16 January, 1975, Hollywood, California, USA
George Burns was too upset to complete this eulogy at the funeral. He said it again to a reporter the next day.
Good, honest jokes live forever. Look at Jack Benny. Nobody knew how great he was until he passed away. I knew him for 55 years but even I didn't know how great he was until he was gone.
There was something magic about Jack. Everything he created—the old Maxwell car, the 'stingy' jokes, 'Jell-o Again,'—all that lived for all of us as though it were real.
The pauses. The look. The nerve he had when he used to go next door to the Colmans to borrow a cup of sugar.
Even if he told a bad joke, he made it work for him. I remember one show when he told a bad joke and he said it couldn't be a bad joke because a great writer, Norman Krasna, had written it. So he told it again. And the next week he repeated the whole thing and, within a few weeks, he had a whole thing going about that bad joke.
When Jack Benny got on the stage, he owned it—and he did. When I met him, he was already a great monologist. His opening joke was this. He'd come out holding his violin and he'd just stand there. A long pause. Already he was a master of the long pause. Then he'd say to the orchestra leader, 'How is the show up to now?' And the orchestra leader would say, 'Fine.' 'Well,' Jack would say, 'I'll stop that.'
He was a gentle man. And his humor was as gentle as he was.
He used to use his violin the way I use this cigar—as a prop, as a kind of comedian's security blanket. But he tried to get rid of it. He wanted to be able to stand up on the stage without it. I remember the first time he tried to go on without it. It was in Schenectady, New York. He told two jokes. Nobody laughed. So he quick borrowed a violin from the orchestra and he was all right after that.
He never said a mean thing. Jack's idea of being mean was this. Once we saw a certain comic work. I asked him what he thought of the comic. Jack said, 'Well, he's great but I just can't laugh at him.'
Without Jack Benny, the show will go on, but there will be a big hole in it. It just won't be as good. There's one good thing, though—Jack Benny will stay alive as long as any of us live.