January 23, 2023

Article at fortwayne.com

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Peter Funt

Long before wives pranked husbands on TikTok (long before there was a TikTok, long before there was an internet and long before there wasn’t a home computer that weighed less than 16,000 pounds), an unlikely TV host named Allen Funt debuted a show called “Candid Camera.”

It was an instant phenomenon that has never departed the airwaves for long.

It featured pranks played on real people, but Funt didn’t like to call them pranks.

Now his son, Peter Funt, who inherited the franchise when his father passed away in 1999, is on a tour that will bring a show called “Candid Camera Unmasked” to the Eagles Theatre in Wabash on Thursday, January 23.

It consists of classic clips and some new comedic material.

Peter Funt said his dad came up with the idea for “Candid Camera” while he was serving in the Army Signal Corps in World War II.

It was Allen’s job to record audio messages that were sent home to loved ones.

“They were recorded on acetate discs,” Peter said. “And the discs were rather expensive, relatively.”

There were two parts to the recording process: a rehearsal and the real deal. A red light told everyone in the room that the recording equipment had been switched on.

The problem with the red light was that it made the servicemen nervous, and they would flub their lines. As a result, acetate was wasted.

So, Allen got the idea to disable the red light and record the rehearsals.

This planted a seed that grew into “Candid Microphone,” a radio show featuring clandestine audio recordings.

“Candid Camera” debuted on television a year later.

“It just goes to show you that one good idea, even if it comes by accident, can last one family several generations,” Peter said.

Asked if his father was a practical joker at home, Peter said he wasn’t a practical joker anywhere.

“Never in his long career did he think of ‘Candid Camera’ as a show about practical joking,” Peter said. “He never used the word ‘prank.’ He was fascinated by human nature. And he thought that these little social experiments made it possible to observe people in a delightful way.”

Peter participated in segments as a child, but he did not join the family business right away.

He studied journalism and mass communications in college and enjoyed a robust media career. He won an Excellence in Journalism award from the Silurians Press Club while working for ABC News and was a staff writer at the New York Times.

Peter still writes a syndicated weekly column for Cagle.

“When I got out of college, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could make it on my own, Peter said. “I didn’t want to just be viewed as the son of somebody famous.”

But Peter was far from averse to joining his dad on TV.

“I always dreamed, in some ways, of following in my dad’s footsteps,” he said.

There comes a time in every son’s life when his father needs a little extra help from him. There does not come a time in most son’s lives when that extra help involves a national TV show.

But that’s the way it was between Allen and Peter and Peter was ready.

“As my dad got older, it became more logical for me to join forces with him and help him a bit, but also learn more and more about his unusual craft,” Peter said. “I embraced it and felt extremely lucky to be able to do that.”

There was a period of time during which Allen would retire on the air and hand the reins to his son only to return the following week and pretend it hadn’t happened.

“I didn’t really even have the nerve to say anything,” Peter said. “He passed the torch for about five weeks in a row. He liked the concept of passing the torch, he just didn’t want to actually relinquish it. I guess there are a lot of people who share that emotion no matter what the family business might be.”

Eventually, a massive stroke forced Allen to retire in earnest and Peter became the full-time host.

One thing all the Funts pride themselves on is veracity and verisimilitude. Social media is awash in prank videos where the prankees are clearly in on the prank. The acting in these sorts of videos make Ronco commercials look like master classes in thespianism.

In 1989, Allen sued the Fox show, “Totally Hidden Video” for using paid actors in its segments, something the show’s producers eventually admitted.

“Let’s be clear, this isn’t like robbing a bank,” Peter said. “It’s not some big deal crime. I think someone could make the argument that if it works as entertainment, what’s the harm? Although, I’m sure there were TV producers who said the same thing before the quiz show scandals of the 1950s.”

Peter said there is plenty of room for different sorts of approaches to hidden camera comedy.

“In our case, our ability to say to viewers that for 70 years we’ve never faked anything…” Peter said. “What you see is what happened. In fact, if we ever even slightly suspected that someone had been aware of our camera, we wouldn’t use the footage. Because that’s really where the intrigue comes in. You wouldn’t think it was as funny if you thought someone was pretending. Honesty works in our favor.”

A new version of “Candid Camera” is currently being produced for a major network. Peter can’t give many details, but he said he will be joined on the show by his son, Danny, and his niece, Katie.

Peter released an autobiography in 2021 called “Self-Amused: A Tell-Some Memoir.”

The art of self-amusement has always been important in the Funt family, he said.

“If you are not sure that you can please all the people all the time, I suppose – when it comes to creativity – you might as well start by pleasing yourself.”

Candid Camera Unmasked: $15 to $25, 7:30 pm Jan 26, 106 W. Market Street, Wabash, 260.563.3272, honeywellarts.org/eagles-theatre