A relic from 50 years ago. From the depths of The Man From The Hornet’s vinyl collection…
I’ll venture that there are more than a few Horneteers out there who have never heard of Vaughn Meader – particularly here in the U.K.
He was an American comedian whose 1962 album The First Family won the Grammy for Album of the Year (Judy at Carnegie Hall was winner the year before, Sgt Pepper would win in ’68); he played to packed houses in New York and Vegas, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, was profiled in Life magazine.
His act? Impersonating and satirising President Kennedy.
Which sounds a little bit ho-hum in 2013.
But in 1962 the sleeve note of his album took great pains to point out that the satirical material was in no way Un-American:
“This album is for fun!” it garbles, inching tentatively out of the shadow of the McCarthy witch hunts. “No one has more respect for the high offices and the people suggested here than do those of us who had a hand in putting this together.”
Can you imagine ANY performer issuing such caveats today?
The sleeve note goes on to express the hope that, “someday soon everyone, everywhere will have [the] right to laugh”.
The material sounds so tame from the vantage point of an era where we barge into the Oval Office to laugh at Clinton havin’ a Havana or Dubya Bush searching for the dunce’s corner therein.
Meader was the first performer to push at that sacred door. As gentle as he sounds to us today, he’s a pioneer.
Fifty years ago today, legend has it, Vaughn Meader hopped into a cab in Milwaukee. The driver asked, “Did you hear about Kennedy in Dallas?”
“No,” replied Meader, who by this point was well used to people offering him Kennedy gags for his routine. “No I didn’t. How does it go?”
In New York City that night, Lenny Bruce took the stage at Carnegie Hall. After a brief, almost respectful pause, he began with the words, “Man. Poor Vaughn Meader…”
Meader never worked again.