41.

Several other similar, early orange peel references hint at, without fully capitalizing on, the comedic potential of orange peel slippage. 

The earliest real “joke,” or practical joke, that I found, involving slipping on orange peels is from 1844 – it’s pure slapstick:

To make a mimic Tempest. - Before the tea things go out, tie a stout cord across the kitchen stairs, about nine inches from the ground.  Strew orange peel on the hall floor, place a tub of water on the first landing, harness the yard dog to the coal scuttle, shut the kitten up in the piano, ring the bell for the servants, and then wait for the result.

Sunbury American and Shamokin Journal (Pennsylvania), April 20, 1844, page 1.

A more refined joke, from 1845, involves a con man, a glass of liquor, an orange peel and a professed death wish:

‘Sir: my good sir; do, if you please, just allow me to taste – just to tase of the contents of that glass.  I have an especial reason for the most strange request, I assure you.’

The gentleman astonished at the singular request, handed him the glass which he took and drank off the contents at a swallow.

‘No there is not – I am satisfied there was no orange peel in that liquor, sir.  I was afraid there might be.  Do you know sir, I have  apresentiment that orange peel will be the death of me some day? – and still there don’t appear to be anything dangerous in a simple piece of orange peel.  Doyou see that bump, sir?’  said he, directing the attention of the gentleman to the back part of his head – that was caused when I was quite a youth.  I was going to school one day, in all the buoyancy of childhood, and as I was stepping in the door of the school house, I accidently trod upon a piece of orange peel – up went my heels and down went my head, hence that protuberance you see. – Another time, sir, I was about to descend a flight of stair; on the first stair I stepped on a piece of orange peel, slipped, and down I went, bump, bump, bump, until I landed at the foot; I really thought I was driven up an inch or two at least. – So, my dear sir, you will see that I have strong grounds for my presentiment that orange peel will be the death of me.  When I saw you about to drink that glass of liquor, thought there might be orange peel in it, and as I was ready to meet my fate, I did not like to see you sir, run such a risk; but there was no orange peel in that glass, I am satisfied, Good,morning my dear, DEAR sir!!’ – Cincinnati Inquirer.

The Ottawa Free Trader (Ottawa, Illinois), June 13, 1845, page 1.

The Orange Peel Menace


But orange peels were not all fun and games.  They were dangerous.  Civic-minded newspapers condemned “orange peels thrown on the footpath (1841);”[v] encouraged their readers to “kick a piece of orange-peel into the road from the foot pavement (1843);”[vi] lauded the efforts of a woman who took the time to, “brush from the walk a piece of orange-peel, upon which a gentleman, walking before her, had nearly slipped down (1844);”[vii] and suggested that, “the police devote a little of their time, while leisurely promenading the streets, to knocking orange and banana peels off the sidewalks (1868).”[viii]

And all of that cleaning up was not merely for cosmetic purposes – people were injured, and died from slipping on orange peels:

A Case in Corroboration.  A gentleman walking one day at a pretty quick step, put his foot upon a piece of orange peel, and fell heavily on his left side.  His arm and hand being extended, had to bear the whole weight of his body.  His wrist proved a moment after exceedingly painful.

New York Daily Tribune, February 2, 1846, page 2.

The young husband and father had died under a surgical operation – a victim to a piece of orange-peel, thoughtlessly thrown upon the side-walk.

New York Daily Tribune, December 3, 1844, page 1.



The dangers were serious enough that the Board of Aldermen of Washington DC took the time to address the problem on May 11, 1863, just a few days after the Union Army’s defeat in the Battle of Chancelorville.  But despite the real dangers, the comic potency of fruit-peel slipping may have derailed reform efforts:

Mr. Sargent, from the committee on police, introduced a bill to prohibit the throwing of fruit parings upon the paved footwalks, and asked its consideration at once.  He related instances where parties had become maimed from slipping on fruit parings and falling.

Mr. Pepper had not the slightest objection to the bill.  Old men ought to be able to take care of themselves, but as young men could take care of ourselves. [Laughter.]  He thought the bill a good one, but doubted whether it could be carried out.

Mr. Lloyd wanted to have the bill referred.  He thought it was important.  There were other things besides paring of fruit that caused people to slip. [Laughter.]  He desired to pass a bill to prohibit slipping under any circumstances. [Laughter.]  He therefore wanted the bill referred, in order that one might be brought in to cover all cases.

Mr. Pepper said it was not usual to notify the Board of intention to bring in a bill, but he gave notice now that he would, at the next meeting, introduce a bill to compel dealers in soda water to enlarge their glasses. [Laugther.]  The bill was referred.

Evening Star (Washington DC), May 12, 1863, page 3. 
 


Although orange peels dominated the (admittedly scant) fruit-peel-slipping literature of the early-nineteenth century, banana peels finally came into their own in the 1850s, as public hazard and low-brow humor. 

Bananas


Did America go bananas?   Yes.  Literally.

