This latest gem to be excavated from that endless trove of inscrutable weirdness known as Soviet era Ukrainian TV is a small masterpiece of people’s collective comedy. I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of this. But no matter ,I’m a sucker for peppy musical numbers that involve deconstructed instruments, factories, mimes and sausages. That’s entertainment !
Thanks Yewknee !
Lenny Bruce doing his famous airplane glue bit on the Steve Allen Show in 1958. A classic. I’ve heard this routine on record and read it on the page, but I’ve never seen Lenny perform it live.
Thanks to Josie for uploading this to Youtube.
Rutland Weekend Television was the post-Monty Python series written by Eric Idle, with music by Neil Innes (of The Bonzo Dog Band fame). While many Python-related shows have been released on DVD (Do Not Adjust Your Set, Not the 1948 Show, Ripping Yarns, and of course, Fawlty Towers) it seems incredible that Rutland Weekend Televison—it’s where The Rutles came from, for god’s sake—has never seen the light of day. (At least on a retail level, because it’s quite easy to download on the Internet and there are entire episodes out there for streaming, too.)
Legend has it that John Cleese came up with the title (meant to evoke a tiny, tiny television network) and Eric Idle bought it from him for one pound. The show’s pretense to being made on a tight budget was no pretense, as Idle and Innes had been granted the smallest of budgets by the BBC. Much of the show was shot in the same threadbare studio and jokes often revolved around how low budget the entire affair was.
Idle told the Radio Times in 1975:
“It was made on a shoestring budget, and someone else was wearing the shoe. The studio is the same size as the weather forecast studio and nearly as good. We had to bring the sets up four floors for each scene, then take them down again. While the next set was coming up, we’d change our make-up. Every minute mattered. It’s not always funny to be funny from ten in the morning until ten at night. As for ad-libbing, what ad-libbing? You don’t ad-lib when you’re working with three cameras and anyway the material goes out months after you’ve made it.”
After the second series of Rutland Weekend Television, Eric Idle, of course, went on to mostly make a bunch of really shitty movies and “Spamalot.” Neil Innes went on to the marvelous Innes Book of Records TV series (also not on DVD but easy to download), children’s television and continues to make great, funny music.
It might be heresy to say this, but I actually find Rutland Weekend Television, generally speaking, to be a bit funnier than Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Maybe that’s just because I am over-familiar with the Monty Python material and Rutland Weekend Television is fresher-seeming to me. Maybe it’s because of what Neil Innes brought to the table (I’m a huge. huge Bonzos fanatic). In any case, I’m sure it will get battled out in the comments.
Below, Eric Idle barters his soul with a uncooperative Satan.
More Rutland Weekend Television after the jump…
On new years day 1984 25 million people (myself included) throughout the world tuned in to PBS to watch video art pioneer Nam June Paik’s pleasantly shambolic live experiment Good Morning, Mr. Orwell featuring the likes of John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Glass, Salvador Dali, Laurie Anderson and other usual suspects. All hosted by a bemused and mildy annoying George Plimpton. The full version of this was once up on the mighty Ubuweb but has mysteriously disappeared, so I bring you as many fragments of said program as I could find. Watching this in retrospect it comes off as perhaps the last 60’s style large scale “happening” featuring some of that era’s major hitters and is of course very quaint seeming “We’re linking New York to Paris on live TV !”, still very enjoyable to watch.
John Cage/Joseph Beuys
A ton more after the jump…
Two Uncle Louie segments from MTV’s Liquid Television series, 1994. These were drawn by the fabulous Drew Friedman.
Drew has a new book out ‘Too Soon?: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010’. It’s a collection of scathingly funny portraits of celebrities and politicians.
Subjects (or targets, depending on how you look at it) for Friedman’s pen on the political side include Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John McCain, and George W. Bush (with an iconic “W. as Strangelove” image) and his gang. Entertainers include Tiny Tim, Barney Fife, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, Ellen DeGeneres, and Conan O’Brien. And falling somewhere in the gray area between entertainers and political players (you make the call!) Rush Limbaugh (who blasted Friedman’s George W. Bush image as being of “low artistic quality”), Sarah Palin, and Michael Moore.
This is a fine interview with Allen Ginsberg taken from the BBC series Face to Face, in which Ginsberg opens up about his family, loves, identity, drugs and even sings.
The series, Face to Face originally started in 1959, and was hosted by John Freeman, whose skill and forthright questioning cut through the usual mindless chatter of such interview shows. Freeman, a former editor of the New Statesman was often considered brusque and rude, but his style of questioning fitted the form of the program, which was more akin to an interview between psychiatrist and patient. The original series included, now legendary, interviews with Martin Luther King, Tony Hancock, Professor Carl Jung, Evelyn Waugh and Gilbert Harding.
