M*A*S*H Actor Alan Alda still quotes an iconic Nichols & May bit. Nichols & May was a comedic duo comprised of Elaine May and Mike Nichols. The two released three comedy albums that reached the Billboard Top 40 between 1959 and 1962.
According to an interview from 2013, Alda, who’s known for his mostly comedic role as Hawkeye on M*A*S*H, still quotes the comedy duo with his wife Arlene.
“The one (record) I wore out was Nichols and May…Arlene and I still say lines to each other from that recording,” Alda said to the Museum of Moving Image. He continued to set the scene.
“He’s talking to a telephone operator, and he’s down to his last nickel, and he says, ‘I don’t want you to lose me. Don’t leave me! Don’t hit anything with your elbow or anything.’ She says, ‘We do not work with our elbows.’ So Arlene and I say that all the time. People listen to us don’t know what we’re talking about,” he said.
Many view Nichols and May as pioneers of modern comedy. The two had a wide influence on many comics, and likely on Alda himself.
The ‘M*A*S*H’ Star Joked About the State of Television Today
Television has certainly evolved into quite a different beast than it was back when M*A*S*H aired. With an overwhelming amount of opportunities all available at the touch of a button, lots of the viewership and ratings records set back in the day are unlikely to change.
When asked if he had any thoughts on the “splintered” nature of TV, Alda had no complaints.
“I don’t mind that things are splintered now — that means nobody will kill our record!” he told radio station WTOP in 2018.
M*A*S*H of course holds the record for the most viewed live season finale in history. A shocking 106 million people tuned into the finale when it aired on February 28th, 1983. It has since held on to that record by a landslide. And Alda is right. With the current state of TV, it’s hard to imagine anything beating that record any time soon.
Not even Alda and the rest of the cast realized how much of a success the show would be on its final episode. It was practically treated as a national holiday.
“We didn’t know how popular the show was until the night the last episode was playing,” Alda told the station. “We were on our way to a restaurant to celebrate while the country was watching the show and suddenly we realized that the streets were practically empty.”
Amazingly, M*A*S*H has also aged quite well. The show constantly draws in fans who weren’t even born when the show was on TV. For many, that makes sense. With staggering viewership, witty comedy, and a fascinating storyline, M*A*S*H holds a dear place in TV history.