Bill Dana with Emerson College

Comedian / Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In part one of his two-part interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Bill Dana (1924-2017) discusses the use of humor as a survival tool. He talks about his time at Emerson College, and early comedy partner Gene Wood. He recalls his time on The Steve Allen Show, as well as creating his most famous character, "Jose Jimenez." He details using "Jose" as the main character for The Bill Dana Show, and his eventual decision to kill him off due to cultural sensitivity concerns. He recounts writing the famous All in the Family episode “Sammy Visit,” featuring Sammy Davis, Jr., and addresses comedy’s role in society. Jenni Matz conducted part one of the interview on February 21, 2005 at the Cutler Majestic Theater at Emerson College in Boston, MA.

In part two, Bill Dana talks about comedians learning to deal with their environment and audiences. He describes first learning how to make people laugh, and later using comedy to disarm. He discusses evolving standards for subject matter and language in comedy, and his controversial character “Jose Jimenez” from The Bill Dana Show. Dana speaks of working with Norman Lear on writing the classic All in the Family episode “Sammy’s Visit,” featuring Sammy Davis, Jr., and outlines his own guest shot on The Golden Girls. He sums up by talking about the need for performers to pay their dues, and he answers the question, “Was it worth it?” Jenni Matz conducted part two of the interview on June 3, 2005 in Los Angeles, CA.

"There is nothing that comes close to the elixir of humor- the approbation, the applause. No narcotic comes close. To stand on a stage and have people stand up and clap and say, 'You done good, and now I can survive this day.' Yeah, oh it's worth it."

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Bill Dana on his earliest influences
Bill Dana on his involvement with the space program
Bill Dana on the character of "Jose Jimenez," which he played on The Bill Dana Show and others, and on the controversy surrounding the character
Bill Dana on his guest shot on The Golden Girls, where he got his biggest laugh
Bill Dana on working with Norman Lear on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.
Bill Dana on his answer to the question "Was it worth it?"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On the power of humor as a survival tool, and on his background; on his earliest influences
On his time at Emerson College, on being on the Emerson radio station, and on getting into comedy; on realizing he was funny
On teaching a person to be funny; on his time as a page at NBC, and on Gene Wood and Don Adams; on writing and performing on The Steve Allen Show
On his role on The Steve Allen Show; on the creation of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show
On dealing with the controversy over his "Jose Jiminez" character on The Steve Allen Show and The Bill Dana Show; on dealing with fame and celebrity; on playing "Jose Jimenez" on The Bill Dana Show, and on the character appearing on The Danny Thomas Show
On the importance of having a good agent; on the difficulties comedians face; on the cancellation of The Bill Dana Show
On Don Knotts' Nice Clean Decent Wholesome Hour, and the "Bill Dana Brand New Old Traditional Hawaiian Revue"; on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" for producer Norman Lear
On his involvement with the space program; on his book "Ecolo/jest"; on the role comedy plays in society
On comedy being a difficult job, and on the most important quality of a comic; on writing jokes and being funny later in life, and on the importance of political satire; on summing up his life and career

Chapter 2

On comedians using situations and constraints to their advantage, and on the impatience of audiences; on a live television mishap; on learning to use humor as a weapon to disarm
On when he first learned he could make people laugh, and on attending Emerson College; on hearing about the death of Howard Morris; on his early comedic influences
On evolving standards for subject matter and language in comedy; on the character of "Jose Jimenez," which he played on The Bill Dana Show and others, and on the controversy surrounding the character; on what he's learned about the business side of the entertainment/comedy industry
On working with Norman Lear on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.; on Don Adams' "Would you believe?" routine used on both Get Smart and The Bill Dana Show; on comedians stealing each other's material
On the source of his comedy, and his characters, and on Jonathan Harris as "Mr. Phillips" on The Bill Dana Show; on his answer to the question "What is funny?"; on his guest shot on The Golden Girls, where he got his biggest laugh
On the need for a performer to pay their dues; on his answer to the question "Was it worth it?"; on ethnic humor, and on the importance of good representation, and on telling "the jack joke"
Shows

All in the Family

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Bill Dana on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" for producer Norman Lear
Bill Dana on working with Norman Lear on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.

