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Back in the early 80s, before my parents had a VCR, I used to tape TV shows using a Norelco portable cassette recorder. Audio only. I still remember one particular 90-minute cassette labeled “SCTV Favorites” that I listened to as much as, or maybe more than, any of my favorite records by The Cars or Squeeze or Elvis Costello. I memorized sketches word for word. To this day, I can still quote Count Floyd talking about Four For Texas (“Peter Lawford, just standing there. Boy, I’d run from that guy”) or Skip Bittman doing his George C. Scott impersonation on the Sammy Maudlin Show (“Rommel, you magnificent bastard, Rommel, you magnif- , Rom-. . I had it this morning”) or Laurence Orbach on Half Wits (“I have certain goals in life, one of which is to become a circuit court judge”) and on and on.
I can’t remember the first time I saw SCTV. It seems to have always been a part of my life, a trusted friend. Back then, it was the perpetual underdog to SNL. But to comedy aficionados, much funnier and much hipper. Watching the DVDs now, twenty-five years later, it still makes me laugh out loud.
So you can imagine how I excited I was last weekend, when the lights went down on the Second City mainstage theater, the SCTV theme music kicked in, and out rolled station manager Guy Caballero in his wheelchair. There began a two-and-a-half hour blast from the past, the sketch comedy equivalent of the Beatles getting back together – an SCTV Reunion.
The show was a loose, fast-paced mix of sketches and shared memories, slapstick and favorite characters. Who was there? Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’ Hara, Harold Ramis, Martin Short and Dave Thomas. And in Melonville terms, that meant Edith Prickley, Irving Cohen, Bobby Bittman, Lola Heatherton, Sammy Maudlin, Bill Needle, Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, Dusty Towne, Sid Dithers, Ed Grimley, Pirini Scleroso, Jackie Rogers, Jr., Count Floyd and Tex & Edna Boil.
What the show lacked in polish (the cast reportedly had only four hours of rehearsal), it made up for in pure energy and a camaraderie that was still very apparent. You could really see it in the Sammy Maudlin sketch, with Levy and O’Hara, as Bittman and Heatherton, hamming their way through a funny medley of Canadian pop songs (“Sunglasses At Night” into “If You Could Read My Mind” into “You Oughta Know”). And moments later, Short and Martin, as Jackie Rogers, Jr. and his dancing partner, brought the house down with a routine that got them kicked off Dancing With The Stars. They slithered around the floor, dry humped, then ended up in a crazy pirouette, Short’s neck squeezed between Martin’s thighs as she beat bongo time on his behind. You have to be family to give yourselves so completely over to such a physical bit.
Other highlights: Irving Cohen spitting out one liners like “I’m so old, the only time I don’t have to pee is when I’m peeing;” Dusty Towne working the crowd with her ribald asides, “Did you know a Dick Withers at 83 . . .?” Pirini Scleroso mangling an English lesson – “Can you direct me to the nearest hotel?” Cheryl Kinsey’s 10 Ways to fake an orgasm, and Ed Grimley applying for a corporate job.
There were several touching moments dedicated to John Candy, especially a story that Levy told about an appearance on the mainstage, thirty years ago. During a solo sketch, a crazy woman from the audience confronted Levy. He asked what she wanted. “Shoes,” she said, climbing on stage. After Levy replied, “Well, we’re a theater. We don’t sell shoes,” Candy walked out from the wings and asked the woman her shoe size. Assuring her that there were plenty of shoes backstage, he gently guided her offstage.
When Levy later reprised that early sketch, called Ricardo and His Performing Amoeba, it was a virtuoso display of physical comedy. Humming a circus-y tune (it’s one you hear in Bugs Bunny cartoons, and I can ‘t think of the name of it), Levy mimed his way through a vaudeville-style routine with his invisible, microscopic accomplice. It was a reminder how each of these actors, beyond all the memorable characters they created, are amazingly diverse and accomplished performers.
An appreciate nod must also go out to Bev Schectman, SCTV’s original hair and make-up genius, who was on hand to help bring all the characters back to life.
I heard several audience members wondering if Rick Moranis might make a surprise appearance. He didn’t. Apparently, Moranis is serious about his retirement from show business. Which is kind of sad. It would’ve been great to have had Gerry Todd, Tom Monroe and Doug McKenzie in the mix.
I feel lucky to have been at this once-in-a-lifetime show. There were only 750 tickets available, and somehow, I got two. While we were in line to get in, my girlfriend was teasing me that it was because I’m “pure at heart.” I don’t know about pure at heart, but maybe pure in my long-lasting affection for this TV program. I’ve never stopped honoring Edith Prickley’s on-air request: “Keep watching SCTV!”
One of the weirdest, yet most wonderful holiday collaborations ever – Bing Crosby & David Bowie:
And the story behind it:
My record of the moment is Bobby Darin Sings Dr. Dolittle. I’ve been listening to it non-stop, and it feels like it’s saving my life every day.
I must admit, when I got this album, the premise didn’t seem that promising. I thought of it as a novelty. Leslie Bricusse’s beautiful and whimsical songs in the hands of a high-energy swinger like Darin? It could be a disaster along the lines of Sinatra doing “Mrs. Robinson.”
But never underestimate Darin. He was a singer of enormous emotional range. There’s a lot more to him than “Mack The Knife.” Another recent obsession is a YouTube clip of his version of Once Upon A Time It’s that same aching tenderness that he brings to the ballads here – “When I Look In Your Eyes,” “Something In Your Smile” and especially “I Think I Like You.”
The arrangements by Roger Kellaway are inspired. And very much in tune with what was going on the year this album was made, 1968. Strings, sitars, bells, harpsichords all help create exotic clouds around Darin’s voice. It makes me wonder if there could’ve been more common ground between generations. I mean, what if Mel Tormé and Brian Wilson had collaborated on album? Or Peggy Lee and Jimmy Webb?
Another remarkable thing about this record is Bricusse’s virtuoso lyric writing. In these days of soft rhyming and conversational lyrics, you just don’t encounter verses with this kind of polish:
I would converse in polar bear and python,
And I could curse in fluent kangaroo.
If people asked me, can you speak rhinoceros,
I’d say, “Of courserous, can’t you?”
Our lives tick by like pendulum swings
Poor little things, puppets on strings
Life is full of beautiful things
Beautiful people too
Beautiful people like you
Wow. What an inspiration.
Predictably, Atlantic Records was against Darin releasing this album. And it flopped commercially. But I think it’s long overdue for a proper CD release. In the meantime, look for it in the used bins at your favorite record store. Or hunt around on the music blogs. You’ll be glad you did.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.