Friday, October 16, 2009

A Legend in Groaner Gags: Svengoolie!

A-E Meets Svengoolie At Last!, originally uploaded by Phoole.

I met one of my heroes last weekend. Rich Koz is a Chicago-area comedian and TV personality who, when I was a kid, hosted a Saturday-afternoon scary-movie show called SON OF SVENGOOLIE. I grew up watching Svengoolie's cheesy horror films interspersed by his hilarious supa-cheesy gags and sketches and catchphrases. His gig was a tremendous influence on me, I've realized. He's smart, he's got a giant comic lexicon, he's drawn from the best sources, and he isn't afraid to trade exclusively in groaners.

It was great to meet him as he signed autographs and posed for pictures with a long line of devoted fans winding through Six Flags Great America's Hometown Square on that freezy cold afternoon. I'd love to actually talk with Rich someday. His gigs are so much more widely culturally-relevant than mine; I envy him that, but at the same time of course I dig being the bizarrely-non-threatening mini-celeb I get to be too, using so many of the awful jokes I must have heard from him for the first time.

Some time ago I was enjoying a boisterous phone-guffaw with Etienne ( during which he told me he cringingly admired my gig, because of the way I stick with a "crappy fake RenFair British accent," even in the face of an Actual British Audience, and the way I rely on what he calls "joke-book jokes." I laughed my head off over that. Yeah, I guess I do! Phooligans leap to my defense at these charges, but it's gotta be admitted: No one is deceived by my gig, and I'm not blazing any trails to New Horizons In Innovative Humor Composition. I'm definitely an American freak in a gigantic tea-cozy, goading for groans with the worst possible punchlines that you don't realize you've heard before until it's too late.

But this material works for me -- I get laughs, break the ice with crowds with a bizarre, non-threatening character, and share amazing encounters. And Rich Koz as Svengoolie (and his cohorts Doug Graves and Zolman T. Tombstone Jr.) was one of the first people to show me that that was possible. Cheers, Sven!

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