Over the years people have asked about it but few have actually seen Kouch Karaoke. So it’s thankful that we can now offer Kouch Karaoke in all it’s small screen, sorta dark glory. But, before we do that, we’re going to answer the questions surrounding the creation of Kouch Karaoke.
Late June 1994, my friend and legendary DJ, Harvey Wharfield, had an idea. In my decades of experience with Harv, that’s usually a dangerous thing. It’s never stopped us from doing it but many people have died along the way. Not us so it’s had little impact on our combined frivolity.
During a meeting with a TV station he pitched it, they liked it, Harv left the meeting excited. By the time he gets to his car some of the excitement diminished.
“Damn!” I can only assume Harv exclaimed because I wasn’t there. “Where am I going to get a TV crew to work cheaper than cheap?” Before Harv put his vehicle in gear he had his solution.
At the time I was doing a lot of writing and producing for TV. To many production people, writers, actors, I was considered the Don of the organization. More so in the Adams, Knotts, Duck mode than Corleone, but it was nice to be thought of at all. Within moments of the gestation of his idea, which lead to a comfortable ride home, I get a call.
“I have an idea for a TV show,” Harv tells me in all his enthusiasm. “Basically, we do a Beavis and Butthead on karaoke. People sing and we make fun of them.”
“How did it get from ‘I have an idea’ to ‘we do’ so quickly, Harv?”
Ignoring my inquest, Harv explained that a local station was interested in the pilot for the fall season. I told Harv I liked the idea of trashing karaoke as a concept and people as a lifestyle.
So, once again tossing harm aside, I ask Harv what he needed from me.
“Producing, directing, writing, hosting, editing, you know.”
“I do now.” I think this over. “And, just so I see the division of work here, what are you, exactly, going to do?”
“I’ll be hosting, promoting it on the air, and getting the location.”
“So you’ll show up for a couple shoots, talk about it on your show, and con some bar you hang out in to let us take over?”
I’m thinking this is the one I may die at.
“Let me make some calls.” Harv is enthused (do you see the nefarious underpinning he has?).
“When do we need to deliver?”
“The middle of August.”
It’s going to take a month of promotion, a couple of weeks to shoot and edit, a week to secure the equipment, days to con a crew to work for free, hours to sleep. Yeah, I think I can pull it off.
I begin by talking to a guy I’d worked with quite often, Joe Giglio, to see if he’d be interested. Much of it falls to him because I need someone I can trust to do their job. I don’t really trust him, but, for free, he’s as trustworthy as I can get.
He’ll be in charge of getting the equipment, getting it to the site, setting it up, breaking it down, doing sound during the shoots, basically, anything I’ll be too distracted to pay attention to.
Good thing he said yes, huh?
I called in a couple of people, Ron Cox (who I’d also con, I mean, excite with the opportunity, to draw the logo seen at the top of the page) and Fred Henderson, to do camera. Because I won’t have time to also host, Harv and I decided on Jennifer Fay.
To hedge my bets, I called in some actors in case the regular singers weren’t irregular enough. Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that but I’m not putting in all this time without hedging my bets.
As August 1st approached things were going swimmingly. By that I mean George Manfra okayed us taking enough equipment to shoot a space launch and secured time to edit this mess once it’s in the can. There wasn’t much I could do in the writing area until I actually had folks to make fun of. So I waited.
And was rewarded with a day as sweltering as the Devil’s scrotum on a nude beach in St. Martin. By the time Joe and I schlep the equipment into the club, park the van in the radio stations secured lot (did I mention the club Harv picked was in a city titled, by him, ‘The city of sirens’? At 5PM, when Joe and I arrived at the club, in the middle of this city, it looked as if a neutron bomb had gone off. We could have set up the equipment in the middle of this main thoroughfare without worry that a vehicle would crash into it. That it would be stolen if we blinked? Hell yeah! Why do you think we had Fred with us?) then look around the club. It became abundantly clear rather quickly we’d have some issues.
“This room doesn’t have air conditioning, does it?”
Just unpacking cameras caused us to sweat stains into the carpet we were kneeling on. While looking around the room trying to figure out how to light this hot box as minimally as possible I noticed another obstacle.
“Hey Joe,” I call as he looks from behind the camera shaking sweat off his head. “Did you notice the walls are paneled brown and the ceiling is black?”
This is not good. There will be no minimal lighting tonight. The brown wall we could have defused but couple that with a black ceiling and we have a light black hole. I make the only decision I can.
“Go get the rest of the lights out of the truck.”
This is going to smell ugly.
Little by little the crew straggles in. I’m happy to see the actors. I tell them not to get too hammered because, if things go to shit, we’re going to have to devise something to pull my ass out of trouble. Again, having an abundance of people to make fun of turned out to not be a problem.
Keeping the karaoke equipment running in this heat, though, turned out to be a very big one. A good friend, Ernie Parent, volunteered to bring his rig down and host this portion of the events. I was forever grateful to him until, about an hour in, he tells me his machine won’t open. It seized up. It will kara no more oke.