The period of time during which the peel slipping transitioned from orange peels to banana peels (1850s through the 1870s), corresponds, roughly, with the introduction of bananas into the United States on a large scale.  Carl Frank is said to have started importing bananas from Panama to New York City, in 1866.[ix]

Although several sources show that bananas were known in the United States before 1866, a dramatic rise in banana peel references after 1870 suggests that bananas were becoming more available, or at least more popular.  Although orange peels still received some bad press after 1870 (as evidenced by Rule Number II in the children’s safety handbook from 1918), they became less and less funny – or perhaps bananas were just that much more funny.

A pre-1866 banana story foreshadowed Keystone’s early, banana-slipping comedy of 1913, The Healthy Neighborhood:

Never entertain suspicious of your neighbors; if you can’t clearly account for all their actions, give them the benefit of the doubt. . . . If you step on a piece of banana peel, and slip and dislocate your ancle in front of a doctor’s office, don’t entertain an idea that the M. D. put it there in hopes that some body would break his limbs and give him a job.  “Suspicions haunts the guilty mind.”  Therefore, be ye not over-suspicious.

Thibodaux Minerva (Thibodaux, Louisiana), October 28, 1854, page 3.

The earliest banana-peel joke (or anecdote) that I could find is from a humorous (?) story about a crazy wedding day.  The climax of the story is when a groom jumps up to kiss his bride, only to have his pants torn off; a young boy had pinned his shirttail to the chair.  The shirttail was fair game because it was sticking out from a hole in his pants.  The groom had torn his pants when he – slipped on a banana skin; ba dump bump:

We were just entering the parlor door, when down I went slap on the oilcloth, pulling Sal after me.  Some cussed fellow had dropped a banana skin on the floor, and it floored me.  It split an awful hole in my cassimere right under my dress coat tail.

Bellevue Gazette (Bellevue City, Nebraska), May 4, 1858, page 1.[x]

That story was considered sufficiently funny, or memorable, that it was reprinted dozens of times, over a period of twenty years, in more than a dozen states – and those are just the ones that I could find; presumably it was reprinted many more times than that.  The story was published without attribution, so it is unclear who wrote it, or where; although some of the colloquialisms and phonetic dialect seem to indicate that the action takes place in the American West.

Another widely circulated banana peel joke went “viral” in 1874:

A meek-faced, humble-looking individual, in attempting to traverse a bit of banana peel, sat down violently on the sidewalk, and merely remarked, “Grace, mercy and peace.”

The Daily Argus (Rock Island, Illinois), September 11, 1874, page 3.[xi] Swearing, or the attempted avoidance of swearing, played a role in a number of other banana peel jokes of the period.

By 1870, the banana problem had become the target of various civic crusades:

The man who throws an orange or banana peeling on the sidewalk, oblivious or indifferent to the annoyance, or, perhaps, serious injury, that may result to the first foot passenger treading upon it, may safely be put down as one of the most selfish of human beings, and may be classified in the same category with those who, on a rainy day, elevate their muddy feet in the street cars; with those who stop a newsboy with a pretended intention of purchasing, but only in reality to glance over the news for nothing, and with those who crunch peanuts or talk loud during the solemn parts of the play at the theater.  In foreign cities there are ordinances making this dropping of orange or banana peels a punishable offense.  Why can’t our City Council do as much?  It would save a good many bruised heads and nervous shocks.

New Orleans Crescent, Morning Edition, March 12, 1869, page 2.

In spite of all that has been said by the papers about throwing banana peelings and such like things on the sidewalks, the custom prevails in Memphis to an extent not equaled anywhere that we know of.  On almost every corner there is a fruit stand, around which the sidewalks are littered with these dangerous parings; and not a day passes that some one does not receive a fall from stepping on them.

Memphis Daily Appeal, April 22, 1870, page 4. 

But despite their best efforts to convince people of the seriousness of rogue banana peels, slipping on banana peels was still just plain funny; which could cause problems even if you weren’t the one slipping:

A good many hard feelings would perhaps be avoided if you could conquer yourself sufficiently to step inside the door when you see your neighbor go down on a banana peel.

Essex County Herald (Guildhall, Vermont), May 13, 1876, page 1. 

And banana peels were not just dangerous to humans.  One widely reported incident proved that banana peels could also harm Senators and their pets – but that’s not funny:

Sentator David Davis slipped on a banana peel the other day, and a small dog that was trotting in his rear was flattened out like a book mark. – Oil City Derrick.

The Weekly Kansas Chief (Troy, Kansas), December 12, 1878, page 4; Nebraska Advertiser (Brownville, Nebraska), December 26, 1878; San Marcos Free Press (Texas), January 4, 1879).

The Senator Davis incident spawned a joke a few years later:

Our Agricultural friend, the Rural New Yorker, has an article which treats of “Rapid Settlement Out West.”  We think the most rapid case of rapid settlement on record, without regard to locality, is that of David Davis coming down on a banana-skin.

Puck, Volume 14, Number 340, September 12, 1883, page 20.

Puck, Volume 13, Number 335, August 8, 1883.


Banana Peel Jokes in Vaudeville

Banana peel jokes are known to have been told in vaudeville at least as early as 1890:

It Seems to be Fresh.


