“The Banana Man” was a popular vaudeville variety act, first created by a performer named Adolph Proper (stage name A. Robins) who reached his height in the 1930s. Later the act was taken over by several other performers, one of whom, Sammy Levine, you can see in the video above.
Whenever I see an act like this, or any novelty circus act, I am simultaneously filled with feelings of wonder and horror—wonder, at the cleverness and impossibility of the act, and horror to think of the hours, ingenuity, blood, sweat, and tears that went into perfecting this one ridiculous 7-minute act. ( It took The Banana Man two hours just to load all his props for a single performance.) In a way, it’s kind of depressing to me to think how much energy it took to produce something so silly.
And yet I would not be ashamed at all to say that I’m greatly entertained by this act; and that this 7-minute triviality, perfectly honed, was able to take its creator around the world and provide him an excellent living. But by 1969, with vaudeville dead, Levine trotted out the act on, of all places, The Captain Kangaroo Show.
We are a very peculiar species.
You can read more about the Banana Man here.
Thanks to the folks on the Genii Forum, especially Bill Mullins, who first brought The Banana Man to the forum’s attention. And thanks to YouTuber Dave Powers for the clip.