I think about the singers I’ve had so far and I do not have a show. Even if I drained every moment of footage, there isn’t enough. By now I’m surly (okay, surlier than usual), sweaty and have about half a dozen barely sipped and hot beers strewn around the console.
Let me tell you, if even one of them was still frosty, I would have poured it over the karaoke deck to see if it would help. I step into the main bar (which was air conditioned, by the way) because it’s unseemly for your crew to see you flip out.
While sitting there, next to one of the people we’ve already shot (who made the show), Ernie comes up to me and informs me that the clubs karaoke guy will let us use his deck.
But it takes over half an hour to do the switch.
Do you know how drunk karaoke people, not to mention actors, can get in thirty minutes? Pretty damn drunk, let me tell you.
I spend most of the half hour running around telling Harv to make sure everyone on the list to sing have signed a release WAY before they’re drunk. Although our release is ironclad, I’d feel better if they spelled their names correctly.
We finally get back on the road and it goes as well as can be expected. One cameraman (who will remain nameless but was mentioned earlier and his initials are not FH) got enthralled by a singer with an over bite so I had to walk over to him, leaving the safety and sanctity of my control area, and smack him to get him to follow my directions.
People kept coming over to ask when the show was going to air (I’m sure none of them would have believed if I told them 2007). Others came over asking if they were going to make the cut (I told them I wouldn’t know until after I logged the tapes, picked out things I could trash, and then edited the best of it together). And then the worst thing happened.
The best act, a brother/sister thing, entered the stage. They were great. A little too touchy, a little too cheery, a little to easy to beat into the ground with a comedy truncheon.
I made sure the cameras got the best shots, I made sure every cut was on the money, I made sure to make sure I had their release in my pocket.
They finish whatever song from Grease they did with the sister jumping into the brothers arms and I am beside myself. Too many jokes to write, too many more people to shoot. I’m beginning to feel as if we’ve crossed that level and I now have enough to fill the show. The rest is gravy and, hopefully, even tastier.
“I, ah, didn’t have the tape deck running on that one.” I look at Joe, that clown, and laugh. And just as quickly stop. I can tell by his expression he’s not busting my balls. “Sorry.”
I get distracted by Ernie calling up the next performer so the urge to shoot Joe (and I did have a gun back there. But that’s another story) was trumped. It didn’t pass. It just got pushed back do to work.
More performers passed through, more releases were signed, and, at closing time, with everyone asking when we’re going to do this again, Joe, Fred, and I take our sweaty asses and break down the equipment.
At that moment, I don’t know if I have the linchpin of the show. I know I have a few performances that will make air. I know I was saved a couple of times by the crew, but I guess it’s true, you always lament the one that got away.
I spend the next week logging tapes and writing bits. Some of the performers were actually good. Which means they were useless to me (one woman called months later after she’d seen the show complaining about not being on. It seems she’d been calling Harv every day until he gave her my number. “You saw the show, right?” I asked. She said yes. “Did you notice that I tore everyone a new asshole?” Yes, she said. “Ma’am, you were too good for me to rip apart.” “I can do worse next time,” she said). But, by the end of the week, I cobbled together what I felt was enough to fill the time.
So, with script in hand, we headed to the basement of MATV and shot the hosts bits which I edited into the final tape. When I say we used the last piece of tape we had I am not exaggerating. Harv’s wave at the end was followed by the camera shutting down.
Joe and I spent the next week editing. Joe was talking about modifying his van and taking the show on the road. All we needed was the green light and he’d be on the road.
On the 15th we got everyone together to watch the final edit. Everyone was happy so I pulled the master out of the deck and handed it to Harv. The next day he delivered it, on time, to the production manager of the station.
And we waited.
By the second week, I knew something was up. In my experience, if there’s a rush and it ends up sitting there for weeks, there’s a problem. Harv stayed on top of it and all the reports he was getting were positive. They even scheduled an air date to test it with their audience. We were even told to look into a few other locations. I had to talk Joe out of taking a sawsall to his van after he heard that.
And then we got the news. The hold up had nothing to do with the show. They could see Harv had a good idea. It turned out they were in the middle of selling the station and the new owners were moving in a direction that wasn’t interested in having people trash them earnest karaoke folk.
After getting that info there was the normal letdown. We kept pushing but, having missed the production season, all we could do was wait. And with waiting comes changes in attention, project inertia, Joe’s death (no, I didn’t shoot him), and, just like that, our attentions were drawn away from Kouch Karaoke.
At the time, many people involved wanted to see it. But, there were a couple of problems. 1) I didn’t want many of these people in my house. But the biggest was 2) we never got the master tape back. It’s not for lack of trying and, although that sucks, I did the next best thing. Using a scratch copy, we aired it for quite some time on MATV. People got to see it and everyone was happy with the outcome.
Every once in a while I’ll get together with Harv, or an actor, even friends and strangers and we’ll laugh about Kouch Karaoke. In the end, that’s what we were after in the first place.
On this tape are parody commercials, including a couple world famous Henderbeer commercials, we placed in to air it on MATV in a thirty minute slot.