Comedy on the radio has a long and rich history, from the Jack Bennys and
Fred Allens (though there was actually only one of each) to the
Credibility Gap (David Lander, Michael McKeon, Shearer, and Richard Beebe)
to early Imus and Howard Stern. I've skipped over Morning Zoo radio
because, well, because I'm only including what's actually funny. Like
Ward is an unusual sort -- a second banana who knows how to shine without
ever stepping on the star's feet. Harvey Korman to Carol Burnett. Barney
Fife to Sheriff Taylor. George W. Bush to Dick Cheney. And just like those
stars did with their sidekicks, Miller knows exactly how to capitalize on
He's Stephanie's go-to man, and not just when she's stuck. Most leading
men and women are so insecure they'd never allow a secondary player get
the big laugh. God knows I'm not saying that Steph is all that cocksure (Note: I set 'em up. It's up to the reader to hit it out of the park), I'm
just saying she's smart. Smart enough to hire Ward and smart enough to
use his talent as much as she is able.
On the air, she'll rave about Ward, and off the air...even more. "Jim Ward is quite simply the funniest man alive, a voice deity, the only person in the world that can make me laugh while I'm crying," said Miller after a tough couple weeks dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, when she really needed that support. "I'm very lucky to have him in my life. Plus, he's hot."
Inspired early on by the likes of impressionist David Frye and Mort Sahl,
political/social commentary has always been a mainstay of Ward's
material. And while a stunning mimic, he swears he has never stooped to
the comic impressionist's hysterical, "I think it would go something like
this..." set up.
Known to most video game aficionados for his classic turn as Nazi Soldier
#3 in "Return to Castle Wolfenstein," Ward derives his additional
revenues doing voiceovers, though he has received some face time in TV
But it is on The Stephanie Miller Show where Ward gets his chance to
dazzle, and he rarely misses. Those familiar to the show know that Ward's
mere mention of Bush saying "toast," or his Hannity litany concerning
Katrina's "buses," among a zillion others, are not only killer
impersonations, but a sure sign of a hit, like show tunes that audiences hum
leaving the theater.
While Ward's impressions are right on, it's the content of his material
and his ability to capture character, not only voice, that sets him apart
from his peers.
His Bush captures the barren sprawl that is the President's
thought-process with the simple, "I'm the decider," and W's even simpler
war rationale with "Freedom's on the march." At his best when he uses his
targets' own words and stylings to rip 'em a new one. His Donald Rumsfeld
soars seamlessly through Rummy's flair for folksy "golly-gee-whilikers"
answering of his own rhetorical questions. His inaccurate and untenable
answers to "Guess The Quote" are nothing less than a celestial
barnstorming tour through I-had-all-but-forgotten-that-name heaven.
This is not to say that Ward isn't beyond stooping for the laugh. His
Senator Dennis "Beefy McBratwurst" Hastert rests on the Majority Leader's
compulsion for most wursts and near-fatal flatulence. His Wolf Blitzer's
constipation-packed delivery or his politically-incorrect Asian accent of
North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il, are but a few of many low-brow, but
still funny riffs.
In the all-too-few times that Ward slips out from behind a character and
into Jim Ward, such as his (sometimes not-such a conspiracy) Conspiracy
Corner we get some glimpse of the passion and articulate anger that
permeates through those who understand something is very wrong. And,
breaking a moment from the slobbering sycophancy, if there be one bit of
frustration, to date, Ward has not had the inclination to step outside of
the show, in front of live political crowds, as Stephanie has, to support
an issue or candidate. Ward doesn't believe that at this point his
deserves or delivers the cache necessary to change minds, get people off
their butts or, in the least, draw an audience. Yet it is his smart mix
of humor and appreciation for the political crimes perpetrated today that
provides Ward with the unfreaking believable tools to get people to pay
attention. Stephanie's self-deprecating style works well for the show,
but it doesn't keep her and her celebrity from hitting the streets to
carry an important message of change. The substance of any plea is much
more palatable to an audience when they are entertained at the same time
they're being informed. It would be a shame if someone with Ward's
ability, wit and charm, didn't take advantage of what he might accomplish
by adding his gifted voice(s) to the political and social battles.
What about the future? The Miller/Ward (and let's not leave out the deft
production ability of producer Chris Lavoie) crew makes for the perfect
morning political show. But in the realm of great possibilities --
letting Ward be Ward -- Conspiracy Corner just may not be enough. That's
not to say that Ward should ever leave Steph. It would be a crime for the
audience and for Steph, but what could be interesting is to hear what one
hour a weekend might sound like with Jim at the lead. Ward listens to
Harry Shearer every Sunday. A cross between Shearer and Steph's Ward,
could be potent. It wouldn't make any money. Ask Harry. But I'd give it a
While some artists work best in a secondary performance role, that isn't
to say that their importance is any less. Don Knotts was never meant to
be a leading man, but once he left Mayberry, I was switching channels.
Still, it doesn't hurt to see what giving a guy a chance might mean.
Here's a shout out to Jones Radio and Steph's L.A. home-base management
at KTLK-AM. Next time she takes a day off, forget the local fill-ins. Let
Jim Ward take the captain's seat. It's about time. It's about
Steve Young, author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" can be read every Sunday in the LA Daily News Op-Ed page (right next to Bill O'Reilly)
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April 28, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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