For those who don't remember (probably 90% of anyone reading this), at one time Bill Dana's record albums were best-sellers. A comedy writer (born William Szathmary), Dana (his mother's name) was working for Steve Allen when he came up with a mild gag for a quick sketch: a Latino Santa Claus. It was keyed to Santa's "ho ho ho" and the confusing "J as H" of Latino names, such as Jose Jimenez.
Dana ended up playing Jose on Steve's show, and the rest is jistory. Er, history. Dana was amused that a "Jungarian Hew" was now a superstar. If you listen to those classic albums, it was good jokes, not just the funny voice that made them successful. Bill's routine as a hapless astronaut was even released as a single. He got a lot of attention when it was played by astronauts at Cape Canaveral.
Dialect comedy has gone in and out of fashion over the years. A hundred years ago, every ethnic accent was a big laugh in vaudeville and on 78 rpm discs. Dutch, Italian, Jewish, "Negro," rural Southerner, Scotsman…nobody was left out. Moving on to radio, and there was "The Mad Russian" and "Parkyakarkus" and the entire "Allen's Alley" roster of rube Titus Moody, Irishman Ajax Cassidy, Jewish Mrs. Nussbaum and noisy Southerner Senator Claghorn. And yes, Amos and Andy. And lots more.
In the late 50's and early 60's, ethnic comedy was still a howl, and "Amos and Andy" re-runs (with an all black cast) were not yet banned. Desi Arnaz was famous thanks to his comical Cuban accent, Mel Blanc portrayed a Mexican named Cy who said "Si" and, yes, Bill Dana made a living as Jose Jimenez. He kept trying to make that character less and less a part of his act. One of his albums had Jose on one side, Bill on the other.
By the early 70's, Dana officially declared Jose "dead," to the cheers of Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics. He put out "Hoo Hah," a Jewish-comedy parody of "Hee Haw." Funny, "Hee Haw" was fine with Southerners despite the heavy reliance on stereotypes. Why? Because Southerners were comfortable with it, while Latinos somehow thought "Jose" was an insult. If Dana wasn't a Jew, maybe the character would've been considered ok. What is comedy? Comedy can be recognition laughter (which would be corny Southerners laughing at their own redneck traits on "Hee Haw," and later in Jeff Foxxworthy's "You might be a redneck" routines.) Comedy, more often, is simply not pretty. There's the shock comedy of sadism, rudeness, slapstick and insults. "The little guy" from Chaplin's tramp to Harry Langdon, Lou Costello, George Gobel even to Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean and beyond, is often socially inept, foolish and caught in embarrassing situations. The problem with Little Jose Jimenez was that there weren't many other Latino characters on TV, and at least Desi Arnaz had a hot wife. And was actually Latino.
While Bill Dana explored other ways of making a living (he wrote the famous "All in the Family" episode guest-starring Sammy Davis Jr.) ethnic comedy in the 70's was alternately praised and panned. Think about the confusion when Bill Cosby's non-racial humor was sneered at in favor of Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. Replacing Dana, the Hungarian Jew, was Freddie Prinze, hal Hungarian-Jew and half Puerto Rican. When he played a Chicano on "Chico and the Man," he drew howls of protest because he wasn't Mexican. Why didn't that guy just put a gun to his head?
Today, ethnic humor is only tolerated if the perp is of the same ethnic group and is making so much money nobody dares to say a word (hello, Tyler Perry). However if the ethnic group isn't too loud, then it might be ok (recall "Miss Swann" on "MAD TV," as played by Alex Borstein). But be careful: Sarah Silverman did some Asian jokes and was hounded by publicity seeking Japanese avenger Guy Aoki until she nearly lost her mind. Good thing he wasn't around when Judy Tenuta was doing that Yoko Ono imitation.
Bill Dana, now over 90, is on Facebook but rarely posts anything. Nostalgic fans still find laughs in the well-constructed jokes that made those early Jose Jimenez albums big hits, but "PC" considerations have destroyed his legacy. Ironically, haters of Jose seem to love Guillermo Rodriguez.
The PC police do stay vigilant, and sometimes they need to be. Paula Dean, the doyenne of fatty cooking and Southern racism, was way out of line in taking a photo as "Lucy" with her son as "Ricky," when it involved actually using "brownface." Neither Dana, Prinze, or any other Latino comedy character from the past ever did that, and Desi Arnaz's complexion was hardly even tan.
Musically speaking, Dana's theme song was intended to echo the spirit of Don Quixote, the valiant tilter of windmills. It had the stereotypical trumpet which, only a few years later, another fucking Jew (Herb Alpert) would use while fronting his Tijuana Brass. I assume that Latinos who hate Bill Dana and loathed Freddie Prinze will try to ban Herb's music, next. That Jew made money by exploiting Mexicans! As head of A&M records, he surely didn't do enough to promote real Latino Sergio Mendez. And let's not even discuss Julius Wechter and his Baja Marimba Band.
All seriousness aside, enjoy the two versions of the theme song. One is from Carl Brandt, who was a veteran arranger at Warner Bros., and also worked with Spike Jones. The other is by Raymond Antonini, better known as Ray Anthony. The big band trumpet star is 93 now, and you can find out more about him by visiting rayanthonyband.com
JOSE OLE - THE BILL DANA SHOW THEME Ray Anthony
BILL DANA SHOW THEME Carl Brandt CARL BRANDT