Ray Manzarek died today. I had a radio show at college in Wisconsin and while I honestly don’t recall playing The Doors much, I loved talking about music trivia and not-terribly obvious connections between bands. One such tidbit was that Manzarek had worked with Echo And The Bunnymen & X, which I loved, partly because I like seeing the bridges between generations of music and how there’s often very little room for any sort of snobbery (which is usually the domain of fans/critics and absent in artists ) about old versus new music.
Years later I was in NYC doing improv and sketch comedy. For a time, our sketch group would be asked to be part of various smorgasbord comedy shows, usually for Comedy Central but other places too. The ill-fated UPN did a pilot called The Virtual Ed Sullivan Show. (No, really.) It was a bizarre attempt to re-capture the magic of the decades-gone original, complete with a motion-capture animated projection of Ed Sullivan; acted by the comedian/impressionist John Byner. (Go ahead and read that back, it’s all there.) The show was taped in a theater (versus on a typical tv soundstage) Byner did his Sullivan impersonation in a full motion-capture body suit in a separate room, custom green-screened, upstairs from the theater. The animated Ed appeared on a giant screen on stage. (I know, grim.) The (potential) viewers at home would see the cartoon Ed on the stage similarly to when animated characters accept Oscars™ etc. I’ve over-explained, sorry.
Bizarre as the concept was the line-up for the shoot which they’d hoped would yield a few episodes, was very true to the Sullivan style: Violinist Sarah Chang, puppet comic Jeff Dunham, dance show cast Tap Dogs, a contortionist named Malenga, jugglers The Flying Karamazov Brothers, magician/storyteller/actor Ricky Jay, acrobats, The Bert Fershners (the sketch comedy group I was in) and the beat poetry of Michael McClure accompanied by Ray Manzarek on piano.
Backstage was (perhaps obviously) a pretty bizarre scene. The basement of the theater was sectioned off for acts to hang out in different areas. In our area, Malenga was practicing putting his body through a tennis racket, Ricky Jay was practicing card tricks and not being particularly chatty, Michael McClure was pacing, and then the peaceful Ray Manzarek just hanging out with his wife. My group and a couple guests were sort of keeping to ourselves in a semi-private curtained room.
I felt bold and introduced myself to Ray and his wife. We chatted a bit, (I remember I tried to sound cool talking about his work with X and Echo instead of The Doors) and then I asked if I could introduce him to the rest of my group. He was delighted. He walked around and introduced himself to all of us and our friends like we were his peers or something. It was such a completely non-rock star, kind, friendly gesture, I’m surprised just recalling it. It’s the kind of thing you’d hope for if you were going to be acting along side this person, in the same scene and had dialog together (but even then such a cheerful introduction definitely does not always happen.) But we were entirely separate acts, this guy didn’t need to bond with the sketch group nerds. He was just being an awesome guy.
I told Ray we’d recently made a comedy cd of some songs and sketches and could I send him one. (I was emboldened.) He said something like: “Absolutely! I’d love it” and wrote down an address to send the cd. Of course, I wasted little time getting the cd in the mail to him. I later thought about how ridiculous it had been to be so geeked-out to send our cd to a rock god; like his accepting it might possibly have some effect on our career or something. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t.) But it was amusing to picture an assistant at a record label or agency opening an envelope and saying “huh, some weird comedy group sent Ray their cd” before it went directly into the garbage.
A couple of weeks later, however, something did happen. It wasn’t career changing but it certainly made our day (and then some.) I got home from a long day of whatever b.s. was going on in NYC with us at the time and checked the answering machine (it was the late 90’s, folks.) There were some messages, mostly dumb stuff (at least by comparison to the last one) and then: “Oh hey, Bert Fershners, Ray Manzarek here, thank you for the cd, very funny stuff guys, great job, I laughed a lot” and then something about being in touch if/when we might be performing in L.A. again and then “Okay, Ray Manzarek, signing off, bye.”
That guy was all class. Thanks, Ray. Rest in peace.
"I had the good fortune to return to the amazing SUPEREGO podcast last week. If you’ve not heard it before, please do yourself the favor and listen. The Superego podcast is a strong candidate for funniest, most creative thing I know of. The four guys, Matt Gourley, Jeremy Carter, Mark McConville and Jeff Crocker, who comprise Superego might be geniuses. Like their SAT scores were probably perfect and they’re probably terrible at relationships and live in hovels, but they probably solve complex math problems with a marker on windows, etc. Y’know, geniuses. The GREAT news is that they put their amazing skills to no good use; instead they make a podcast so funny I can only listen to it on the toilet or while wearing a diaper or out in the woods naked. Notice I haven’t gone into any specific detail about what they do or how they do it. Notice I also haven’t wiped your ass, you lazy ingrate. Just listen to the podcast. In this episode, I guest star as author Sue Grafton, and the things we improvised are so weird I’m actually concerned about my future employability. Also, I’ll say that the more I listen to Superego, the better I get at comedy, in case that’s something you’re interested in. These guys are lower-case “h” heroes to me. (Upper case “H” heroes to me are metal bands and grandmothers and shit, not whippersnappers.)
FINALLY, other esteemed guests on this episode include:
Paul F. Tompkins - Dan Harmon - Steve Agee - Kevin Murphy - Bill Corbett - Jeff Bryan Davis
If you’re so inclined, please “reblog” this blogg so that others may learn about Superego. Thanks!"