In 1989, the BBC revived the series, this time with the excellent Jeremy Isaacs as questioner, who interviewed Allen Ginsberg for this program, first broadcast on 9th January 1995.
Watching this now, makes me wonder what has happened to poetry? Where are our revolutionary poets? Where are our poets who speak out, demonstrate, make the front page, and tell it like it is? And why are our bookstores cluttered with the greeting card verse of 100 Great Love Poems, 101 Even Greater Love Poems, and Honest to God, These Are the Greatest Fucking Love Poems, You’ll Ever Fucking Read. O, for a Ginsebrg now.
Alan Clarke‘s TV drama Elephant didn’t fuck about. Thirty-nine minutes of screen time, three lines of dialogue, eighteen killings. No structure. No narrative. No plot. Just one bloody assassination after-the-other. And yet, it was one of the most powerful and disturbing films made by the BBC during the 1980s - and there has been nothing like it since.
Inspired by writer Bernard MacLaverty’s oft-quoted line that described the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland as like “having an elephant in your living room,” that everyone ignored, Clarke’s film presented the relentless killing that was part everyday life in the 6 Counties at that time.
Clarke was no stranger to controversy - his 1977 TV drama Scum, on the brutality of the Borstal system, had been banned, while Made in Britain, starring Tim Roth, caused an outcry over its complex depiction of a racist skinhead abandoned by the education system. Elephant was conceived by Danny Boyle, later the director of Trainspotting and written by MacLaverty, but it was Clarke’s skill as a film-maker that made Elephant so effective - long walking shots on Steadicam of anonymous killers in deserted urban landscapes; the quick, almost off-hand nature of the violence; and the lingering images of the victims. As one of Clarke’s regular collaborators, the writer David Leland said:
I remember lying in bed, watching it, thinking, “Stop, Alan, you can’t keep doing this.” And the cumulative effect is that you say, “It’s got to stop. The killing has got to stop.” Instinctively, without an intellectual process, it becomes a gut reaction.
Don Lane was born in Manhattan, became a Vegas entertainer and ended up hosting a talk show in Australia. It’s a long story worth telling… but not now. We’ll just jump right into these segments from Don’s Aussie show and Tom Waits’s appearances on them, which are quite entertaining. Lane is a gracious host who seems to be genuinely interested in Tom’s beat personae, which is about as real as the Charles Bukowski house slippers I almost bought on eBay.
Tom’s schtick, and it is schtick, is performance art of a very high caliber. And I enjoy it. But, having interviewed Waits in the mid-70s in Denver I know his skidrow, Raymond Chandleresque posturing was part of a deliberate process of creating a character, kind of like a hard-edged literary Pee Wee Herman.
In our meeting, Waits had mistakenly pegged me for a young college kid working for a college paper. Yes, I wrote freelance for a college paper, but I was a high school dropout that had grown up around some heavy weight poets in the Washington D.C. area, cats who had introduced me to the beat poets and the king of the bards of the backalleys Bukowski. Waits was laying his Waits trip on me and I was going along for the ride. But, when I mentioned Bukowski’s name, Waits’s attitude changed. Bukowski was not the superstar then as he is now. Tom wasn’t ready to be outed as a Bukowski imitator. I nailed Waits to the wall with my Bukowski rap. I basically told Tom that I felt his streetwise, hipster hobo thang was something he had picked up from Bukowski, which he did not deny. He seemed surprised that I knew who Bukowski was and had identified Bukowski’s style in his own. Waits had spent time with Bukowski and certainly seemed to me to have picked up some of Bukowski’s traits, from the way he held his cigarettes to the low growl in his voice.
As I continued to discuss my take on his act, Waits slowly worked himself out of character and got real. His voice became less gruff, his body language changed from a guy who had taken a few too many punches to an alert intellectual who had read a few too many books. He relaxed and shared with me his actual past: suburban upbringing under the guidance of parents who were school teachers, one of whom taught English. None of this changed my mind about Waits’s art. His lyrical gifts and musical genius stand tall in my mind. But, the Tom Waits we see on stage is a character created by the Tom Waits we don’t see. And maybe none of that matters. But, I did enjoy the soft spoken young cat who dropped his guard for a few minutes in the lounge of a seedy hotel in Denver. A lounge that the puppetmaster Waits had chosen deliberately for dramatic effect. Yes, it’s showmanship. But I always believed that the beats were about getting down to the realness of shit. I wasn’t prepared for the Monkees version of bohemia.
Enjoy the Tom Waits we love in these episodes of The Don Lane Show broadcast in 1979 and 1981.
More Waits on The Don Lane Show after the jump…
After How Michael Caine Speaks here’s Steve Coogan vs. Rob Brydon - The Rematch, another excerpt from BBC’s ‘The Trip’. This time it’s a masterclass in James Bond impersonations.