It’s not often nowadays that a minstrel man or a vaudeville comedian gets off a fresh joke.  Judging from the applause which followed one fired at the audience in the Academy of Music last night this one is fresh:

“I was standing in front of a church last Sunday,” said the funny man, “when I stepped on a banana peel and was precipitated head-foremost to the pavement.  I recovered my equilibrium only to face a policeman, who said I must go to the station house.

“What for?” I asked.

“Because you have made a dive out of a church!”

Pittsburg Dispatch, August 22, 1890, page 4.

The Courier (Lincoln Nebraska), January 5 1895


A joke about a vaudeville performer slipping on a banana peel, reveals that “falling down” was already a staple vaudeville stunt by 1902.  Given the long history of banana peel-slipping humor, it seems likely that slipping on banana peels may also have already joined the lexicon of slapstick humor:

Missed the Usual “Boom!”

Mr. Goode, of the vaudeville team of Goode & Rottenne, was walking down street, when he stepped upon a banana peel and came to the sidewalk with much the same force that characterizes his famous tumble from the slapstick in the hand of his partner.

Slowly rising to his feet, with a puzzled, disappointed look on his face, he exclaimed:

“Huh! I suppose the bass-drummer has gone to sleep again.” – Baltimore American.

Willmar Tribune, March 5, 1902, page 7.

The stage was set for “Sliding” Billy Watson, Keystone, Edison, Chaplin and all of the banana slippers who followed.

[(A song entitled, "Naughty Banana" (or alternatively, "A Little Bit of Orange Peel") was popular in the United States and England during the 1890s.  See my Banana Peel Update.)]

Conclusions

Slipping on fruit skins is funny; if you are not the one who slipped.  Or, I guess they were once funny.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever laughed at the banana peel gag.  Do think that orange peels might be more funny? 

Maybe not.

Slipping on banana and orange peels is no longer considered particularly funny; except as an ironic or nostalgic nod to the old gag.  One reason that slipping on fruit peels is no longer considered particularly funny may be that there are not so many orange or banana peels lying around on sidewalks.

Improved sanitation practices, and a greater general awareness of the need to keep the streets and sidewalks clean, probably killed the banana peel gag.  When most trash was natural and biodegradable, and people didn’t fully appreciate the need for sanitation, and many of the streets and sidewalks were unpaved, it must have been a tough sell to get people to stop tossing their potato skins, carrot tops, orange peels and banana peels into the street (I said carrot tops – not Carrot Top).   

The more important question, of course, is why orange peel peel humor lost its luster.  Was it the random shapes, smaller size, lower visibility?  Or perhaps the orange peel meme played itself out, only to be replaced by the banana peel gag.  Nowadays, we have funny cat videos to make us laugh.

Now that's Progress!

But if we tire of funny cat videos, we can always amp-up the low-brow humor quotient by strewing more banana peels and orange peels on the pavement.  Now THAT would be funny. It just might make the world a funnier (if more dangerous) place to live.

But I’m not suggesting that you do it – no, really, I’m not.

Don’t do it.

Just watch Woody Allen in  Bananas.  It’s safer.



[i] ‘Slapstick’ or ‘Refined’ Comedy --- Take Your Choice, The Ogden Standard, July 28, 1917, City Edition, Magazine Section, page 21.
[ii] Some people were confused.  “Beef Trust” Watson performed under the names “W. B. Watson,” “William B. Watson” and “Billy Watson,” as well as part the comedy team, “Watson and Dupre,” since at least 1895.  “Sliding” Billy performed under the name “Billy W. Watson” or “Billy Watson” since at least 1899.  Even “Beef Trust” Watson’s granddaughter’s obituary mistakenly reported that she was “Sliding Billy Watson’s” granddaughter.  There were many Watsons performing at the time, and earlier.  “Hattie Watson’s Burlesquers” were a hit in the 1870s.  “The Watson Sisters” sometimes performed on the same bill with “Watson and Dupre” or “W. B. Watson” (no apparent relation).  An act called “Bickel and Watson” started performing at least as early as 1899.  In 1903, Billy W. Watson once even took William B. Watson’s place in a show, with William B.’s permission.  Billy W. Watson  replaced “Watson” of “Bickel and Watson” for a touring company of Him, Me and I in 1908. 
[iii] I gathered some of my information about Billy Watson in an interview with his great-grandson.
[iv] The Moving Picture World, Volume 25, Number 109, September 4, 1915, page 1673.
[v] Burlington Free Press (Vermont), September 17, 1841, page 4.
[vi] Vermont Phoenix (Brattleboro, Vermont), November 3, 1843, page 1.
[vii] New York Daily Tribune, December 3, 1844, page 1.
[viii] New Orleans Crescent, March 13, 1868, Morning Edition, page 1.
[ix] History of the Banana Trade in Honduras, http://laceiba.honduras.com/banana-trade/.
[x] I found the story in twenty-nine newspapers and one magazine, located in more than fifteen states, from 1858 to 1880.
[xi] Also, Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (West Virginia), September 9 1874, page 4; Omaha Daily Bee, September 21, 1874, page 2; The Highland Weekly News (Hillsborough, Ohio), October 8, 1874; The Arizona Sentinel (Yuma), October 31, 1874, page 1. 

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