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Throughout his career, Bob Hope received an inordinate amount of criticism when his comments seemed to cross an ever-changing line of good taste. Hope’s vaudeville act was censored in Boston. On the radio, NBC received protests when Hope made jokes about electoral politics and “faded” the audio level when he satirized the network itself. In a 1949 radio broadcast, Hope did a sketch lampooning President Harry Truman and his wife Bess that provoked many letters in protest, one of which warned, “ridicule is the surest and quickest way to weaken and destroy our respect for the highest office in our country.” Hope discovered that the ancient dangers of satire remained potent even in a nation founded on the promise of liberty.

One of our greatest freedoms is to crack jokes at our government’s expense. . . . When we’re afraid to be funny about our political opponents, there won’t be any politics left, just dictators.—Bob Hope, 1955


“Hope Gets Royal Laugh”

Following a ruling by the censor for British theater forbidding the lampooning of current heads of state, Bob Hope satirized the Kennedys in a benefit performance in London before Queen Elizabeth (b. 1926). Earlier in the year, the censor had refused to allow the American improvisational troupe, The Premise, to perform skits satirizing the Kennedys despite White House permission. The benefit show, however, was exempt, and Hope's quips delighted the Queen, while at the same time alienated some of his fans.

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In Defense of Satire

On Christmas Eve 1972, at his ninth and final annual Christmas show in Vietnam, Bob Hope told a joke about Senator George McGovern (b. 1922) that antagonized some of McGovern’s supporters when they saw it in a network news broadcast, prompting this letter of complaint from a viewer. Hope defended his routine responding, “I know Senator McGovern and I am sure that any jokes I do about him would make him laugh. . . . I don’t spare anybody. But I don’t hurt anybody too much.”

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The Agnew Library

Bob Hope and his friend, Vice President Spiro Agnew (1918–1996), both received honorary degrees at Ohio State University in June 1969. In his commencement speech, Hope remarked that Agnew’s detractors, “said the Agnew library burned down and destroyed both of his books,” then added, “One of them, he hadn’t even colored yet.” Hope received angry letters, including this one. Hope related that Agnew gave him this Peanuts coloring book with a note referencing a page he had colored “all myself.”

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“The Extreme Lack of Propriety and Good Taste”

Bob Hope’s satires over his long career reflected his audience’s changing sensitivities and standards of propriety. When he broadcast a satirical radio sketch in 1949 that portrayed President Truman (1884–1972) and his wife Bess (1885–1982) as hosts of a breakfast radio show, listeners complained of his lack of respect for the presidency. In response, Hope confessed, “Probably we were a little silly in going too far in the liberties of free speech which we Americans enjoy.” In 1970, Hope’s satirical depiction of a takeover of the television network by the women’s liberation movement offended many feminists.

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Return to Political Humor List Previous Section: The Dangers of Satire | Next Section: Cartoons and Satire

Sections: Political Humor | Causes and Controversies | Blurring of the Lines