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August 2008

TV Funhouse

A kids’ show that’s not for kids

You probably know Robert Smigel’s work without knowing his name. As one of the best writers in the history of Saturday Night Live he penned classics like a McLaughlin Group parody starring a demented Dana Carvey and Bill Swerski’s Superfans. He became head writer at Late Night when Conan O’Brien took over and reinvented late night comedy with characters like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and recurring bits like the Clutch Cargo-aping Syncro-Vox segments which superimposed his lips on the faces of everyone from George W. Bush to Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the mid-90s he returned to SNL with a brilliant set of cartoons produced in association with J.J. Sedelmaier that he dubbed “Saturday TV Funhouse.” It was his biggest success yet, giving us The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Fun With Real Audio and The X-Presidents, among others.

It’s doubtful that you’re as familiar with the eight episode series Smigel produced for Comedy Central in 2000. TV Funhouse was hosted by Smigel regular Doug Dale, who wore a different ridiculous getup each week depending on that episode’s theme (ten gallon hat for Western Day, lei and grass skirt for Hawaiian Day) and conversed with his cast of Anipals, a splendid array of animal puppets voiced by Smigel and his friends Jon Glaser (Stroker from Stroker and Hoop) and Dino Stamatopoulos (Mr. Show writer and Moral Orel creator). Usually Chickie, the stir-crazy chicken member of the group, would get in some kind of trouble—like trying to rediscover his heritage in Tijuana and nearly being pecked to death at a cockfight, or attempting to buy a bride in Atlantic City only to get his thumb cut off by a pimp—and Dale and the rest of the Anipals would attempt to save him. Cartoons interspersed the action with unrelated, similarly inappropriate content.

Like Wonder Showzen, TV Funhouse used the primary color banality of kids’ shows as a springboard for its adult-oriented hijinks. But unlike the former’s tendency toward edgy provocation, TV Funhouse sought only to bring the funny. And that it did. The cartoons here are just as great as their more popular Saturday night counterparts, first class salutes to the Hanna-Barbera-esque animation we grew up with that just happen to be incredibly filthy. There’s Mischievous Mitchell, a terribly racist version of Dennis the Menace whose theme song includes the immortal lyric, “Hateful but adorable, it's really quite deplorable.” Wonderman is a superhero who uses his awesome powers to get his puny human alter ego laid. There’s the recurring trio The Baby, the Immigrant, and the Guy on Mushrooms, who get impressed by anything and everything. And who could forget the kid-friendly Black Sabbath Show with their lovable sidekick Doom Doom the Dog?

The show didn’t last long, probably more due to Smigel’s hugely diversified workload than ratings woes, but it’s more than worth a look for fans of his more popular SNL toons. Anyway, where else are you gonna find a show that combines Robert Goulet and Hootie and the Blowfish cameos with a cartoon called “Porn For Kids”? Nowhere. I think.


  © copyright scott howard