Friday, February 15, 2013

Danny Thomas Memorial World Spit-take Championships

The spit-take was a classic comic trope of the early and mid 20th century. In the most basic form, two people are having a conversation. While one person is drinking some beverage, the other person says something that causes the drinker to spit the beverage.

While there are and were several great comedians who mastered this trope, including Jon Stewart , the indisputable king of the spit-take was Danny Thomas. You don't have to believe me. Just ask David Letterman and Paul Shaffer.

A few months before he passed away, Danny Thomas made his only appearance ever on Late Night with David Letterman . He wasn't even supposed to be an official guest for that show. But as soon as David Letterman found out Thomas was nearby, he had Thomas do a special
appearance on the show just to do a spit-take. Danny stole the show.

Still doubt Danny Thomas is the king of the spit-take? Maybe Albert Brooks, the famed comedian-actor, will convince you in this clip.

It's surprising that, given Danny Thomas' contribution to the history of comedy, very few people remember those accomplishments. I grew up in Memphis, and the "only" thing I knew about him back then was that he founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the most famous children's research hospital in the world, in Memphis, TN. It was such a big deal, there was (and is) a major road in Memphis named after him. But that was all I knew.

Today, if Danny Thomas is remembered at all, it is for that great hospital that has found so many cures for childhood diseases. That's something pretty incredible to be remembered for, but still, it would be awesome if people also remembered his comedic genius.

In that vein, I hope somebody at St. Jude reads this and thinks about rectifying this situation to raise money and the profile of the hospital in a manner that saves more kids' lives: A Danny Thomas Memorial World Spit-take Championships.

There are several reasons why this is a good idea.

First, a brief google search reveals that there are no current world championships for the spit-take. There are all sort of spitting competitions, but none are for the art of the spit-take. Second, such an event could be used to raise money for St. Jude. Third, if the event is held in Memphis, it would be a small publicity and tourism boost for the city.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the event could be used to keep Danny Thomas' name recognition high as a comedic legend. While this would be great for Danny Thomas, it is even better for St. Jude. The hospital was able to get so many resources because Danny Thomas was a huge TV and comedic icon on that huge 1950s TV hit Make Room for Daddy. Today, relatively few people watch that show, which leads to Thomas having lower name recognition. Because St. Jude's brand is closely tied to Thomas' brand, if Thomas' fame decreases over the years, then St. Jude's brand also declines. Having an annual spit-take showcase would give St. Jude an annual opportunity to remind people who Danny Thomas was. A man who came from an impoverished background to become a major and innovative comedy star who made shows like The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show possible. St. Jude can increase Danny Thomas' Q score , which in turn would increase St. Jude's ability get resources, and thus do what Danny Thomas would want: save more children.

PS: Besides, a world spit-take championships would be pretty fun!

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