When I got my first radio, it was an AM transistor radio; a gift from my grandfather. My mother thought my father might disapprove, so I was to hide it. I successfully kept it from him until it finally broke, but then I got a clock radio, and he didn't seem to care if I had a radio, so I don't know what all THAT was about. Back when I had the small AM transistor, I listened to a few stations that came in my room, which was sort of a basement-dungeon-like place, and poor for reception. Only a few miles away lay the radio station WEAM. WEAM was 1390 on the AM dial (now it's moved to 1580 in Georgia), and they played a lot of current rock music, which back in the 1970s was a combination of everything from 60s folk to disco. I heard my first punk tune on them, the Ramones "I wanna be sedated," I think. They had this DJ, Johnny Dark, who was possibly the funniest guy I had ever heard (I wonder how funny I'd think he was now; a lot of DJs annoy me these days). He advertised a show they had on late on Sunday night called "Dr. Demento." One night, I remembered to listen to it, and I was HOOKED!
Dr. Demento played some of the strangest and wackiest songs I had ever heard. Through him I learned about Tom Lerher, Cheech and Chong, Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Barnes and Barnes, and a ton of one-hit wonders that played strange songs about current events or just irreverent weirdness. One day, he had some guy named Eric Idle in the studio, who was advertising a new movie called "The Life of Brian." I begged my mother to see it when it came out. She had my father take me, and we both enjoyed it, so we went to a Monty Python film festival at the Biograph theater in DC. Then I found out they had a show, which was premiering on PBS (it was far into reruns, but WETA was the first to show them in our area). But back to Doctor D. I also gained my first taste of punk and new wave from him, because he also played obscure punk tunes, which during that time, had almost country and western titles to them, like "I Shot My Girlfriend and Boy is She Mad," and "The Punk Polka." New Wave I can recall was Devo ("Are we not men?"), The Talking Heads ("Same as it ever was"), and the B-52's ("She Came from Planet Claire"), which was the first "rock album" I ever bought.
When I got an FM clock radio, I'd listen to 88.5 WAMU's "The Big Broadcast," with Bill Hickman. This was a series of radio shows from the 1930s-50s that were being rerun. While I loved some of the mystery and sci-fi, I also liked the cop/PI shows ("Yours truly, Johnny Dollar"), and the comedy I was now feeding my head was "classic" humor. G-rated, PG-aimed, classic post-Vaudville jokes and shtick. The old Jewish comedian humor I identified with, because I had a lot of Jewish friends. There was Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and my favorite, Jack Benny. Then there were shows like "The Great Gildersleeve," "Fibber McGee and Molly," and "The Life of Riley."
Around this time WDCA, Channel 20, started to play Benny Hill specials. Now, I know a lot of guys liked his titty humor, but I liked some of his other comedy as well. I found that I was really tuned into British humor, which I have been told is a counter to control freaks. I also got hooked onto some of the British TV shows, like The Avengers and Dr. Who. I must confess, while I knew they were reruns from the 1960s and early 70s, I always thought of people in the UK as if they were always wearing out-of-date clothing and driving old small and noisy cars. I thankfully no longer think that. I know now it's the French [rim shot] ... just kidding!
My father's taste in comedy was strange. He used to take me to those teeny-bopper titty movies that flooded the theaters in the late 70s and early 80s. You know, like Porky's, Animal House, Meatballs, Joystick, etc... I must confess, I have always had a rather subdued libido, and never really liked the nudity in those films, but I did like the humor, and got an extra "cool factor" bonus of kids going, "Daaaag! My parents would NEVER let me see THAT!" When other kids were obsessed with porn, I brushed it off as "seen it, been there, done that..."
Then I met Neal in 1980, and he upped my standards. Neal had a deep appreciation for obscure humor, some of it a brand of his own. Which I stole. Later he thought he got his sense of humor from me, but I always thought he was funnier than I was. At our last visit, he reminded me how insane I was back then. I remembered enough of it to convince me he wasn't making it up. I used to draw on my hands and arms a lot, and had strange games I made up with them. Senor Wences had nothing on me.
Notice I don't mention TV much. Apart from PBS, I was not allowed to watch TV as a kid, and even PBS was strictly regulated. This rule relaxed as my father spent more time out of the house, and my mother spent long times passed out drunk. My sober-side mother didn't care as much when we got older, because she liked some junk TV shows (usually cop shows) that my father did not allow (odd fact: my father didn't hate the shows, he just HATED commercials so much, it was always a principle with him), or she was unconscious and I watched pretty much what I wanted to. TV really started for me when I used to spend time after school at Kate's house.
Kate was my best friend (apart from Neal, who moved to Texas) all though high school, and I wouldn't have survived high school without her. A while ago, a show called "Daria" came out on MTV, and Daria was like Kate in so many ways, for a while I wondered if a friend of hers wrote it. She had a dry, "we are not amused" punk/goth humor. She was hysterical in her calm and collected demeanor. She didn't speak much around other people but her closest friends, but when she did, it was pretty witty and insightful. We used to do our homework and watch TV together, usually MTV (which didn't take itself seriously back then), SNL reruns, and Nickelodeon's "Turkey TV," a collection of oddball humor clips from all over the world. Our friends Julie, Ellen, Mark, and Jason were pretty damn funny, too. Julie had a similar sense of humor as Kate, and Ellen has some goofy giggly British zany humor about her. Mark was insane. Jason was subtle and had the best "after-comments" of any group. He would comment on a funny line made by someone else, and make it even funnier. All of together ... damn.
Kate: That is the dumbest commercial I have ever seen. I can't believe how much money they had to pay to convince those people to act like they enjoy the product.
Julie: Maybe they are not paid, but threatened.
Mark: YOU WILL PRETEND TO LIKE ELECTRONIC PARCHEESI OR WE'LL BEAT UP YOUR GRANDMA!
Ellen: Eww... poor grandma! She never did like a beating.
Jason: That explains why she doesn't call anymore...
Punkie: Maybe because we beat her WITH the phone...
Okay, that's funnier when you are a teenager, although I am still laughing. I don't know if we actually said those very lines, but it demonstrates everyone's humor.
The next big break was when I was a writer for the DC/Baltimore comedy group, "And the Prune Bran Players..." I met some funny-ass people working for a comedy group. There was Rick, the sly commentator, and Brad, the all-around funnyman and character actor. We had Kelly, the girl who was a great interviewer, and Adam, who perfected zombie comedy. Tynie was our resident Klingon with a wry wit and good punchlines. Joe, who was an expect at dry humor and Casey, our rubber-faced double-take actor. There were also many other great actors and writers. We also worked with a group, "The Mad Women of Schlock," a singling/dancing troupe consisting of Missie, Marni, and Lori (now a librarian, a script editor, and a beekeeper). I am still good friends with most of them.
I still study and write comedy. I watch Comedy Central a lot, especially SNL reruns. Having worked as a skit writer, I can identify with them when a scene goes wrong, or dealing with a guest star who is more famous than he or she is funny. I also like to see new trends, and I watch a lot of standup. I dissect sitcoms, but except a very few, I don't like them very much. Most of it is generic canned pap. Apart from my book and some articles, I don't get paid to be funny much, which takes a lot of stress off me. I am sure if I got paid to be funny, *I* would be writing those sitcoms after a while.
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