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Sitcoms convinced me I'd get a lot more singing telegrams.
The singing telegram is a common sitcom trope, but I’ve never received one in real life, nor have I ever heard of anyone receiving one. I’ve never seen an ad for a singing telegram company or a job listing looking for singing telegrams. Are they really a thing? I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure: they’re a big thing in TV shows and movies. Here are some examples of singing telegrams in some of my favorite sitcoms.
Night Court - Valentinegram
In the Night Court season two episode, “Billie’s Valentine,” Billie’s (Ellen Foley) boyfriend sends her a singing telegram for Valentine’s Day. The messenger is prolific sitcom actor, Larry Gelman, who had recurring roles on The Bob Newhart Show and The Odd Couple and made guest appearances on Doogie Howser, M.D., Barney Miller, Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Get Smart, Batman, and many more.
Larry comes into the courtroom dressed as a giant heart with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and announces, “This is temporary. I’m really a novelist,” before launching into an awkward rendition of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.” Later, he gets arrested after a fight over a cab, during which his costume is torn, and he remarks to Billie, “Look. My heart is broken.”
Night Court - Deathgram
In the season five finale of Night Court, “Danny’s Got His Gun: Part 1,” Dan (John Larroquette) is sent to Alaska by the National Guard. After no one hears from him for 24 hours, the army sends a telegram to Harry (Harry Anderson), who excitedly asks the messenger if it’s a singing telegram. The messenger says it isn’t, so Harry gives him a big tip to make it one.
The messenger then sings that Dan is missing in action and presumed dead to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The gang is shocked, but Bull (Richard Moll) still can’t stop himself from finishing the song, singing, “Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”
The U.S. Army sadly states
Captain Fielding’s plane went down
North of Hudson Bay
Just Shoot Me! - Stalkergram
In the season three episode of Just Shoot Me!, “Funny Girl,” Maya (Laura San Giacomo) wants to prove to Elliot (Enrico Colantoni) and Dennis (David Spade) that women are funny, so she stages an epic prank against Elliot, convincing him that Dimitri, the unseen creepy security guard and aspiring photographer, is obsessed with him and wants to kill him.
Part of the prank involves a singing telegram dressed as a giant camera, who sings a deranged message to the tune of—what else?—“De Camptown Races.” Elliot runs off after the first verse, but the messenger protests, saying, “I don’t get paid unless I finish.” She then scurries after him, still singing.
Why the hell won’t you call me?
I don’t handle anger well
Oh, doo-dah day
Only you can stop
The voices in my head
Are you free for dinner next week?
I can make fondue
I shaved my head to look like you
I made you a foil hat
Oh, doo-dah day
Later, when Elliot says he had Dimitri arrested, Dennis imitates the singing telegram with his own lyrics, reveling in Maya’s predicament.
Maya’s gonna burn in hell
Psycho’s in a prison cell
Oh, doo-dah day
The Dick Van Dyke Show - Insultgram
In the season one episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Punch Thy Neighbor,” Rob (Dick Van Dyke) and Jerry (Jerry Paris) get into a feud when Jerry incessantly insults Rob’s writing on The Alan Brady Show, including sending him a singing telegram, who throws shade to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” When Rob tries to usher the messenger out the door, he says, “Wait, there’s more,” and adds, “I’m only kidding” as if he’s singing “and many more” at the end of “Happy Birthday.”
Robert Petrie wrote a show
Supposed to be funny, ho, ho, ho
Look how far this man has gotten
Writing shows that are really rotten
Taxi - Happygram
In the season five episode of Taxi, “Get Me Through the Holidays,” Elaine (Marilu Henner) is upset because her kids chose to spend Christmas with their father instead of her. In an effort to lift her spirits, Jim (Christopher Lloyd) spends some of his recent inheritance money to send her a singing (and tap-dancing) telegram, who inserts her name into “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” The telegram has the effect Jim was hoping for, and Elaine cheers up.
The Odd Couple - Alimonygram
Continuing the Christmas theme, in the season one episode of The Odd Couple, “Scrooge Gets an Oscar,” Oscar (Jack Klugman) is depressed because he and his ex-wife, Blanche (Brett Somers), were married on Christmas. Blanche doesn’t help matters by sending Oscar a singing telegram to remind him that he’s behind on his alimony payments. After threatening Oscar with prison to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the messenger holds out his hand. Oscar assumes he’s expecting a tip, but the messenger says, “What tip? She sent it collect.”
Seasons greetings, Oscar Boy
My alimony’s due
If you don’t pay up right away
I’ll get the cops on you
And you’ll spend Christmas in the clink
With other bums like you
Spin City - Gaygram
In the season two finale of Spin City, “The Paul Bearer,” Carter (Michael Boatman) feels badly because he never told his parish priest that he’s gay, and he doesn’t know how to broach the subject. Stuart (Alan Ruck) jokingly suggests a singing telegram, and even puts on a performance of the possible message in an exaggerated, flamboyant manner.
Well, I didn’t know how to tell ya
But I really like the fellas
So here’s a balloon for you, step-kick