Florida’s Funny Bone

From vaudeville to variety shows, Florida has been home to many famous acts over the years. Big name talents such as Jackie Gleason filmed their shows in Florida, but lesser-known comedians, too, have called Florida home. Many examples of Florida’s humor live within the collections at the State Archives of Florida; and with careful evaluation and investigation, Archives staff have uncovered a few snippets.

The Koreshan Unity Papers (N2009-3) contains a subseries of commercial sheet music collected by the Koreshan Unity for use by their band or orchestra for public event performances and as a source of entertainment. This music may have been played during a vaudeville show, a variety entertainment form that was popular in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Japonica (Danse Du Vaudeville)” sheet music, ca. 1900. State Archives of Florida, Koreshan Unity Papers, Collection N2009-3, Series 8, Box 379, Folder 44.

“Jacobs’ Vaudeville Favorites – No. 1 Medley Overture” sheet music, ca. 1907. State Archives of Florida, Koreshan Unity Papers, Collection N2009-3, Series 8, Box 374, Folder 53.

Some of the most popular styles of humor are parody, slapstick and screwball which often appear on television in variety shows. An example was found in the Miami Beach Auditorium and Convention Hall Event Files (L3), dating from 1960 to 1980. These records document the use of the large Miami Beach facility for a wide range of activities such as sporting events, concerts, television productions and political events. The records include seating charts, memoranda, correspondence, box office statements, contracts, expense accounts, event programs and attendance statistics.

Jackie Gleason developed a popular variety show, “The Jackie Gleason Show,” in New York City, as well as the popular television series “The Honeymooners.” In the 1960s-1970s, the name Jackie Gleason was synonymous with several trademark phrases: “And awaaay we go,” “How sweet it is!” “One of these days … One of these days … POW! Right in the kisser!” and “To the moon, Alice!” In 1964, Jackie moved the entire production of his variety show to Miami, and the shows were taped at the Miami Beach Auditorium from 1964-1970. Complimentary tickets such as these from series L3 were handed out to the awaiting audience prior to the taping of the show.

Jackie Gleason as one of his characters on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” 1950s.

Complimentary tickets to tapings of “The Jackie Gleason Show,” August 20 and October 15, 1966. State Archives of Florida, Miami Beach Auditorium and Convention Hall, Series L3, Box 4.

Political satire can often be seen at a political roast or retirement event in which the guest of honor is subjected to good-natured jokes. Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner’s Miscellaneous Office Activities Files (S1920) includes a video recording of country comedian Jerry Clower giving a farewell message to Doyle Conner on his retirement. The video, titled Hello Doyle,” was recorded on September 10, 1989.

There have been numerous other vaudeville performers, comedians, stand-up comics and entertainers who were born here in Florida, raised here or just decided to make Florida their home. Do you recognize any of these fellow Floridians?

Key West native and African-American actor Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry was better known by his stage name Stepin Fetchit. His screen persona is often cited as an example of unfavorable black stereotypes, although his popularity opened the door for many future black actors. In the still above, Perry plays servant Cicero in the 1936 film “Dimples,” with Shirley Temple in the title role. Frank Morgan (left) plays Professor Eustace Appleby.

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, a.k.a. “Stepin Fetchit,” was a comic character actor and vaudeville artist who was born in Key West and later moved to Tampa. Darrell Hammond, a stand-up comedian and impressionist, was born in Melbourne. Josh Gad, an actor and comedian, was born in Hollywood. Wayne Brady, a comedian and improv performer, lived in Orlando. Scott Thompson, a.k.a. “Carrot Top,” a stand-up and prop comedian, was born in Rockledge and grew up in Coco Beach. Rigdon “Rick” Osmond Dees, an entertainer, radio personality, comedian and voice artist, was born in Jacksonville. Maya Rudolph, an actress and comedian, was born in Gainesville. And actor, comedian and writer Paul Reubens, a.k.a.“Pee-wee Herman,” grew up in Sarasota.

So, does Florida have a funny bone? And does the State Archives have records that would make you smile or chuckle? The answer to both is yes!