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'Bob and Ray,' Masters of the Subtle Spoof

The comedy duo Bob Elliott (left) and Ray Goulding pictured in 1952, during a scene from their TV show <em>Bob and Ray</em>.
Allan Grant
Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
The comedy duo Bob Elliott (left) and Ray Goulding pictured in 1952, during a scene from their TV show Bob and Ray.

Bob Elliott and Raymond Goulding probably couldn't make it as a comedy team today: Their humor was slow-paced and subtle. It evolved over minutes — you had to pay attention. And there was no controversy or foul language.

But from their start in radio in the 1940s until their retirement in the 1980s, the duo known simply as "Bob and Ray" brought laughter into millions of American homes. Americans of a certain age will still crack a smile at the mere mention of their names.

Bob and Ray brought memorable characters to the world of comedy, first on radio and later on television. Their sketches were often parodies of the media: "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife" was an ongoing spoof of soap operas; Wally Ballou was a bumbling news reporter.

In other skits, they mocked the world of "talking heads:" In one recurring bit, Elliott played an expert on the Komodo dragon; in another, he was a spokesman for the Slow Talkers of America — and a frustrating interview subject for Goulding.

Bob Elliott turns 85 on Wednesday, and he celebrates the occasion with Susan Stamberg by bringing some favorite characters back to life and reminiscing about others. Ray Goulding died in 1990.

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