Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Feast Day of Saint Demento

My Fellow Comedists,

Today is the 70th birthday of Barry Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento. Long before we had YouTube and e-mail to help comedy go viral, Dr. Demento and his syndicated radio program were our primary vector for infectious laughter.

The son of a classical pianist, he is also a trained musician, but turned his interest towards popular music writing a master's thesis on the development of R&B in the 40s and early 50s at UCLA. Turning his back on the traditional life of an ethnomusicologist, he became a roadie for Canned Heat and eventually worked his way into the record industry as a talent scout. He picked up a gig on a Pasadena radio station playing new and undiscovered artists, but started mixing in classic novelty tunes like "Monster Mash," "Alley Oop," and "One Eyed, One Horned, Flying Purple People Eater" which listeners went nuts for. And so Dr. Demento became the place where Spike Jones and Tom Lehrer could be heard next to new and emerging comic and off-beat voices. It was one of the few places on the radio you could hear Frank Zappa.

It was Dr. Demento's background as a scout that led him to lean as much on unproven figures as he did on well-established folks and as a result became a launching pad for many, most notably Weird Al Yankovic. His annual collections were a place comedy fans could go for access to tunes you could not find at the local record stores...back when we had record stores...back when we had records...

Happy bithday, Dr. Demento. Thank you for all the opportunities you've given to comics and for all the laughs for all the years.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve