June 20, 2017

Goodbye to José Jiménez.

The comedian Bill Dana has died at the age of 92. From the NYT obituary:
Mr. Dana had been writing for television for several years and performing in nightclubs for nearly a decade when, in 1959, he created José, who appeared for the first time in a sketch on “The Steve Allen Show.” The conceit of the sketch was that José, whose first language was clearly not English, worked as an instructor of department store Santa Clauses. (“Ho ho ho” was written on his blackboard as “Jo jo jo.”) The sketch introduced his signature line, “My name José Jiménez,” which Mr. Dana delivered with such a heavy accent that it came out “ My naing o-ZAY Ee-MAY-nez.”

The character became an immediate hit, and over the next decade Mr. Dana invented a variety of preposterous professions for José, including deep-sea diver, wild animal trainer and, most famously, astronaut. He recorded several hit comedy albums as José (often rendered without accents) and appeared as his alternative self on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “The Andy Williams Show,” “The Hollywood Palace” and even, in a cameo role, “Batman.” A series of his own, “The Bill Dana Show,” on which he played José as a hotel bellhop, aired on NBC from 1963 to 1965.

Mr. Dana always claimed that José, whose nationality was never specified, was a fond portrait of a decent, striving immigrant, and that the comedy was rooted not in ethnic disparagement but in the difficulty of assimilation.

“I’ve always detested a certain type of dialect that’s an unkind caricature,” he said in a 1964 interview with The New York Post. “José is not a caricature. He’s the closest representation of a real human being that I can create.” On another occasion, he explained that José was “not a Latin character” but “a universal character.”
The character was truly beloved in the early 1960s. He even performed at an inaugural event for JFK.



Dana retired the character in 1970. Times changed and what may have seemed sweet and affectionate took on the wrong message — that the type of person represented is dumb. There have been mainstream ethnic characters since that time — Andy Kaufman's Latka and Sasha Baron Cohen's Borat — and you can try to figure out how they got through our heightened defenses. (1. Be a comic genius, 2. Pick an amorphous ethnicity from somewhere very far away and not subject to noticeable discrimination in the United States, 3....)

Also in the obit: Dana wrote comedy for others, including the "Would you believe?" routine used by Don Adams in the TV show "Get Smart."

38 comments:

EDH said...

Mr. Dana always claimed that José, whose nationality was never specified, was a fond portrait of a decent, striving immigrant, and that the comedy was rooted not in ethnic disparagement but in the difficulty of assimilation.

Kind of easy to see where the "Would you believe..." routine came from.

Ron said...

only 8 years to a hundred! "Missed it by....that much!"

rhhardin said...

A never-funny comedian.

Look at my funny accent always the same in every skit, whose humorous point is always the accent.

rhhardin said...

Dana was on Get Smart once, where Don Adams refused to participate owing to a snit over unfunny material.

Awful episode.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

"My Name .. Jose Jimenez.

I would like to do a comedy routine for you,

but I think you will only laugh at me."

--R.I.P. Bill/Jose

rhhardin said...

Would you believe and missed it by that much weren't ever funny but formal punchlines. A rhythm thing closing something.

rhhardin said...

Who wrote The Craw, is the question.

Otto said...

He EVEN performed at an inaugural event for JFK. JFK the sex pervert and member of one of the most dysfunction well known families in American history. So much for heightened defenses. 60s child always looking for love in all the wrong places.

Paco Wové said...

End-stage boomer here... don't think I'd ever heard of the guy.

sinz52 said...

Otto said: " JFK the sex pervert..."

who was the one responsible for the Apollo moon landing in 1969.

Fritz said...

I remember him. I thought he was funny way back then. I had no idea he was still around.

Bad Lieutenant said...

who was the one responsible for the Apollo moon landing in 1969.
6/20/17, 7:17 AM

And, by your standard, Vietnam.

Jim said...

Re: JFK. Would love to hear the Billy Bush tapes of him and Bobby talking about women.

Quaestor said...

Who wrote The Craw, is the question.

Not craw, CRAW!

Wilbur said...

Interviewer: "Is that your crash helmet?"

Astronaut Jose: "Oh, I hope not."

SGT Ted said...

"and you can try to figure out how they got through our heightened defenses. (1. Be a comic genius, 2. Pick an amorphous ethnicity from somewhere very far away and not subject to noticeable discrimination in the United States, 3....)"

...have the ethnicity be white.

Quaestor said...

