Bob and Ray were a comedic duo best known for their often surreal work on radio. Bob Elliott (b. 1923) and Ray Goulding (1922-1990) first teamed for the Boston series Matinee with Bob and Ray in 1946, and remained on the air, in a variety of formats, more or less continuously through 1960, followed by sporadic returns and several NPR revival series in the 1980s. They later performed on television, in records, on Broadway, commercials, and the occasional film.
The 1946 series established the basic format which would remain for the next decade, spoofing various radio shows and personalities, with soap operas like The Life and Loves of Linda Lovely, Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, and One Fella's Family; the adventure serials Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder (in which Matt and his friend constantly wandered around the house during conversations) and Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate (spoofing Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and the like); and Mr. Treat, Chaser of Lost Persons (later Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons). Surrounding these segments, the pair developed a gallery of offbeat characters, an array of newscasters, "experts," and average people who were all equally dull or insane. Bob's repertoire included reporter Wally Ballou (who was always cut off at the beginning and end of his reports), Tex Blaisdell (a cowboy who did rope tricks on the radio), and Arthur Godfrey clone Arthur Sturdley (described as a redheaded jerk). Ray played cooking expert Mary McGoon (and all other women, from Mary Backstayge to song-sayer Natalie Attired), though McGoon was the most popular, offering recipes for ginger ale salad, running for senator, and recording the novelty hit I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland in 1949. Ray's other roles included mushmouthed literary critic Webley Webster (and sound alike Dean Archer Armstead, the farm editor who continually spit tobacco), drunken reporter Steve Bosco, and Arthur Schrank (who in 1959 covered the story of Smelly Dave, a dead whle who Bob and Ray sent on a multi-week national tour on an open flatcar, with odiferous results). Some of their best known routines featured Ray as a clueless or flustered interviewer and Bob as a blissfully dull or ignorant guest, such as "The Slow Talkers of America" and the Komodo dragon expert sketch, while the Bob and Ray Overstocked Warehouse commercials offered home burglary kits for fun and profit. In their traditional closing, Ray Goulding exhorted audiences to write if they get work, while Bob Elliot reminded them to "hang by your thumbs."
Bob and Ray ventured into television in 1951, adapting their established radio routines for an NBC series which ran sporadically through 1953, and added first Audrey Meadows and then Cloris Leachman as soap heroines Linda Lovely and Mary Backstayge. Following the end of their quarter-hour CBS radio series in 1960, the pair continued to work extensively in commercials, on and off camera, notably giving voice to Bert and Harry Piels in a series of beer ads, plus guest spots on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. In 1970, following a summer stint on the nostalgia variety series Happy Days, they repackaged their routines for the Broadway show Bob and Ray: The Two and Only, which ran for six months to great acclaim. More TV and film work followed, from the Kurt Vonnegut teleplay Between Time and Timbuktu to the Norman Lear film Cold Turkey (appearing separately to parody news personalities like Hugh Downs, Chet Huntley, and Walter Cronkite). During this period, they also supplied voices for cartoon inserts on The Electric Company. Their 1979 special Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda spotlighted the usual nonsense, but with Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner in the female roles.
In the 1980s, in addition to several NPR slots, the pair had key supporting roles in the movie Author! Author! (as financial backers for Al Pacino's play) and provided voices for the specials B.C: A Special Christmas and The Gnomes' Great Adventure. In 1985, Bob and Ray were among the many celebrities featured in Night of 100 Stars, a roster which also included Jim Henson and the Muppets. Ray Goulding's declining health put an end to the partnership, but Bob Elliott later worked occasionally, often with son Chris Elliott, on the TV shows Get a Life, Newhart, and Lateline and the films Quick Change and Cabin Boy. In 2008, he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, referencing many of the classic Bob and Ray routines and characters.
- Sam and Friends sometimes used Bob and Ray's radio routines as soundtracks for Muppet sketches, such as "The Westerners." In the latter, Bob Elliott's voice is used for Kermit, and Ray Goulding's for Chicken Liver