Even many Baby Boomers may not recall Ernie Kovacs, a maverick comedian who died in a car crash in 1962, just shy of his 43rd birthday. But the cigar-chomping iconoclast is worth celebrating, since he set the stage for so much off-the-wall TV humor to come, from Monty Python to Saturday Night Live — and beyond.
Now Shout! Factory is releasing a treasure from Kovacs’ final output, Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials, with five of the eight half-hour shows he did for the network in the last year of his life.
This isn’t ordinary TV, and for viewers content with their conditioning, it may be a slog. There’s often no dialogue, just weird situations, but the bizarre bent was revolutionary for its time, and Kovacs helped pave the way for turning the so-called idiot box or boob tube into a medium for lunatic art.
“It’s been real,” Kovacs liked to say at the end of a show, coining a term that’s remained to this day. Actually, his humor was more surreal, but the reality was the laughter — or at least quizzical bemusement — it provoked.
It’s almost pointless to try describing this material, other than to acknowledge the better known programs Kovacs influenced, especially Monty Python’s Flying Circus. One nutty sketch is quickly followed by another, with no attempt at cohesion or even much coherence. But weird humor laces through it all.
Suffice it to say that Kovacs was a brilliant entertainer who was ahead of his time, and the adventurous are advised to check him out.
— Bruce Westbrook
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