"These boys are different from any other comedians you ever heard.
They're great; but there's one thing odd about them: They don't have any jokes."
Amos ‘n' Andy did not rely on gags like other radio comedians. Whether
it was for the certainty that familiar characters would share new adventures
every evening at 10 pm, the joy found in two blacks trying to get by
in the city, or the universality of Amos' integrity and Andy's laziness,
audience members tuned into the nation's first syndicated serial radio show
for a number of different (and often contradictory) reasons.
The different readings of the radio program are not, however, caused by the
show itself. The infatuation with a new medium, the specter of racism, and
the universal nature of traits such as clumsiness are all apart of the
society in which Amos ‘n' Andy and a computer generated
(and allegedly racist) character such as Star Wars' Jar Jar Binks live in.
The medium in which these characters appear is often a reflection of society rather
than an introduction of their traits to society. When someone embraces the medium
as reality, however, problems arise.
Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden adamantly believed they knew what
African-Americans were like because of their stage experiences and their
limited interaction with real African-Americans. This limited knowledge
served as the basis for their radio serial and they spent much of their
lives defending that program against charges of racism.
Their reality was a world in which African-American blackface
performers such as Bert Williams and George Walker performed as
"Two Real Coons" to support themselves.
This was not because Williams and Walker were really like the characters
they portrayed but rather, those were the only characters they were allowed to play.
The blurring of the line between the medium and its message becomes more
difficult in this era of heightened cultural sensitivity. Amos ‘n' Andy
has been relegated to the corners of American popular culture because of its
racial overtones and the stigma of blackface. There is no question that this
radio program can be seen as insensitive, offensive, and totally devoid of
humor. But to neglect its place in popular culture is to cheat ourselves
from any value that might be gained from it and ignore the social
ramifications that made it possible in the first place.
--Merlin H. Aylesworth, first president of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
to New York radio critic Ben Gross