Chicago Comedy 2019: Funny You Never Knew

George Gobel, Martha Raye, Imogene Coca in Funny You Never Knew.

Funny You Never Knew is a comedic documentary inviting us to rediscover classic TV comedians Imogene Coca, George Gobel, and Martha Raye.

Fred Willard and Kevin Pollack serve as hosts of this documentary.  The comedy duo watch clips about three comedians from the Golden Age of Television.  Interspersed with interviews, of course.  It makes for a fun approach much to the credit of director Andrew Hunt.  At times, both Willard and Pollack host Classic Comedy Report as we visit clips from back in the day.  The Monopoly board game parody serves as an interesting way of going through their careers.  Even though these comedians won many awards, how many of us actually know them?  If I’m being honest, I have only heard of Imogene Coca.  More on this later.

As far as comedy goes, George Gobel could be interchangeable with the comedy of Bob Newhart.  Newhart doesn’t believe that Gobel receives the recognition that he should in how he changed comedy.  In his later years, Gobel would work as a panelist on Hollywood Squares.  The comedian would also make over 50 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Meanwhile, Martha Raye’s physical comedy style would influence the likes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.  These two are comedy legends in their own right.  I’m only discovering Raye’s work in this documentary.  This is a woman who is considered to be the female equivalent to Bob Hope.  Like Hope, Ray would also participate in USO tours.

Carl Reiner and Bill Hayes are able to offer first-hand experience of working with Coca.  Hayes shares some interesting stories about the last airing of Your Show of Shows in June 1954.  Newhart talks about why Gobel is such an important person in comedy.  There are so many more comedians that discuss the trio.

While I saw National Lampoon’s Vacation back in the day, my discovery of Second City in 2003 changed my comedy future.  In researching sketch comedy, I would discover Sid Caesar and Your Show of Shows.  This would lead me to discover Imogene Coca.  As in truly discover her talents!  Of course, I’ve seen Vacation a few times since learning about the classic series.  It goes without saying that the Coca scenes never get old.

Here’s the thing about Your Show of Shows.  This 90-minute sketch comedy series is a predecessor to NBC’s Saturday Night Live.  There’s just one key difference: no cue cards.  That’s right.  This means having to fully memorize all of their lines for that evening’s show.  Yet this series remains one of the great sketch comedy series of all time.

These three comedians may be long-forgotten but Funny You Never Knew is able to introduce them to a new audience.

DIRECTOR:  Andrew Hunt
FEATURING:  Fred Willard, Kevin Pollack, Imogene Coca, George Gobel, Martha Raye, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Carol Channing, Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, Hal Kanter, Tommy Smothers, Alan Young, Jack Carter, Mitzi Gaynor, Bill Hayes, and Kaye Ballard

Funny You Never Knew screened during the 2019 Chicago Comedy Film Festival.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.