Tom Koch, a creator of the vexingly convoluted game 43-man Squamishfor Mad magazine and unheralded author of thousands of comedy scripts for Bob and Ray radio programs that in his words parodied “pompous versions of real people,” died on March 22 at his home in Laguna Woods, Calif. He was 89.
The cause was pulmonary failure, said his son, John.
Mr. Koch (pronounced “cook”) and George Woodbridge unveiled Squamish in Issue No. 95 of Mad in 1965 as an alternative to the creeping professionalism of college sports. It was June, and students with fertile imaginations and too much spare time rose to the challenge, staging Squamish matches on campuses across the country.
Rooted in Klishball and Stiffleball, Squamish is supposed to be played on a pentagonal field, or Flutney. Players can carry, kick or throw a spheroid Pritz, three and three-quarters inches in diameter, made from untreated ibex hide stuffed with blue jay feathers. They have five Snivels, or downs, within which to score, generally by running across the goal line (for a 17-point Woomik) or smacking the Pritz across the line with a Frullip, a stick shaped like a shepherd’s crook and usually wielded by the defense to block the other team from scoring.
Mr. Koch was also a staff writer for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dave Garroway, George Gobel, Pat Paulsen, Dinah Shore and Jonathan Winters and wrote episodes for television series, from hits like “The Lucy Show” and “All in the Family” to less successful shows like “My Mother the Car.”
He also wrote the script for Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding’s “A Cure for California,” which won an Emmy Award. He was most prolific, though, writing for Bob and Ray’s regular radio programs, turning out almost 3,000 sketches in the 33 years after he was recruited in 1955 as their silent partner.
“He certainly contributed a big part of the Bob and Ray repertoire on radio,” Mr. Elliott said Wednesday.
“They usually ad-libbed their stuff,” Mr. Koch told The Los Angeles Times in 1996, “but NBC didn’t want things going out over the network without knowing what was coming in advance, so they asked me to start writing for them.”
In his book “Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons” (2013), David Pollock quoted Nick Meglin, a Mad editor, as recalling: “It became very clear after a while that even B&R didn’t know where their voice began and Tom’s ended. They were inseparable.”
As a result, in three-and-a-half-page, five-minute scripts, radio audiences were introduced to the president of the Slow Talkers of America; the hapless detectives in Squad Car 119; a bridge builder who went bankrupt (listeners could hear cars splashing in the background); the executive secretary of the Parsley Society of America bemoaning the per capita decline in consumption; and the bumbling correspondent Wally Ballou’s report from a prefabricated igloo factory in Greenland where the temperature was kept at 30 degrees below zero to keep the components from melting.
The shows also featured sendups of soap operas and heartbreakers, including “Hard Luck Stories,” in which guests related tales of personal misfortune and were given incongruous gifts.
Ray (as a concerned mother): “My little Sandra has cuticles growing halfway up her fingernails, and the outstanding cuticle man has his clinic in Auburn, Indiana.”
Bob: “There’s nothing more touching than a mother’s devotion to her child. We want you to have this beautiful set of burnished fireplace tools. There’s a poker and a shovel and everything you’ll need.”
Recurring characters included Mr. Science, Fred Falvy the Do-It-Yourselfer and Edna Bessinger, a character in the saga “The Gathering Dusk,” who was inspired by Mr. Koch’s Aunt Esther, who found misfortune “by hunting for it where others have failed to look.” In one episode, an exasperated F.B.I. agent assures her that the “underground” activity across the street is not a covert Communist cell meeting but workers repairing a sewer pipe.
Thomas Freeman Koch was born in Charleston, Ill., on May 13, 1925. His father, Elmer, was a salesman. His mother, the former Rachel Freeman, was a homemaker. The noted illustrator Harvey Emrich was a cousin.
He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in political science from Northwestern University. His began his broadcasting career in Chicago, then got tired of turning out 100 pages a week for Mr. Garroway’s “Monitor” radio program in New York and moved in with his wife’s family in St. Louis.
When he was recruited to write for Bob and Ray as their schedule became more hectic, he had only seen them on television and had never written comedy before. But the job had two advantages: He found the duo funny, and he could write from home. He sent them 10 scripts. They bought eight.
“Then I did another 10 and from that point on I don’t think they ever rejected a script,” he said.
Except for one. In his book “Seriously Funny” (2003), Gerald Nachman, who described Mr. Koch as “an anonymous genius,” wrote that his parody of “The Waltons” was vetoed as too acerbic.
Mr. Elliott, who turned 92 on March 26, said that he had met Mr. Koch three times and that Mr. Goulding (who died in 1990) had seen him face to face only once. The scripts came by mail.
“He would send us a week’s worth of bits, eight or 10, and we would use every one of them,” he recalled. “It was great when the Tom Koch package arrived.”
Mr. Koch never had a contract, though, and got paid by the piece. “Sometimes they sent me money, sometimes they didn’t,” he said.
He was never credited on air, which was typical of radio.
“I feel we didn’t give him a real shake that he should have had,” Mr. Elliott later wrote.
Mr. Koch was married three times and divorced twice. In addition to his son, from his first marriage, to Alice Methudy, he is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“People would say I must have had such a great life doing this,” Mr. Koch once recalled, “people who were engineers, doctors, insurance salesmen or whatever. But it was the kind of work where every morning I would wake up and think, ‘My God, I wonder if I can do it again today.’ There is no way you prepare to do it, or even know how you do it.”