Country comedians made us laugh with their tall tales and introduced audiences to a completely new form of entertainment. These are a few of the original comedians that kept us slapping our knees and part of what made the Grand Ole Opry unforgettable.

Ask anyone still around who remembers listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, and they’ll tell you the comedians were as popular as the singers and musicians. In the early years the comedians were actually vaudevillians, like the duo of Jamup and Honey, who were inducted as members of the Opry. In the 1930s two sisters, Edna Wilson and Margaret Waters, acted out rural skits as Sarie and Sally, with one portraying the irascible and disagreeable sister and the other the kind but scatterbrained sibling. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and their popularity opened the door for the Opry’s most beloved comedian, Cousin Minnie Pearl, who joined the lineup in the 1940s.

One of country’s most famous comedians had a career far beyond the confines of the Opry stage.

Benjamin Francis “Whitey” Ford entertained audiences with his “University of Hard Knocks” knowledge on radio stations such as KWK in St. Louis, Missouri, during the 1930s, where he came to be known as “the Duke of Paducah.” In 1937, Ford teamed up with two talents, Red Foley and John Lair, and helped found and host the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, a radio show that became a famous stage for Country Music on WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ford was the star and host of NBC radio’s “Plantation Party” for nine years. Enduring recognition came from Ford’s 1942-1959 stint on the Grand Ole’ Opry, of which he was a member. He perfected the character, the Duke of Paducah, by collecting hilarious jokes and ending his act with “I’m goin’ back to the wagon, boys; these shoes are killin’ me!”

At one point Ford traveled with Hank Snow’s Jamboree Productions, sharing billing with Elvis Presley and many other popular stars. In 1958 Ford began hosting “Country Junction,” a television show that ran for several years on Nashville’s WLAC-TV. Producers of “Hee Haw” bought Ford’s library of jokes, and Ford donated a great deal of memorabilia to The Country Music Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted four months after his death in 1986.

 by Sasha Dunavant