Can You Top This? was an unusual audience-participation show, created by veteran vaudeville comedian "Senator" Edward Ford. During a joke-swapping session at a New York theatrical club, Ford conceived of a radio show where comedians would try to top each other. Can You Top This? debuted on WOR/New York in 1940.
Each week, listeners were invited to send in jokes. Veteran radio actor Peter Donald acted out these jokes on the air, while a "laugh meter" gauged the audience’s reaction. The show’s "Knights of the Clown Table"—Ford, Harry Hershfield and Joe Laurie, Jr.—would try to top Donald’s laughs with related jokes of their own. It was estimated that the show’s three panelists knew 15,000 jokes between them, most of which could be adapted to fit any situation. Contestants received 10 dollars if their joke was used on the air and an additional two dollars every time one of the three panelists failed to outscore them on the laugh meter.
Can You Top This? began to attract a following and NBC picked up the show in 1942. At its zenith, the show received 3,000 jokes a week from listeners. The show ran on radio until 1954.
Harry Hershfield died on December 15, 1974. Joe Laurie, Jr. died on April 29, 1954.
Can You Top This? was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.