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  • I'd particularly like to know if it was Berle himself who wrote the standup scene with the old hecklers in the booth.

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    • If he did, he wasn't credited. Just Jerry Juhl, Joseph A. Bailey, Jim Henson, and Don Hinkley.

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    • For the record though, much of that dialogue *was* taken word for word from Berle's 1966-1967 version of The Milton Berle Show. As a regular feature, Berle would face off with Sidney Schpritzer, a heckler in a box seat (spelling varies; played by Irving Benson, an old vaudevillian who's still with us even!) The Muppet Show used the same material (which no doubt predates that specific series, and no doubt predates Berle). He'd even point to the heckler and say things like "Don't start with me."

      Here's one of a handful of the 1966 bits online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sl_nPoJY7Nw Note that it includes the "You're standing too close..." "How far do you want me to go?" "You got a car?" exchange.

      I keep wanting to work it into an article for Toughpigs, and eventually note it on Statler and Waldorf (since the characters themselves basically derive from a vaudeville device known as the "stooge in the box," where depending on the comedian's style, the stooge might just be dumb and easily put down, or combative and essentially tear apart the comic; unusually for such things, everyone gives credit to Phil Baker for inventing the gimmick, though nobody agrees on the exact year, and Bob Hope was even a "stooge in the box" at one point).

      Berle almost certainly didn't write that either though (apart from having a writing staff, like most big comedians, Berle was infamous for "borrowing" from others, so that his nickname was "The Thief of Bad Gags.") It would be interesting to trace it, but basically it's the same as when Shields and Yarnell did their "Clinkers" routine (as the robot couple at home, which they'd already established on TV) or Wally Boag doing his Pecos Bill/Traveling Salesman stuff with the spitting teeth. Cases where the guest stars brought their best known material (whether originally written by them or by someone else) with them. The Berle bit is just a rare case where Muppet characters are so prominently reworked into the routine, thus making the origins less obvious *unless* you've seen the original.

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    • I've never heard anything about Berle writing the bit himself, but it's widely sourced that John Cleese helped write his episode and he wasn't credited as a writer for that episode.

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    • Thanks much, Aleal et al, very informative!  :)

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    • That reminds me of when Victor Borge did a version of Phonetic Punctuation on The Electric Company. It seemed like the perfect kind of routine to do on the show, and I didn't realize who he was (or that he had been doing that routine for decades) until I got older!

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    • In his book, Joseph A. Bailey states that Berle provided the writers with his heckler gags.

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    • Right, but that doesn't mean Berle wrote them originally. Just that he kept using them over the years, from whichever writer originally did them for him, *or* from whichever comedian's act he originally "borrowed" them from; with Berle especially, either is possible, and despite his infamous ego, he also openly joked and acknowledged about his material often coming from others (radio line when his announcer attacked his jokes: "It's all right for you to insult me. But when you insult my jokes, you're insulting Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and [Yiddish comedienne] Molly Picon! [What am I saying!]") But he kept a gag file of everything (the physical files were auctioned not long ago), so that's probably what happened, that he took out his copies and gave to the writers to pick and choose or rework (speculation on my part, but it makes sense).

      Writer Nat Hiken had an anecdote about how once at dinner with his boss, when he quoted a James Thurber cartoon line about how "It's a naïve domestic burgundy but I think you'll be amused by its presumption" (which Mrs. Berle laughed at), Berle insisted he "Get it on paper, boy" so he could use it (whether it fit or not) suggesting it was a compulsive pursuit of gags, no matter where they came from (no doubt dating to vaudeville, when of course Berle wasn't the only one to do such borrowing, just the most infamous, but also, quantity tended to be valued over quality so if one failed, you could bombard the audience with something else, and had to keep it up over bookings, and then radio and TV, at least until the sitcom format came in, used up even more material at a far more rapid rate.)

      Just as a trivia note, Jack Rose and Buddy Arnold had been Berle writers too.

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