“Ghostwriters” do work on behalf of politicians, business executives, TV anchors and other bigshots who need but don’t possess high-quality writing skills; and whose egos oblige their hired hands to contribute anonymously. With a notable exception, that’s to say one profession historically gives these otherwise unknown scribes the recognition they deserve. When you think about it, it’s kind of funny, but over the years comedians are the ones who routinely give credit to the people behind the scenes who help them make us laugh.
Since 1966 the Emmy awards even have a category – most recently called “Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series” — honoring the jokesters in the writers’ room. Multi-winners have included the writing teams for “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien, as well as the crews for Stewart, Kimmel, Fallon, Meyers, Bee, Schumer and Maher, among others. And it often truly does take major teamwork to make these stars funny; 2017 award recipient “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” honored no less than 21 contributors.
SHEEN AND BERLE LAUGH AND CRY “UNCLE”
Before these contemporary TV comics, the great Milton (“Uncle Miltie”) Berle ruled the airwaves as the king of late night comedy. Until such time his ratings archrival, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, ceremoniously dethroned him … though with due humility.
Renowned theologian Sheen (1895-1979), whose cause for canonization was opened in 2002, is known for his dramatic and prolific preaching, especially for 20 years of work on radio and a dozen more on TV. Having twice won an Emmy Award for “Most Outstanding Television Personality,” he famously used the recognition to show off his own comedic chops. Joking that perhaps he should be called “Uncle Fultie,” Sheen had a little fun with his buddy Berle. Ever humble, he also took the opportunity to show appreciation for his original writers.
Credit to the hosts of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Facebook page for posting this revelatory, classic commentary by the arch-comic:
“The most honest of those who appear on radio or television, as regards to their material, are the comedians. At the end of every program, regardless of who the comedian is, there will always be found listed the names of his writers. The comedians admit, though they speak the humorous lines, that they actually are indebted to others for putting them in their mouths. One never sees on a television screen at the end of a program given by a politician the names of the one who wrote his speech. Here we pay tribute to the four writers who have given us the greatest inspiration: 1. A collector of internal revenue 2. A reporter 3. A physician 4. An official in a fishing company. These four writers are perhaps better known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Though none of them has written the material that is used in our books, they nevertheless have given us the philosophy and theology behind all that we write.”
Among the comments accompanying the Facebook post, the following by Vivian Sherwood further testifies to Sheen and Berle’s good nature and humility:
“Many years ago, when I was handling press for Milton Berle, then the undisputed king of TV, we were aware that Bishop Sheen, whose ‘Life Is Worth Living’ was opposite us, was gaining in the ratings each week. On that fateful Wednesday morning, when he beat us, we had to tell Milton, who quietly looked up and said, ‘Sure. Look at his writers!’ When the Bishop heard this, he roared. And he never forgot it. Upon receiving his Emmy… he thanked his writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Bishop loved comedians, loved to be in their company, loved to laugh with them. Not many know that Milton actually wrote that line. But the Bishop always remembered!”