Laughing Back - A Movie For Radio

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Laughing Back - A Movie For Radio [1]
WBAI And NPR Playhouse
Original Broadcast Date
Joe Frank
58 minutes
Preceded by: Jewish Blues
Followed by: An American Hero Workshop

I work hard at my job.

Laughing Back - A Movie For Radio is a program produced by Joe Frank for NPR Options. It was originally broadcast November 29, 1978, and was released as a monthly premium at in December 2004.


This program features several Joe Frank stories. Mike Waters, the announcer, begins by comparing hearing Joe's work to watching a movie.

0:52: "The Night Watchman": the first person account of a night watchman who rises through the ranks of a company by inviting bosses to dinner, poisoning them, then burying them in the back yard. When Joe becomes the boss the new night watchman invites him to dinner.[1]

7:55: "A Time On The Beach": Joe describes his life on a beach in Curaçao; though a diabetic, he eats a chocolate gun.[2]

12:05: "Caldwell": a fitness nut who dies while climbing stairs in the 1977 blackout has an out of body experience. He travels down a long dark tunnel and emerges into a festive dinner party attended by dead family members. They do the carnival dance. Then he's resuscitated, to his regret.[2]

17:26: "Isn't it true that we continue to strive all our lives in order to find peace and fulfillment ... life is not a game you can win, but a game that has no end, and all you do is die somewhere in the middle of it."[3]

25:41: "Long Island Memories": Joe's childhood in Long Island. A child is open to experiences: Lady bugs, frogs, turtles, butterflies, campfire, grandmother's hollow chocolate-filled cookies, being in the countryside with a dog, walking to meet his father's car on its return home.[4]

30:20: It's now almost 30 years later. Joe's promoting rock concerts, is driving from Binghamton to Syracuse. Because of the traffic on Route 81 he takes a country road, gets lost, runs out of gas, starts walking. He sees a car approaching in the distance, remembers meeting his father's car coming home from work when he was a boy. It's Murray Gwertzmann, director of A&R at Capitol Records, who had made the same mistake, picks Joe up in his limo; they celebrate with Dom Perignon.

33:59: "Beautiful Woman on Elevator": Joe's in an elevator with a beautiful woman; he fails to work up the nerve to talk to her. 'Hard Work' plays in the background. Joe says this happens to him almost daily.[5]

53:54: "That was really wonderful, Alan - I've never heard it played quite that fast": a dispute between fast piano players.[6]


This is an incomplete record of the music in this program. If you can add more information, please do.

Shared material

  • "The Night Watchman" shares some text with Lies.
  • "A Time On The Beach" and "Caldwell" appear in Emergency Room.
  • The striving/fulfillment/futility essay appears at the end of He Hesitated.
  • We hear another reference to Joe walking out to meet his father (Freddy) in Karma Memories.
  • "Beautiful Woman on Elevator" is not the same material as the elevator encounter in Obsessions.
  • The fastest piano players dispute appears in Arena, Arena (Remix), and Emergency Room.


  • About 16 minutes of the program is a distinct "Cartoon For Radio" segment by Mac Calhoun
  • The background music to the elevator story ("Hard Work") is used often on Harry Shearer's Le Show.

External links


  1. Joe tells a similar story in Lies
  2. 2.0 2.1 Joe uses this segment in Emergency Room
  3. Joe uses this segment in He Hesitated
  4. Joe tells a similar story in Karma Memories
  5. Joe tells the same story in Five Part Dissonance and a similar story in Obsessions
  6. Joe uses this segment in Arena and Emergency Room