Thursday, June 30, 2016

Danny Thomas, Cesar Romero, and Perfecto Telles Walk Into a Bar . . .

The title of this blog post will make no sense to you unless you’re a regular listener of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast

If you are a regular listener, then those three names just set off an explosion of information inside your head, which resulted in you laughing out loud and embarrassing yourself because now you have to explain to the people around you what it was you found so funny.

You’re on your own with that.  I’ve tried doing that very thing and it’s extremely difficult to do without sounding like a gibbering lunatic who may, at any moment, begin to fling his own waste at others.  You probably already know that not everyone understands your love for this podcast.  I discovered it a couple of weeks ago and have been making my way through the shows, and it is my new favorite thing.  But I know others won’t get it.  That’s OK.

Everybody knows who Gilbert Gottfried is, and while opinions of him vary about as widely as it is possible for opinions to vary on a performer, I think he’s a brilliant, explosively funny comic, which is why, like him or not, everybody knows who he is.

His cohost on the podcast is Frank Santopadre, who I was not familiar with when I started listening.  He’s a comedy writer who’s written for live events like roasts and award shows and he produced The Joy Behar Show on HLN, and he knows his stuff.  The “stuff” to which I refer is comedy history, old movies and TV shows, and particularly bad movies and TV shows.  Frank is funny, but on the podcast, he’s the grounded one.  Frank is never the one who says, “Can I see your wife’s tits?”  Frank is the one who apologetically says things like, “It was the Cesar Romero reference earlier, it got him worked up.”

Together, Gilbert and Frank discuss the kind of stuff that my brain, on its own and with no effort from me whatsoever, used to absorb automatically when I was growing up.  The podcast itself is named after a Bert I. Gordon movie that mesmerized me when I was about eight years old, The Amazing Colossal Man, which was followed by the sequel War of the Colossal Beast

It’s very possible that I spent all of those years watching Creature Features every Saturday night and being hypnotized by anything with a monster or some kind of special effect in it only so I could enjoy Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast so much all these decades later.

I also grew up watching all of the comics and performers they talk about — Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers (Gilbert does an eerily on-the-money impression of Groucho in his final years), the Bowery Boys (or whatever the hell they were being called at any given time), George Burns, Red Skelton, Totie Fields, Dick Van Dyke, the list goes on and on.  Oh, and Milton Berle, I can’t forget Milton Berle.  You know, because of the penis.

Gilbert and Frank talk to comics, actors, writers, directors, people who have some connection to those old days or who were part of them, like Chuck McCann, who was a beloved staple of television for both kids and adults and, significant to me, starred in a forgotten 1970s late-night Norman Lear soap opera spoof set in a world in which men and women have reverse roles called All That Glitters.  Another guest was Barbara Feldon, who played Agent 99 on Get Smart, and talk show host Dick Cavett, singer and actor Frankie Avalon from all those beach movies, and Larry Storch from F Troop, and TV’s Batman Adam West, and the brilliant illustrator Drew Friedman, writer and producer Bill Persky, who’s written for every major sitcom on TV since McHale's Navy, and talk show host Joe Franklin, and Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster, and Marilyn Michaels, an impressionist I was in awe of growing up, and actors like James Karen and Paul Dooley — all of these people who are like familiar ghosts emerging from the misty past, but who are still vibrant and funny.  Well . . . except Joe Franklin, who is no longer vibrant because he’s dead and who really wasn’t that funny in the first place.

If you don’t know who any of those people are, this may not be the podcast for you. But even so, you should give it a listen because it’s also hysterically funny.  I often find myself gasping for breath with tears in my eyes.  Of course, if you don’t like dick jokes or show business anecdotes involving bizarre things like a coprophagic night club comic or TV theme songs sung by Gilbert Gottfried, again, this podcast may not be suited to your tastes.

It’s hard to explain why I’ve clicked so well with this show.  Gilbert and Frank discuss — sometimes in exhaustive detail — the kind of stuff I noticed growing up but have never been able to talk about with most people without sounding a little . . . you know, off.

Like the terrible backdrops on what I’ve always referred to as the “color” Honeymooners.  No, I’m not referring to the 2005 movie The Honeymooners starring an all-black cast, I’m referring to the “Honeymooners” sketches on The Jackie Gleason Show, which ran on CBS from 1966 to 1970.  That was the first time the Kramdens and the Nortons were seen in color, which is why I refer to it as the “color” Honeymooners.

It was also the first time those characters sang and danced.  I wasn’t quite four when the show premiered, so it’s one of my earliest memories of professional show business comedy, and I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t know that nobody wanted to hear Jackie Gleason sing anything, or that an earlier incarnation of The Honeymooners existed that showed Gleason and Art Carney and the rest of the cast working at the height of their talents.  I had been using the bathroom for only half my life, so what the hell did I know?

I have not seen any of those shows since they first aired, but I’ve always remembered that, for some reason, the Kramdens and Nortons were traveling at one point, and in those episodes, the backdrops were ugly and amateurish, nothing more than simple drawings suggesting cities or landscapes, if I remember them correctly.  Those backdrops always bothered me because they did not live up to the standard of quality held by all the variety shows on TV as far as I could tell, and I watched as many as I could.

There were only three networks in those olden days and they all did pretty much the same stuff, and at that time, it was mostly a lot of spies, satirical superheroes, and comedy-variety shows, and no matter how idiotic things might have gotten, it all looked professional and attractive.  But those backdrops on the “Honeymooners” sketches SUCKED!  And Gilbert Gottfried is the only other human being I know of who noticed and was bothered by the same damned thing.  THAT is why people like me are devoted to this podcast.  It scratches itches for us that no one else can even find.

More than simply entertaining us, Gilbert and Frank are serving as archivists for a fading era of show business.  They booked Jack Carter for a show and he promptly died.  As far as I know, they did Joe Franklin’s last interview.  They have to keep crossing names off their prospective guest list because people keep dying.  If these aging celebrities were smart, they’d stay the hell away from this podcast because it’s always surprising on the rare occasion when Gilbert references someone who’s still alive, so if he wants to talk to you, your days are probably numbered.

I wish they had started earlier so they could have had guests like, say, Gene Rayburn, and anyone from Match Game, or comics like George Gobel and Red Buttons, or classic sitcom stars like Abe Vigoda, who just died, or Bob Crane.  I bet Gilbert’s first question for Crane would be, “Is it true that you like to make movies of yourself fucking women?”

If you enjoy movies that are so bad they’re entertaining, Gilbert and Frank have you covered.  Along with many others, they frequently discuss Skidoo, Otto Preminger’s 1968 psychedelic disaster starring Jackie Gleason who trips on acid, Carol Channing who does a strip tease, Mickey Rooney, Frankie Avalon, podcast favorite Cesar Romero (sans orange wedges), Peter Lawford, Groucho Marx as God, two more Batman villains Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith, with music by Harry Nilsson, in what is regarded by many to be the worst movie ever made by a major director and a major studio.  Avalon was a guest and discussed his experience working on the movie.

And if you have any interest in glass-topped coffee tables or if you love citrus fruits, this is your podcast.

I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from these guys in the last few weeks.  I know there are other people out there whose priorities in life are as weird as mine who will enjoy these guys and their guests as much as I do, and I wanted to spread the word.

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