Tag Archives: comedy

RIP Stan Freberg, the Godfather of Modern Media Satire

Stan Freberg

Stan Freberg

by  Legendary Lew

At the risk of having TUGM seem morbid by reporting the third celebrity death in as many days, this is one that just can’t be ignored.

Stan Freberg, who died at age 88, was a comic force whose influence is immeasurable.  Decades before Saturday Night Live and SCTV, Freberg took aim at pop cultural institutions like radio, television, rock & roll and advertising.  His penchant for great comic writing, along with legendary voice actors helping out like Daws Butler and June Foray, lead to some of the most memorable comedy discs ever recorded. One such classic is “John and Marsha,” a soap opera with John and Marsha speaking only each other’s names with varying emotions:

The record that change comedy recordings forever was “St. George and the Dragonet,” a Number One smash in 1953.  Not only was it a narrative comic record–as opposed to a musical one–but it satirized a popular TV show, “Dragnet.”  Daws Butler voiced the knave, June Foray voiced the maiden and future TV director Hy Averback (“F Troop”) was the announcer. Here’s the classic 45 given an animated treatment:

Despite a string of great comedy records, Freberg will probably be most known for his incredible work on commercials. Using the same satirical bent, Freberg went after old TV shows and Hollywood musicals at a time when commercials seemed too stuffy and serious. In the case of Sunsweet pitted prunes, he even poked fun at one of the product’s supposed drawbacks with his friend, the legendary Ray Bradbury showing up on a large screen. Only Freberg could have thought of this:

Here are two other masterful commercials from the great mind of Freberg. Ann Miller for Heinz Great American Soups and Jeno’s Pizza Rolls.

There’ll never be another like him.

Remembering Leonard Nimoy’s Other Great TV Series

isonimoy1by Legendary Lew

When you bring to life one of the most indelible characters in the history of television, it’s tough to come up with an encore.  Leonard Nimoy, who will forever be known for his portrayal of Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” series and franchise, had a decent follow-up for two years on “Mission: Impossible” after the sci-fi series was cancelled. He even had a fine memorable role in a very good remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978.

But the befitting subsequent TV series for the man with the great authoritative baritone was “In Search of,” the syndicated hit TV series which had its primary run from 1976-1982.  As the narrator, Nimoy presented examinations into strange occurrences and phenomena, such as The Bermuda Triangle disappearances or the discovery of Atlantis. It was a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream.

What I loved about “In Search of” was that all the topics were given equal weight, regardless of perceived veracity, whether it was climate change (mentioned in those terms back in 1978!) or Bigfoot. One of my favorites was the search into The Amityville Horror, the story of which was discovered to be completely bogus.

That particular episode began (as all of them did) with the famed intro:

“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”

With scenes of the recent hit horror film, The Amityville Horror, playing as background, Nimoy states seriously:

Most people think The Amityville Horror is a good, scary ghost story…what is not commonly known is that the film is actually based on fact. It is a true story.

I love me some good hucksterism and this particular episode, as some others, were hearty entertaining laughs. I just about lost it when the great Nimoy, describing the weirdness of the house, delivers the following solemn line:

“then they puzzled over a toilet that, when flushed…”

The sentence is unfinished. Instead, on the screen we see an opaque liquid make a flooded mess of the bathroom floor.

This series was a sort of continuation of the conspiracy exploitation genre, which pumped out popular 1970s movies like Beyond and Back and The Lincoln Conspiracy.  “In Search Of” was like a mini-version of those movies made better by editing out the fat that the feature films would leave in.

Leonard Nimoy’s performance as Spock was so transformative for him as a performer that he could record several albums of badly sung music and narrate an exploitative TV series without ever doing damage to his career. In fact, they simply added to his legend.

Watch the unintentionally hilarious “In Search of” episode, “The Amityville Horror”:

Mediatrocities #14: The “Gravity” Screenplay Legal Case, J-Lo’s New Thriller and the Literature FAIL, and JCVD’s Valentine Gift to Media Makers

Teacher/Student Tutoring Sesh

Teacher/Student Tutoring Sesh

by Legendary Lew

We’re giving you fair warning. Mediatrocities #14 had just launched and we’ve got a fun one for you! First up, author Tess Gerritsen responds to a court throwing out her breach of contract case regarding the screenplay for the Oscar-winning movie Gravity. Next, Jennifer Lopez tries to revitalize her movie career with a movie that’s caused a lot of howling laughter via social media. We’ll tell you why. Finally, Jean Claude Van Damme lets everyone know why he’s one of the coolest actors using social media. Mountain Drew, TyPi and Legendary Lew give their insights.

The episode is NSFW but plenty safe for your sanity. Give a listen!

Gary Owens’ Connection to a Cult Music Icon

garyowensby Legendary Lew

Tributes went out after legendary announcer/voice actor Gary Owens died on Thursday at age 80.  Many have remembered his most famous gig as the announcer for the monumental TV comedy “Laugh-In.” Some younger viewers will also note his voice work as Space Ghost and Powdered Toast Man on “Ren and Stimpy.”

What may go unnoticed, however, is that if it weren’t for him, a cult music legend may have gone forever in obscurity.

As a disc jockey in the early 1960s, Owens recorded a very rare disc based on his radio show with goofy characters possessing funny names. The album was called “Song Festoons” and featured a track by a character named “Phoebe Phestoon.