My memories of Bill Dana are secondary, chiefly through the agency of the film based on Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. According to the film (having not read it I cannot vouchsafe for the book) Astronaut Alan Sheppard was overly fond of the José Jimenez character, a predilection which got him into trouble with a brawny Latino male nurse.

Something tells me that was director Philip Kaufman cementing his bona fides.

Hagar said...

"O,José can you see ..."

MisterBuddwing said...

Oh, I remember Jose Jimenez, fondly. But I also remember that Bill Dana wrote the episode of "All in the Family" in which Sammy Davis, Jr. visits the Bunker household:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3gHj5LHB6s

great Unknown said...

Another Jew guilty of cultural appropriation [/sarc]

John said...

JFK alzo gave us LBJ



John Henry

Balfegor said...

Re: SGT Ted:

...have the ethnicity be white.

Are . . are Irishmen okay with our making fun of the Irish again? Begorrah!

Kate said...

Oh, c'mon. That clip is funny.

In "The Right Stuff" Scott Glenn's Alan Sheppard makes a Jose Jimenez joke.

RIP

Lyle Smith said...

Cohen also somehow did Ali G.

tcrosse said...

In the early 1990's he played a heavily-accented Italian on Golden Girls.

Hagar said...

"My name is Yon Yonsen and I come from Wisconsin ..."

Danno said...

Blogger Paco Wové said...End-stage boomer here..

Is that fatal?

urbane legend said...

sinz52 said...
Otto said: " JFK the sex pervert..."

who was the one responsible for the Apollo moon landing in 1969.

That makes everything ok, then.

Fritz said...

Danno said...
Blogger Paco Wové said...End-stage boomer here..

Is that fatal?


In the long run.

Mark Caplan said...

Poking fun or even mocking the unassimilated was the soft coercion Americans once used to forge the melting pot. The belief at the time was social cohesiveness was a virtue; that social homogeneity tended to usher in peace, harmony, and unity.

Drago said...

Sinz: "who was the one responsible for the Apollo moon landing in 1969."

Oh, I don't know. Perhaps the folks involved in the space program before Kennedy was elected might have played a minor role as well.

I mean, who besides Kennedy could have dreamed up the idea of winning the space race and going to the moon?

The lefty cultists can't help themselves.

William said...

I kind of remember him. He had a successful career, but it doesn't appear the audience ever gave him their adulation. That's not necessarily a function of talent. Richard Rodgers was a far more talented songwriter than Woody Guthrie, but look who's the legend. I suppose over the course of a lifetime he caused far more belly laughs than Lenny Bruce, but Lenny has become the patron saint of comedians and this man was forgotten before he died. At least he wasn't a Nazi war criminal like George Goebels.

Fernandinande said...

My name Joze Jime-nez, sig-noro!

(Was this the "sah-right!" guy?)

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

Saw him in 2005 on a bill with Dick Cavett hosting, bringing out Dana, Prof. Irwin Corey, Dick Gregory, Shelley Berman and Mort Sahl. Cavett opened, brought out Dana (in character) and "interviewed" him, then left Dana alone to snappily deliver several street jokes. He was great fun to watch, as was the rest of the show.

As for your short list of "mainstream ethnic characters," we might add Dan Whitney's Larry the Cable Guy (ethnic group: Scots-Irish). Whitney's act is deceptively subtle and rich in detail and consistent and consistently funny. And a giant swath of Americans watch it and take great delight in Whitney's skewering of rural and exurban Southerners (Whitney is a native of Oklahoman). Far as I know, no one ever died because of Dana's act or because of Borat or Latka or Larry.

Terry Vance said...

Bill Dana was the brother or Arthur Szathmary, an eminent professor of philosophy at Princeton.

"Over the course of his nearly 40 years at the University, Szathmary’s work probed the philosophical significance of art and the relations between art and philosophy as modes of understanding human experience. He also concentrated on the principle of aesthetic criticism of art and was intrigued by how art enables people from different cultures to understand each other."
From the university tribute at the time of his death.

openidname said...

"José, whose nationality was never specified . . . "

According to Wikipedia, he was Bolivian. Other sources indicate that Dana made public statements that José was Bolivian, and he should know.

More fake news from the New York Times.

David-2 said...

I don't want to say this humor was completely obvious ... but when the interviewer said (of the spacesuit) "That seems rather expensive?" who DID NOT IMMEDIATELY GUESS the response "It has two pairs of pants!"

Scott said...

This made me think of Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel the bellhop in Fawlty Towers. Sachs died last November.