Comedy and Audience Participation Show (1940-1954)
Can You Top This? was a hilarious show where audience members sent in jokes and funny men "Senator Ed Ford," Harry Hershfield, and Joe Laurie Jr. tried to top them. Jokes could be sent in about any subject except religion, politics or arson. Although they were not told any of the jokes or subjects ahead of time, Ed, Harry and Joe then had to top the joke with another joke of the same subject. Whether the joke was "topped was judged by the Colgate Laugh Meter, a giant smiling man's face with a meter that moved with the live audiences laughter.
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The shows roots sprouted from Ed, Harry and Joe's joke-swapping extravaganzas at the New York Lambs Club. Friends from vaudeville days, the three could go on for hours at the club. Peter Donald, who went on to play Fred Allen's Ajax Cassidy, hosted the show. "Senator Ed Ford, "senator in name only, added the title in order to increase his prospective charisma. Harry Hershfield was a cartoonist.He was awarded New York's Best After Dinner Speaker. In his heyday, he would make over 200 after dinner speeches a year. Joe Laurie Jr was a 1920s vaudevillian. Before Can you Top This?, he wrote jokes for Al Jolson. As a small fry, there were frequent jokes about Joe's size on the show.
Ed, Harry and Joe were hard to top on the show. But 6,000 listeners' letters poured in weekly to give it a try. If their joke was read on the air, listeners received $5. They received an additional $2 per non-topping jokester. If their jokes were topped, listeners received a joke book in the mail.