Jack Paar’s “Water Closet” Joke February 10, 2011Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Humor.
On February 10, 1960, Jack Paar, the then-host of “The Tonight Show,” told a four-minute joke based on an innocent mix-up involving the initials W.C. The NBC censors decided it was dirty and cut it from the broadcast without bothering to consult or even notify Paar. Here’s the joke; YOU decide:
An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move.
When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a “W.C.” [water closet, a euphemism for toilet] around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a “W.C.” around. The [Swiss] schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the [Swiss] parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tried to discover the meaning of the letters “W.C.,” and the only solution they could find for the letters was “Wayside Chapel.” The schoolmaster then wrote to the English lady the following note:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the house you occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only. As there are a great number of people and they are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early: although there is plenty of standing room as a rule. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it; while others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces. The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long felt need. My wife is rather delicate, so she can’t attend regularly. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. For the children, there is a special time and place so that they will not disturb the elders. Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,
To me this joke seems designed to appeal to elementary schoolkids, especially the boys. It also seems as long-drawn-out as any SNL sketch, beating the joke to death and then stomping on the corpse awhile. I’ll bet a modern comedian could shorten it to 30 or 60 seconds and get two or three roars of laughter, versus the 18 tehees that Paar’s version gave me.
“The Tonight Show” was live in those days. When Jack Paar found out the next day that four minutes of his show had been censored, he told the camera, “I’ve been up thirty hours without an ounce of sleep wrestling with my conscience all day. I’ve made a decision about what I’m going to do. I’m leaving ‘The Tonight Show.’ There must be a better way to make a living than this, a way of entertaining people without being constantly involved in some form of controversy. I love NBC, and they’ve been wonderful to me. But they let me down.” And he walked off.
I agree. Even in 1960, people knew the difference between single and double entendres, and even Super Prudes ought to have at least had the courtesy to warn Paar. Having him discover what they’d done behind his back as a hugely unpleasant surprise was a deliberate slap in the face of the most successful late-night host in television history, someone who had taken a floundering show on the verge of cancellation to a hit show that is still on the air today.
Jack Paar left “The Tonight Show” for less than a month. After a newspaper critic wrote that Paar was washed up on television, Paar strolled on stage on March 7, looked into the camera, and said, “As I was saying before I was interrupted.…” The audience burst into applause. “When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living. Well, I’ve looked, and there isn’t. Be it ever so humble, there is no place like Radio City. Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I’m totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business. But I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past. Any who are maligned will find this show a place to come and tell their story. There will be a rock in every snowball and I plan to continue exactly what I started out to do. I hope you will find it interesting.”
There will be a rock in every snowball. I’m still mulling over exactly what Paar meant by that, other than “I’m such an iconoclast!” I miss the early days of television, though, when only the affluent could afford TV sets, so the lowest common denominator was well educated enough to appreciate Jack Paar and his witty, literate conversations with well educated peers. (Imagine today’s Millennials coping with thoughts longer than the average tweet, or understanding words past a fifth-grade reading level!)
I miss YOU, Jack. I kid you not.