Bob Elliott, who as half of the comedy duo Bob and Ray played a variety of offbeat, unusual and simply absurd citizens, has died, according to his representative. He was 92.
Elliott died “peacefully” Tuesday at his home, according to a family obituary.
Elliott was the father of comedian and actor Chris Elliott and grandfather of “Saturday Night Live” veteran Abby Elliott.
For several decades, Bob and Ray’s program parodies and deadpan routines were staples of radio and television. It was the kind of comedy that rewarded attention, accumulating details in what sometimes appeared to be — and usually was — improvised nonsense. Their characters were often slow talkers, sportscasters or mildly egocentric radio hosts.
“Bob and Ray took their naturally sonorous radio voices and bent them into every imaginable shape, creating (what a New Yorker writer called) ‘a surrealistic Dickensian repertory company, which chastened the fools of the world with hyperbole, slapstick, parody, verbal nonsense, non sequitur, and sheer wit, all of it clean, subtle, and gentle,’ ” wrote The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman in 2013.
In some ways, the pair might have been too low-key, never breaking out to the explosive fame that creates national catchphrases, headlining concert tours and starring roles on long-running sitcoms.
But fellow comedians and fans of comedy were devoted to their work.
“Bob and Ray are my David Bowie,” tweeted director and writer Judd Apatow, retweeting Jimmy Kimmel’s link to a pair of classic routines.
Elliott was born in 1923 in Boston. He looked like the manager of a Midwestern appliance store; his partner, Ray Goulding, looked like the store salesman. The two met while working as announcers at a Boston radio station in 1946 and had an easygoing rapport that gave life to routines about Komodo dragons (featuring Elliott’s expert from Upper Montclair, New Jersey — their people were always from unprepossessing American towns) and paperclip companies (with Goulding’s company president).
“You can run a big operation like I’ve seen here and only take in 12 dollars a week?” asks an incredulous Elliott while interviewing Goulding’s paperclip factory chief.
“We have a low wage structure,” responds Goulding, noting that employees make 14 cents a week and “live in caves on the edge of town and they forage for food.”
The two were frequent commercial pitchmen, regular guests on talk shows and played dueling TV anchormen, David Chetley and Walter Chronic, in the 1971 film “Cold Turkey.”
Goulding died in 1990.
After Goulding’s death, Elliott continued in comedy, playing his son’s father on the Fox TV series “Get a Life” and in the movie “Cabin Boy.” The two also wrote a book together, “Daddy’s Boy: A Son’s Shocking Account of Life with a Famous Father.”
Bob Elliott was also part of Garrison Keillor’s “American Radio Company of the Air.”
Chris Elliott noted his arm’s-length view of show business was a tribute to his father.
“I pattern my career after his — certainly in how to view show business, not to take it too seriously,” he told writer Fred Minnick. “It’s a completely different feeling to get off a plane in L.A. and go work, and then to get off a plane here (in Maine) and come home. You suddenly realize: Oh that’s why I am doing that — to raise my family like Dad did his.”
Elliott had five children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His wife, Lee, passed away in 2012.