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Reviving 'Bert and I': Iconic Downeast Humor Act Makes a Comeback
12/02/2013   Reported By: Keith Shortall

Bert and I, the iconic Maine humor phenomenon that caught the ear of the nation in the 1960's and 70's, was the brainchild of two storytellers: Marshall Dodge, who died in 1982, and Bob Bryan, who is now 82 years old. It might seem unlikely that the brand could re-emerge, but it has - in the form of a new CD titled " Bert and I Rebooted." Bob Bryan gives voice to a number of characters and sound effects, along with Maine humorist Tim Sample, who co-wrote most of the material in this collection of 22 stories. Keith Shortall spoke with Sample about the project, which carries on a tradition of rural humor that he believes taps the universal core of human nature.

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Reviving the Downeast Humor of 'Bert and I' Listen

"Bert and I Rebooted"

"Bert and I," though based on characters and places that are very much Maine, was not born on the docks of Boothbay or the hunting camps of the Northwoods. It started at Yale, where two students - Marshall Dodge and Bob Bryan - started sharing stories, amusing their classmates. Then in 1958, it "went vinyl" in the form of a 10-inch record.

"But it was a lark," said Bryan, in an interview with MPBN in 2008. "My goodness, we weren't thinking of selling anything. We just thought it would be fun to record some stories and give them to friends for Christmas."

But that led to a full 33 1/3 LP. And much to shock of the two creators, "Bert and I" went national.

Audio from Bert and I: "What a terrible mess that seagull has made on your lapel, captain! I'll be right back with some toilet paper." "Don't matter madam - by the time you find that toilet paper, that seagull will be a mile from here."

Now more than 50 years later, Bert and I have returned.

Audio from Bert and I Rebooted: "Bert and I was down at the dock getting ready to go haddock fishin' aboard the Bluebird Two one morning when we spied an exceptionally large lady hollerin' at us from the dock. Bert said, 'There's another one.' I just shook my head."

"It was important to me, because without getting maudlin about it, Bob's time to do new records is limited and and I'm 62 going on 80 myself," laughs Tim Sample.

Sample says Bryan agreed to the idea of crafting new material for a record. "So we wanted to do this to really plumb the depths of what we know about storytelling, what we love about storytelling, and it emerged that way - the project emerged that way," Sample says. "There was a lot of fine tuning right up to the last few recording sessions."

Audio from Bert and I Rebooted: "'Do you do any drinking?' Junior said. 'Yes I do, everyday a bit,' Doctor replied. 'Well, Junior, if you want to improve your hearing, I'm afraid you'll have to give up your drinking.' 'Well Doc, I appreciate the advice, but I might have a problem with that. You see, lately, I like what I been drinking a whole lot more than I like what I been hearing.'"

"What is helpful to understand about the oral tradition is that the storytelling of the sort that Bert and I has kind of put on the map has a lineage not unlike bluegrass music or folk music," Sample says. "In other words, it's original material, but it's like, how many ways can you use three chords in bluegrass? And yet, somehow, Doc Watson seemed to do pretty well with it. It's a lot of variation on a theme, and twists and turns on core ideas."

Keith Shortall: "To go back to your analogy of the three chords, one of those chords is the story about 'asking directions.' which seems to be a bottomless pit of funny punchlines."

Tim Sample: "And the reason is that there is durability in this stuff, just like there is durability in melody and themes in music."

Keith Shortall: "There's one story - speaking of directions - of a man up in The County, and the wife is getting impatient because he refuses to ask directions and they're clearly lost, so they stop at a store. And the guy finally works up the courage to ask directions."

Tim Sample: "Yah, and of course the backstory is, men don't like to do it because its an ego thing."

Audio from Bert and I rebooted: "'Where will I end up if I take a left?' 'Passadumkeag.' 'What if I take a right?' 'Madawaska.' 'What if I keep driving straight ahead?' 'Wytopitlock.' 'What if I turn around and head back the way I came?' 'Molunkus.' Cecil thanked him for the information and headed back to the car. Once he was back inside, Margaret piped right up. 'Well,' she said, 'did you ask directions? Did you find out where we are?' 'Oh, I asked directions all right,' said Cecil. 'Not that it'll help us any - the guy don't speak a word of English!'"

"Kendall Morse always used to say, 'The thing about Maine humor is it takes more than a teaspoon full of brains to understand,'" Sample says. "But it does have a quality about it that, if you find yourself settin' through the whole thing not laughing, that's understandable, it happens all the time. But you've got to realize that it ain't that it ain't funny - you just don't get it. You might not laugh here, but be careful driving home. And there's that quality about it."

Audio from Bert and I rebooted: "'Do you know what day it is Carl?' 'Thursday.' 'No, that's not what I mean - oh dear. Today is our anniversary. Someday something is going to happen to one of us and then you'll be sorry.' 'When it does, I'm movin' to Kittery.'"

"Bert and I Rebooted" is a new CD of 22 stories, with Bob Bryan and Tim Sample.


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