Religious music director Fred Bock introduced the woman singing “Slumber Boat” on that album and Gary Owens went to work.  As Kliph Nesteroff of the great blog Classic Television Showbiz learned in an interview with the announcing great, Gary Owens created the persona of Mrs. Miller:

…a man named Fred Bock who was a musician; wonderful song writer; dealt mainly in religious music. He and Dick Friesen were friends of mine. The very first album I did was one calledSong-Festoons. I had a character named Earl C. Festoon who was kind of a dottering guy. “Earl C. Festoon here. Hello, Gary. Which way am I facing?” “You’re facing the microphone today, Earl.” “Oh. Hello.” Those kinds of things. Anyway, I did my first album and it was produced by Dick Friesen and Fred Bock. That’s how this all came about.

The album “Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits” on Capitol Records was born and Mrs.

Mrs. Miller doing her thing thanks to Gary Owens

Mrs. Miller doing her thing thanks to Gary Owens

Miller became a sensation of sorts in the mid-1960’s, appearing on American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, Hollywood Palace and repeatedly on The Merv Griffin Show as well as having a prominent role in the hip 60’s musical The Cool Ones.  Her name became synonymous with the “worst” in music (even though she eventually went in on the joke, making lots of money in the process) and her albums became the go-to starting point for anyone interested in creating a cult record collection.

So many thanks to Gary Owens for redirecting my record collection!

You can hear an episode of Mediatrocities featuring TyPi and myself recalling Mrs. Miller here.

Mediatrocities #12: Razzie & Oscar Surprises and Oversights and Remembering Kim Fowley

KimFowleyby Legendary Lew

Mediatrocities #12 is here with Legendary Lew, TyPi and Mountain Drew in their latest thrill-packed episode. We discuss what’s going on with some overlooked Razzie noms, why the Oscar noms are so damn white, and what exactly did legendary music producer claim he did to promote early Motown records. Give a listen and share. I think it’s one of our best episodes.

SNL’s “Cut” Ferguson Sketch Shows NBC Knows TV’s Dwindling Importance

Kip (Kenan Thompson) and Jenny (Cecily Strong) try getting through a horrible news morning on their sunny TV show. Courtesy: NBC/YouTube

Kip (Kenan Thompson) and Jenny (Cecily Strong) try getting through a horrible news morning on their sunny TV show. Courtesy: NBC/YouTube

by Legendary Lew

This past weekend, NBC cut a sketch from Saturday Night Live that it claimed the long-running series did not have time to perform.  The comedy bit in question was the airing of a local St. Louis happy morning “news” show called “Rise and Smile St. Louis.” Co-hosts Kip and Jenny (Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong) struggle to make it through the show the morning after riots rocked Ferguson.

Although, there certainly will be buzz over whether the network was too nervous to show the sketch, its airing on television, I think, is a moot point, especially when the bit made it online to YouTube and will be eventually be watched by more people than it would have on just TV alone.

A bigger point to raise is that it did get released publicly online while Ferguson, Eric Garner’s death and further issues of police brutality are fresh in the public’s mind.  Think Progress astutely points out this is a rare instance when SNL goes for a controversial and deeply evocative emotional issue head on.  If Jon Stewart didn’t know what to say, SNL sure did and did so terrifically:

The skit reminded me of some political comedy classics recorded on vinyl back in Charlie Manna - Rise & Fall Of The Great Societythe late 1960s and early 70s, when LP’s were practically the only serious outlet for very biting social commentary like this.  One of the few examples I could find of a comedy sketch on rioting done while the memories were still fresh was “Park Avenue Riots” by comic Charlie Manna and co-written by future “All in the Family” writer Michael Ross.

In fact, the other major TV parallel example of riot satire I could think of is the famed Harry Belafonte appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1968. Singing a medley of some of his famous tunes beginning with “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” the lyrics were reworked to match scenes of the the Chicago 1968 Democratic National Convention and riots, which had taken place only a few weeks prior.

CBS snipped this performance from the show and eventually the Brothers’ legendary fight with the network’s censorship issues led the network to break their contract and cancel the series.

Contrast the network’s decision with today: Belafonte’s performance could not be seen for many years. The SNL skit, however, can be seen online and shared freely. NBC may be nervous about airing it on a medium with older audiences, but understands how younger viewers consume their media. This understanding is, in fact, blurted out by Jenny in the morning show when she castigates Chef Darrell (SNL guest host James Franco) for inappropriate comments he makes while cooking up a frittata:

“Too late. You said it, and now we’re all on YouTube forever.”

NBC didn’t “cut the skit” for time. They knew it would live with a longer life of its own online, and indeed it does with currently over 2 million hits on YouTube. That popularity is another indication that TV, in its traditional form, is a dying medium. It needs the reach and relevance of the world wide web to be vital to young audiences and to provide voices and views that counter the mainstream.

“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” Cancelled by TLC. Strike That Line! Predicted It!

The future Baby Jane Hudson

The future Baby Jane Hudson

by Legendary Lew

According to TMZ, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” star mama June had a bit of trouble with her dating preferences, choosing a convicted child molester to fulfill her needs and Phil Robertson’s moral standards.

The Learning Channel, unable to learn from what should have been a somewhat predictable common sense disaster in the making, reacted thusly:

And so, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is no more. It seems a shame to stop production, since you could have titled a potential new series, “To Catch a Predator’s Boo Boo.”

Oh well, looks like Honey Boo Boo will have to head the ways of Baby Jane Hudson by going insane and starving her sister to death in sixty years. But for now, you can hear how Strike That Line! predicted a catastrophe for fame hungry no talents in the episode “Tinkle Tinkle Little Star.”