March 4, 1927 |
|Years active||1946 – Present|
Robert Orben (born March 4, 1927) is best known as an American professional comedy writer, though he also worked as a speechwriter for Gerald R. Ford and as a magician. He has written multiple books on comedy, mostly collections of gags and "one-liners" originally written for his newsletter, Orben's Current Comedy, and he has also written books for magicians.
Robert Orben published his first gag book at the age of 18 in 1946, when he was working in Stuart Robson Jr.'s (stage manager for Florenz Ziegfeld) conjuror's shop in New York. Professional magicians would use his gags to add humor to their acts; comedians also came into magic stores, for props and books, as there were no comedy stores or resources as such at that time.
When Robert Orben wrote his first gag book, Encyclopedia of Patter, it proved very popular, and he started publishing more books of gags, complete with sketches, ad libs, bits of business and routines. Titles included Patter Parade, Laugh Package, Sight Bits, and Screamline Comedy.
By the 1950s, Orben gag books were ubiquitous in the comedy profession and were probably overused by stand-up comedians. Orben has said he nearly sued Lenny Bruce once, as Bruce advertised his show with the tag line, "No Joe Miller, no corn, no Orben". However, Orben never sued, and only saw Bruce perform once, shortly before Bruce's death.
In addition to his gag and humor books, he started publishing a regular newsletter of topical humor, Orben's Current Comedy, which he wrote for nearly 30 years, stopping in 1989. Other comedy writers, including Gary Apple and Daniel R. White, attempted to keep the newsletter going, under the name Current Comedy, but none were able to halt the decline of subscriptions, and eventually the rights to it were sold.
As Orben's books began to attract attention, he started writing custom-made gags for comedian Dick Gregory for six years. Gregory had contacted him in 1955, when Gregory was starting out in Chicago. Orben told him to get in touch when he'd found his own comedic voice. In 1962, Gregory telegrammed Orben, saying there would be a two-page article in Time about him. Orben bought the magazine and saw the article, and shortly after, the two signed a contract to work together. Orben also wrote for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show in New York (1962–63), and the Red Skelton Show in Hollywood (1964–70).
Later, Orben moved into politics, and in 1973 he became head speechwriter to Vice President Gerald R. Ford. When Ford succeeded to the Presidency in August, 1974, Orben became his speechwriter. In January 1976 he was appointed Special Assistant to President Ford and Director of the White House Speechwriting Department.
As of 2007, Orben works as a speaker for corporate events. His most recent book is Speaker's Handbook of Humor.
Never raise your hand to your children; it leaves your midsection unprotected.
Quit worrying about your health. It'll go away.
Time flies. It is up to you to be the navigator.
- Encyclopedia of Patter
- Laugh Package
- One Liners
- Patter Parade
- Professional Patter
- Screamline Comedy
- Sight Bits
- M.C. Bits
- Emcee Blockbusters
- Classified Comedy
- Speaker's Handbook of Humor
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