Can You Top This?

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Can You Top This? was a radio panel game in which comedians told jokes and tried to top one another. The unrehearsed program, sponsored at one point by Colgate-Palmolive, was created by veteran vaudevillian "Senator" Edward Hastings Ford, who claimed he was taking part in a joke session at a New York theatrical club when he conceived the idea. However, the format was quite similar to a prior joke-telling radio series, Stop Me If You've Heard This One (1939–40), which featured Ford and cartoonist Harry Hershfield as panelists. Many jokes involved ethnic humor told in dialect.

Listeners contributed approximately 3,000 jokes a week. Host Peter Donald told the best of these jokes, each one centered on a different topic, while a "laugh meter" took note of the audience reaction. The "Knights of the Clown Table" - Ford, Hershfield and Joe Laurie, Jr. - attempted to top listeners with their own jokes, which sometimes presented an extra challenge as their jokes had to be pertinent to the topic.

Any submission used on the program received ten dollars. Each time a panelist failed to top Peter Donald's joke (as registered on the laugh meter which went as high as 1000), an additional five dollars was added, so a listener could potentially win as much as $25, though on many occasions Donald's jokes would score perfect 1000s which would guarantee the top prize to the submitter regardless of how the rest of the panel fared. Further, listeners were also given phonograph recordings of Peter Donald telling their jokes on the air. The panelists claimed that together they knew over 15,000 jokes.

Can You Top This? debuted on New York's WOR radio in 1940. NBC picked up the show in 1942, and it continued 12 more years. Hosts at one time or another included Peter Donald, Ward Wilson, Roger Bower and Dennis James.[1]

Television[edit]

Can You Top This? made its first television debut on ABC on October 3, 1950 but only lasted until March 26, 1951. This version featured Ward Wilson as host and Ford, Hershfield and Laurie as panelists.

The show was briefly revived in syndication by Four Star Television on January 26, 1970 with Wink Martindale as host and featured Morey Amsterdam as Executive Producer and a regular panelist, but this incarnation lasted just eight months. In this version, a special celebrity guest reads jokes submitted by viewers, while a group of regular panelists (such as Amsterdam, Richard Dawson, Paul Winchell and Jack Carter) try to top the viewer's jokes with their own version on the same subject. The viewer would earn $25 for having the joke read by the guest, an additional $25 for each panelist that was unable to top the viewer's joke, and $100 and a nice prize (such as an Ampex audio cassette player) if he/she topped all three panelists.[2] The 1970 version was recorded at CBS Television City in Hollywood, California. Studios 31, 33, 41 and 43 were used at different times making it one of the few game shows to tape in all four studios at CBS.[3]

Episode status[edit]

At least five episodes exist of the radio show, two of which can be heard below. Eight episodes exist of the 1970 version; one is held by collectors, while the rest are at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[4]

UCLA also has three radio episodes. The December 5, 1947 episode was rebroadcast by KCRW on February 25, 1995. The December 12 show was rerun by KJQI on February 23, 1995. The third is a general 1948 episode with Dennis James.

There are a total of 38 shows in my collection. The yahoo group OTRR is a consortium of folks who collect and trade the shows amongst themselves.

Can You Top This? Show # Date Show Title Can You Top This 0000 48-05-14 First Topic - Hats Can You Top This 0000 46-07-26 First Topic - Names Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Campaign And Rescue Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Tramp Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Information And Football Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Railroad Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Choose Your Own Subject Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Surprises Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Automobile Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Bragging Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Punishment Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Treatment Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Help Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Ghosts Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Sailor Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Advertising Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Jobs Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Receptions Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Offices Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Conceit Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Mishaps Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Panhandlers Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Economy Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Reprimands Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Quarrells Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Customers Can You Top This 0000 47-07-05 First Topic - Secretary Can You Top This 0000 47-11-07 First Topic - Bus Can You Top This 0000 47-07-26 First Topic - Service Can You Top This 0000 47-11-28 First Topic - Psychiatry Can You Top This 0000 45-08-15 First Topic - Suitors Can You Top This 0000 48-04-23 First Topic - Arrest Can You Top This 0000 42-04-21 First Topic - Restaurants Can You Top This 0000 48-04-30 First Topic - Barbers Can You Top This 0000 47-12-05 First Topic - Indignation Can You Top This 0000 00-00-00 First Topic - Suggestion Can You Top This 0000 54-05-14 First Topic - Gossip Can You Top This 0000 48-05-18 First Topic - Hats

Books[edit]

The jokes were compiled into two book collections, Can You Top This? and Cream of the Crop, published by Grosset & Dunlap and Dell in 1947 and 1949.

Listen to[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Can You Top This? at the National Radio Hall of Fame
  2. ^ Schwartz, David. The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, Third Edition, pages 33-34. Checkmark Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8160-3847-3.
  3. ^ "Shows–CBS Television City". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  4. ^ "Can You Top This?" at the UCLA Archive

External links[edit]