All in the Family: "Sammy's Visit"

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Bill Dana on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" for producer Norman Lear

Bill Dana Show, The

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Bill Dana on playing "Jose Jimenez" on The Bill Dana Show, and on the character appearing on The Danny Thomas Show
Bill Dana on the cancellation of The Bill Dana Show
Bill Dana on the character of "Jose Jimenez," which he played on The Bill Dana Show and others, and on the controversy surrounding the character
Bill Dana on his decision to retire the character of "Jose Jimenez"
Bill Dana on Don Adams' "Would you believe?" routine used on both Get Smart and The Bill Dana Show
Bill Dana on the source of his comedy, and his characters, and on Jonathan Harris as "Mr. Phillips" on The Bill Dana Show

Don Knotts' Nice Clean Decent Wholesome Hour

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Bill Dana on Don Knotts' Nice Clean Decent Wholesome Hour, and the "Bill Dana Brand New Old Traditional Hawaiian Revue"

Get Smart

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Bill Dana on Don Adams' "Would you believe?" routine used on both Get Smart and The Bill Dana Show

Golden Girls, The

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Bill Dana on his guest shot on The Golden Girls, where he got his biggest laugh

Steve Allen Show, The (1956-61)

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Bill Dana on writing and performing on The Steve Allen Show
Bill Dana on his role on The Steve Allen Show
Bill Dana on the creation of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show
Bill Dana on the way he portrayed "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show
Bill Dana on dealing with the controversy over his "Jose Jiminez" character on The Steve Allen Show and The Bill Dana Show
Topics

Bloopers

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Bill Dana on a live television mishap

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Bill Dana on evolving standards for subject matter and language in comedy

Fame and Celebrity

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Bill Dana on dealing with fame and celebrity

Pop Culture

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Bill Dana on dealing with fame and celebrity

Television Industry

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Bill Dana on evolving standards for subject matter and language in comedy
Professions

Comedian

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Bill Dana on the importance of having a good agent
Bill Dana on the difficulties comedians face
Bill Dana on comedy being a difficult job, and on the most important quality of a comic
Bill Dana on comedians using situations and constraints to their advantage, and on the impatience of audiences
Bill Dana on learning to use humor as a weapon to disarm
Bill Dana on when he first learned he could make people laugh, and on attending Emerson College
Bill Dana on his early comedic influences
Bill Dana on what he's learned about the business side of the entertainment/comedy industry
Bill Dana on comedians stealing each other's material
Bill Dana on the source of his comedy, and his characters, and on Jonathan Harris as "Mr. Phillips" on The Bill Dana Show
Bill Dana on his answer to the question "What is funny?"
Bill Dana on the need for a performer to pay their dues
Bill Dana on his answer to the question "Was it worth it?"
Bill Dana on ethnic humor, and on the importance of good representation

Performers

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Bill Dana on the importance of having a good agent
Bill Dana on the difficulties comedians face
Bill Dana on comedy being a difficult job, and on the most important quality of a comic
Bill Dana on comedians using situations and constraints to their advantage, and on the impatience of audiences
Bill Dana on learning to use humor as a weapon to disarm
Bill Dana on when he first learned he could make people laugh, and on attending Emerson College
Bill Dana on his early comedic influences
Bill Dana on what he's learned about the business side of the entertainment/comedy industry
Bill Dana on comedians stealing each other's material
Bill Dana on the source of his comedy, and his characters, and on Jonathan Harris as "Mr. Phillips" on The Bill Dana Show
Bill Dana on his answer to the question "What is funny?"
Bill Dana on the need for a performer to pay their dues
Bill Dana on his answer to the question "Was it worth it?"
Bill Dana on ethnic humor, and on the importance of good representation
Genres

Comedy Series

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Bill Dana on playing "Jose Jimenez" on The Bill Dana Show
Bill Dana on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" for producer Norman Lear
Bill Dana on the character of "Jose Jimenez," which he played on The Bill Dana Show and others, and on the controversy surrounding the character
Bill Dana on working with Norman Lear on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.
Bill Dana on Don Adams' "Would you believe?" routine used on both Get Smart and The Bill Dana Show
Bill Dana on his guest shot on The Golden Girls, where he got his biggest laugh

Talk Shows

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Bill Dana on writing and performing on The Steve Allen Show
People

Don Adams

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Bill Dana on his time as a page at NBC, and on Gene Wood and Don Adams
Bill Dana on Don Adams' "Would you believe?" routine used on both Get Smart and The Bill Dana Show

Steve Allen

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Bill Dana on writing and performing on The Steve Allen Show

Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Bill Dana on working with Norman Lear on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.

Jonathan Harris

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Bill Dana on the source of his comedy, and his characters, and on Jonathan Harris as "Mr. Phillips" on The Bill Dana Show

Norman Lear

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Bill Dana on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" for producer Norman Lear
Bill Dana on working with Norman Lear on writing the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.

Howard Morris

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Bill Dana on hearing about the death of Howard Morris

Gene Wood

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Bill Dana on his time as a page at NBC, and on Gene Wood and Don Adams

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