What do Albert Einstein and I have in common?
Answer: We were both huge fans of a children's puppet show called "Time For Beany," which ran on TV in Los Angeles from 1949 to 1955.
And the comic genius who made "Time For Beany" so funny was Stan Freberg - the voice of both Beany's sidekick, Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent, and the villain, Dishonest John - who died on April 7 at the age of 88.
The early 1950s were a Golden Age for comedy. The old-timers like Bob Hope, Fred Allen and the funniest of them all, Jack Benny, were still going strong; and coming up fast was a generation of brilliant newcomers including Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Ernie Kovacs, Jonathan Winters, Tom Lehrer and Bob Newhart.
But Freberg was special, even among that august company. After Beany he went on to make satirical records like "Green Chri$tma$," starring an adman named Scrooge who wants to make as much money off Christmas as possible; "St. George and the Dragonet," a takeoff on "Dragnet" set in the Middle Ages, with Joe Friday (voiced by Freberg in a perfect imitation of Jack Webb's clipped monotone) rescuing a maiden from a dragon; and "Sh-Boom," a parody of rock'n'roll, with the singer frantically stuffing rags into his mouth while the producer keeps complaining that he can still understand some of the lyrics.
But his fans – including Paul McCartney, Steven Spielberg, George Carlin, Penn Jillette (the talking half of Penn & Teller) and Weird Al Yancovic, all of whom cited Freberg as a major influence - considered his 1961 album, "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America," to be his masterpiece.
It tackled every hot-button issue of the day, from the McCarthy Red Scare, with Ben Franklin worrying about being hauled up before the Un-British Activities Committee if he signs the Declaration of Independence, to liberal hypocrisy, with the Pilgrims singing "Take An Indian To Lunch Today" ("Let's give in and all do the brotherhood bit/Just make sure we don't make a habit of it.")
The Los Angeles Times called it "the 'Sergeant Pepper' of comedy albums," and every listener poll conducted by Doctor Demento has named it the greatest comedy album of all time.
But I think he reached even greater heights when he went over to the Dark Side and started making commercials for the same corporations he used to make fun of.
Guided by the motto Ars Gratia Pecuniae - Latin for "Art For Money's Sake" - his production company, Freberg Ltd. (But Not Very), turned out adsß for everyone from General Motors to the U.S. Army, including:
Chun King Chow Mein: An unseen announcer intones, "Nine out of ten doctors prefer Chun King Chow Mein" as the camera slowly pans to show ten guys in lab coats and stethoscopes – nine Asian and one Caucasian.
Cantadina Tomato Paste: "Who puts eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can?"
And my favorite, Sunsweet Pitted Prunes: "Today, the pits! Tomorrow, the wrinkles! Sunsweet marches on!"
He used to say, "Hey, folks. This is pizza rolls we're selling, not the Holy Grail." But that wasn't quite true. He once composed a jingle for the United Presbyterian Church that asked, "Doesn't it get a little lonely, out on that limb/Without Him?"