Sunday, February 15, 2004

Cool Ghoul's death further shrinks humor franchise

Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

The story announced the man's death with: "Bluhhhh! . . . Bluh! . . . Bluh!"

Those three little words packed a powerful message.

They recalled Cincinnati's lively comic heritage. This used to be a funny town. People laughed out loud. In person. On TV and the radio. Public officials even smiled on the front page of the morning paper.

At the same time, those three words pointed out what a dull, dry, humorless place the Queen City has become. Try finding an official smile on page one.

"Bluhhhh! . . . Bluh! . . . Bluh!" was the way The Enquirer's Chris Mayhew began his article on the untimely passing of the Cool Ghoul, known in strait-laced circles as Dick Von Hoene.

For the uninitiated, "Bluhhhh! . . .Bluh! . . . Bluh!" was the Ghoul's signature Dracula-esque greeting. Donning grotesque makeup and a mop-haired wig, he "bluhed" while hosting half-baked spooky movies on TV in the 1970s.

That decade ranks as humor's heyday in Cincinnati. The Ghoul belonged to a long line of Clown Princes doing satirical bits on the local airwaves.

Paul Dixon and Rich King, David Letterman's idols, came from this royal lineage. So, too, did Bob Shreve and the inmates at WNOP, the jazz station that told listeners its call letters stood for "Where Nonsense Occasionally Prevails."

The Cool Ghoul's passing leaves the local humor franchise in the hands of WLW's Gary Burbank. He's the last Clown Prince. No one's revving up punch lines to take his place.

It's not for a lack of material. Take City Hall, please.

Burbank sees his last-man status as a sad commentary on Cincinnati's sense of humor.

"I'm it," said the lone humorist, "because we take ourselves too seriously."

There's no market for guys in his line of work "because people are more uptight than they used to be. They aren't as ready to laugh at something that may step on their toes."

Gila Safran-Naveh teaches courses on humor - often while wearing goofy Groucho Marx glasses - at the University of Cincinnati. The Professor of Judaic Studies traces the decline of humor in town to "the lack of vibrancy downtown.

"Go to Rome, Paris or New York. There you rub elbows with people. You share the same air."

You share a laugh.

"But in Cincinnati, where the downtown is dying there is no communal interaction."

And no jokes.

All is not lost, however. There is a cure. It comes in two words: Lighten up.

How do you do that?

"Put Paxil in the water supply," Burbank cracked. "Loosen your underwear."

The city could name a comic laureate to keep things loose at City Hall. But hiring someone to play the fool at that address would be redundant.

When all else fails, Safran-Naveh advised, "tell a joke."

Please do attempt this at home. Preface it with:

"Bluhhhh! . . . Bluh! . . . Bluh!"


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