Fun With Bloopers

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We had some fun with typos recently. Fun, sure, except when they happen to you. I hate typos! They are the sand fleas of publishing. You shake off the sand from the beach, and you think you’ve got rid of them all. But sure enough, when you get in the car and start driving away, one shows up in your armpit.

So it is with typos. Even after paying a proofreader, you’re apt to get an email from an astute reader who will point out that a character should be eating out of “wooden bowl,” not a “wooden bowel” (an actual typo in a novel by a friend of mine).

Yes, typos can provide a chuckle. Even more amusing are bloopers, those verbal miscues from actors and speakers uttered over various airwaves.

The word “blooper” was popularized by a radio producer named Kermit Schaefer, who was the first to research and document these fluffs. He put out several books and a couple of LPs with them (in the latter, he sometimes reproduced the blooper with actors when he couldn’t secure a copy of the sound recording. But they were otherwise legit).

The blooper that got Schaefer started was made by radio announcer Harry von Zell in a 1931 broadcast honoring President Herbert Hoover. Von Zell told the audience they would next hear from President “Hoobert Heever.”

Oops. And on live radio there are no re-takes.

So, because I wanted to have some laughs today, here are a few of my favorite bloopers:

“And Dad will love Wonder Bread’s delicious flavor, too. So remember, get Wonder Bread for the breast in bed.”

“This is the British Broadcasting Corporation. Our next program comes to you from the bathroom at Pump…pardon me, the Pumproom at Bath.”

“And just now we’ve received a new stock of Reis Sanforized sports shirts for men with 15 or 17 necks.”

“Mrs. Manning’s are the finest pork and beans you ever ate. So when you order pork and beans, make sure Mrs. Manning is on the can.”

Laundromat commercial: “Ladies who care to drive by and drop off their clothes will receive prompt attention.”

Fight night broadcast: “It’s a hot night in the Garden, folks, and I see at ringside several ladies in gownless evening straps.”

On an early TV game show called Two for the Money, a young lady was asked her occupation.
“I work for the Pittsburgh Natural Gas Company,” she said.
“And how is business?”“Wonderful. Over ninety percent of the people in Pittsburgh have gas.”

NBC radio: “Word comes to us from usually reliable White Horse souses.”

Disc jockey: “You’ve just heard the front side of Doris Day’s latest hit, “Secret Love.” Let’s take a look at her backside.”

Steve Allen

But my favorite blooper of all time is really a “save.” It was made by the great Steve Allen. Most youngsters today have no idea who Allen was, so I’m glad you asked. He was one of the great natural wits. As the first host of the Tonight Show, he set the stage for late-night comedy ever after. When he wasn’t being funny he was writing songs…lots and lots of songs (the most famous of which is “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.”) On top of that, he wrote several books on subjects as wide ranging as public speaking and religion.

Here is an example of Allen’s on-the-spot wit. He was to do a live commercial for Fiberglas. There was a Fiberglas chair on the stage, and Allen was to hit it with a hammer and then announce, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this chair is made of genuine Fiberglas!”

But when commercial time came around the temperature in the studio was colder than usual. So when Allen hit the chair, the hammer went right through it, leaving a gaping hole. A major visual blooper that would have had most hosts stymied. But Allen, without missing a beat, looked into the camera and said, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this hammer is made of genuine Fiberglas!”

Priceless. Which is why, when you can swing it, giving your character something witty to say at just the right moment delights the reader. But it’s not easy to do. One method I suggest in my book, Writing Unforgettable Characters and in a post last month, is “curving the language.” Write out a plain vanilla line, then bend it and play with it.

So a line like, “She looked like a million dollars” (cliché) can become, “She looked like a million dollars tax free” (Harlan Ellison). Or, “I became a made man when you were in high school” can turn into, “I made my bones when you were goin’ out with cheerleaders!” (Moe Green to Michael Corleone in The Godfather).

Your characters will thank you for saving them from bloopers.

Do you have a favorite blooper, maybe even from your own life?

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24 thoughts on “Fun With Bloopers

  1. Here is a cringeworthy blooper I witnessed one morning, the kind you are forever thankful somebody other than you uttered it.

    In Boston, the subway trains are packed tightly with standing-room only crowds during morning rush hour, so you must inch closer to an exit door a couple of stops early. Otherwise, the doors close before you can get off.

    One morning, the train approached a stop. A man with a seeing eye dog attempted to push through the crowd to exit. A good Samaritan attempted to help by shouting, “A man with a blind dog has to get off the train!”

    Of course, nobody laughed because it wasn’t funny. And the Samaritan looked like he’d been struck by lightning.

  2. A person who shall remain nameless was going to speak at a local writers conference. To get her equipment out of the car, she placed her water jug against her chest. Of course it leaked and got her blouse wet. When she stood up to speak, she said, “excuse my wet shirt but my jug leaked.”

  3. Thanks for the fun with Steve Allen. He was our guy in Phoenix–graduated from high school year and worked for KOY radio (there were no AM-FM tag for stations in those years).

