Saturday, January 5, 2019

Super Dave | Lefsetz Letter

I’d like to say he had the first cable series, but the truth is “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” started a year earlier, in ’86, it wasn’t until ’87 that the “Super Dave Osborne” show premiered. And now they’re both dead.

I was thinking how nobody died over Christmas. Sure, Penny Marshall passed, but she was known to be sick, usually we’re surprised, the deaths come from left field, like James Brown and George Michael. But then right after the New Year, a trifecta, they made it through the holidays and then they expired, Pegi Young, Daryl Dragon and Bob Einstein.

I have sympathy for Pegi. She gets divorced and then dies of cancer, a double whammy. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. This is where I tell you to appreciate every moment, to go to the doctor, but nobody listens anyway. Everybody’s young until they’re old. And in our youth-obsessed culture, the pains and failures and thoughts of the aged are hidden. You wake up one day and you realize time has run out for you to achieve your fantasy. You are who you are. And odds are life is not gonna get better. Maybe you saved enough for retirement, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you can afford your drugs, maybe you can’t. But one thing you do is talk about family and entertainment, and to a great degree they’re the same thing, the people on-screen we believe are our family.

Now Pegi lived in the shadow of Neil. And after Toni Tennille’s book we thought less of the Captain. Turns out he could not be close. Funny, Toni’s tome didn’t attack Daryl, she just told her truth, and we had sympathy for her, because everybody’s entitled to a little lovin’, touchin’, and squeezin’, as Steve Perry put it.

And Tony and the Captain had hits. And at least the obits have noted Daryl’s tenure with the Beach Boys, during their seventies comeback, from has-beens to hipsters. But… I don’t think anybody goes to bed thinking about the Captain and Tennille.

But we do think about Super Dave and Marty Funkhouser.

Albert Brooks was the funniest man in Hollywood who never got the accolades until he played straight characters. It’s almost like he missed his moment, that Steve Martin had his career. But Brooks was less obvious, more intellectual. Brooks assumed you were smart, that you got the jokes, so he went deeper. So if you’re a fan of “Lost In America” or “Modern Romance” you testify about those films, the insights into the (upper) middle class mind.

But Super Dave played to the lowest common denominator, he was stupid, but you could always tell Bob Einstein was smart, it was a conundrum.

This was in the era when there were 57 channels and nothing on. Before cable was digital and you stole pay channels. When everybody had HBO, and some had Showtime, which was packaged with The Movie Channel.

Since it was on HBO, most people think “Dream On” was the first cable series. But it did not debut until 1990. Years after “Super Dave.”

So there was a minimum of product and you dialed in this bizarre show obviously shot on the cheap in Canada with its fake accidents, but you couldn’t stop watching, why?

It was Super Dave himself, Bob Einstein. The way he took it so seriously. He never let on that it was a joke. This was not SNL with characters laughing as they’re reading, this was a bizarre set piece, a bottom of the barrel Andy Kaufman, but a lot more comprehensible.

But Andy died.

And now Bob has too.

So Bob was a low level guy in show business, not an insider’s comic, but the son of a man with a career, Parkyakarkus, who went into the family business.

And then came “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Marty Funkhouser was Super Dave, but better. He never broke character. He was the best friend you wanted to dump but couldn’t, because he was so reliable, because you could depend upon him, even though at times you hated him and made fun of him.

Funkhouser was a fish out of water. He knew all these famous people, but he was a nobody in real life. Not that he knew this. He thought everybody liked him, he thought he was a member of the group, when the truth is he was tolerated.

Anything worth remembering takes a long time percolating, before it gets recognition. “Breaking Bad,” which didn’t break until it was on Netflix. “Seinfeld,” which bumped around time slots.

And “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Only superfans knew who Larry David was, that he was the essence of “Seinfeld,” the viewpoint. And it wasn’t until a few seasons in that “Curb”‘s lines became part of the conversation. Of which there were many, but my favorite is when Larry’s dad, Shelley Berman, says after the baseball game, when he puts his glasses on…IT’S A HOOKER!

And there’s been a lot of notice paid in the last twenty four hours to Marty’s joke in the “Seinfeld” reunion arc on “Curb”…

But that’s not what I remember.

I remember the air going out of the room whenever Marty entered. The way he became sincerely incensed over minor trifles when Larry couldn’t care less. The way he wanted people to be his friend, even though they really didn’t want to.

And sure, the show is filled with iconic performances, like Susie’s, like Larry’s himself, but Marty was part of the fabric, you know he would always return, and when he did you’d get that sense of anticipation, that something would go wrong, that Marty would not get the joke, that he’d make everybody uncomfortable but never be ostracized.

So the show will never be the same.

Then again, things rarely are. It’s all about moments in time. And you’d better enjoy the ones you’ve got, because they are all you’re getting.

But it’s performances like those of Bob Einstein/Super Dave/Marty Funkhouser that intrigue us, that are signposts in our lives, because we know people like this, we thought we were the only ones, but now, through the magic of Larry David’s concepts and Bob Einstein’s improvisations, we know we are not alone.

So, when a President dies, an icon, it’s all of our pain and shock.

But it’s the leaders of the secret club who get to us. The ones we have a personal relationship with even though they don’t know it. We open our browser, we lift up our phone, and we find they’re gone from our life.

But never forgotten.

That’s show business, that’s life. One wink, one small role, can burn your identity into the brains of viewers.

Bob Einstein was not everywhere…

But he’s right there in our brains, never to be forgotten.


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