    But on bloopers. One I remember from waayyyy back then: “And from London, we learn that Ringo Starr is in the hospital for toenail surgery. Uhm, I think that’s supposed to be tonsil surgery.”

  4. With the debates coming up, everyone is listening closely for bloopers. The other day I chuckled at a newscaster who said Ruth Gator Binsburg. Two hours later, a barista laughed at me when I ordered Tai Chi latte.

    Let’s keep in mind for Tuesday: bloopers happen to everyone.

  5. When some kind of verbal or visual oopsie happens, the anchor at one of my local news stations says, “Welcome to live news, folks.”

    Steve Allen wasn’t just clever. He was brilliant. His PBS series, MEETING OF THE MINDS, where historical figures from different time periods just sat and talked was awesome and surprisingly gripping.

    My characters say and think all these clever things, according to their personalities, so I don’t have to. I’m not sure I could in real life. I have a natural barbed, sarcastic wit, but I stink at other types of cleverness.

    No remembered bloopers are floating on top of my morning coffee so I’ll end here.

  6. One form of blooper I love is the spoonerism, named after Reverend Spooner, a nineteenth-century Anglican priest who had a remarkable talent for mixing up the initial sounds of two words in a phrase.

    When toasting Queen Victoria, he said, “Three cheers for our queer old dean.”

    He uttered his most famous spoonerism when arriving at church and finding his customary seat taken by a lady. He said, “Mardon me, padom. You are occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?”

    Thanks for reminding us what fun our language can be!

  7. I worked for a candidate running for local office in the early ’80s. The candidate was eager to confront the incumbent, so when the League of Women Voters proposed a debate, he accepted.

    Unfortunately, the mailer he sent to his supporters announced he would debate his opponent in a program hosted by the “Legal Women Voters.”

  8. In Virginia (maybe everywhere) we have entertaining road signs. Two of my favorites:

    Speed Limit Enforced By Aircraft. This brings to mind a strafing run. Or perhaps a Hellfire missile strike. State paratroopers?

    Slow Children At Play. Not only is that insensitive and insulting, it’s also fundamentally sad. Let’s help those kids by not making fun of them.

    • That last one reminded me of dorm neighbors in college who had a band (of sorts), with a name inspired by a similar road sign – Slow Children – they weren’t at Tech very long (but then, neither was I).

  9. I can’t think of any bloopers to share, but I did used to enjoy TV programs that featured them.

    (Need to bring those back and replace the national news with them…on account of we need more belly laughing going on. Can I get an Amen!, please?

  10. I love these and the lines, though not bloopers, Mr. Bell’s Ty Buchanon uses in his “Try” series.
    On trips we used to take to Devil’s Lake, WI, we would travel through a small town. It had one gas station. “Fart’s DX.” Nobody in the car would say anything but there were lots of laughs.

  11. Oh my goodness, autocorrect has taken typos to a new level. I write on my phone when I’m in bed, and sometimes, autocorrect is less than helpful. I tried to write, “Well, crap,” said James. Instead, it got corrected to, “We’ll crap,” said James.

    Another time I was trying to write, “Let me carry this burden for you, master.” Instead, I wound up writing, “Let me carry this burger for you, master.” Fortunately I caught both of these early on. :-p

  12. I regretted using a cliché while escorting a family into my office at the flower shop for a consultation on funeral flowers. One member asked me if I had time, since they hadn’t called and made an appointment.

    Unfortunately, I replied. “I have plenty of time. It’s been dead around here all morning.”

    I wanted to die right then. The family pretended they didn’t hear the blooper.

  13. Oh, do I have a favorite blooper. One that I will never live down. It’s been about 25 years now and I still cringe when it’s brought up, thanks to my gate mouth spouse.
    : )

    I wanted to do something kind and caring for the first responders in our area. I baked a couple of dozen home made cookies for our local fire department. Spouse and I showed up rosy cheeked and pleased with ourselves…probably why this happened. Pride precedeth a fall…

    I always practice responses in my mind, being an introvert and not given to a lot of public interaction with strangers. Yes, the set-up is important. I had practiced what I would say, and the anticipated responses, so I could also practice what I would say in turn. I imagined something along the lines of “we appreciate it”. So when the recipient did not say that line, I said it for him. “I hope you appreciate it,” came out of my mouth before I could stop it. While I was profusely apologizing and trying to quickly dig a hole to disappear in, the fireman was assuring me he did, indeed, appreciate it. I explained, over-explained, crawled to the car and to this day if something needs to be delivered, spouse does it all alone, while I sit in the car with my mouth shut tightly.

  14. Years ago I was on stage in a production of Hobson’s Choice, playing the lead female role of Maggie, Hobson’s self-willed daughter.

    The two characters had just had an argument and I turned to sternly deliver my exit line. Unfortunately, I said, “Yes, dinner. Fathers at one, remember”, and fled for the wings – as I brought the house down.

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