First of all, just let me say this: There is too much goddamn 1980s nostalgia out there. Oh yeah, it was a pretty big decade, ten years long in fact, and a lot of memorable stuff happened. But there were other decades too, you know? So I’m going to make a few posts now and in the future here about the decade that everyone seems to not remember: The 1990s. Aside from a couple things here and there, like Monica Lewinsky or the golden age of gangsta rap, the whole decade seems to have either been forgotten or mixed up with the two surrounding ten-year periods. People always seem to forget that the pastel-colored, pre-grunge period of Vanilla Ice and slap bracelets wasn’t part of the 1980s, that the Internet was a thing that people started to actually have somewhere around 1995, and that the pseudo-goth nu-metal phase everyone went through started a lot closer to 1997 than to 2003.
And really, when people somewhere around my age throw around how they were “a child of the 80s,” they don’t realize what that means: You were a CHILD of the 80s, meaning you probably barely remember anything that actually happened as it actually happened, aside from what DVDs you bought and websites you read when you were 25 or older told you about the time. We were children of the 80s, but we grew up in the 90s. Big difference. You knew and loved G.I. Joe, but you weren’t quoting episodes or keeping track of the variants in Bazooka’s lower leg plastic or whatever until you became a 20-something dork. Your brain comes online somewhere around the age of five or so, yeah, but there’s another good four or five years before it really kicks in and your memories start to have any real substance beyond “oh man, what were those toys where the truck turned into this thing with missiles? Those were awesome.” I think what I’m saying here is that us 20-30 somethings are way too enamored with being part of the 1980s to admit that the 1990s were really what made us into the terrible people that we are. And I may be a terrible person, but I know where I came from, and these are a few of my memories. Let me show you them.
Part One: I REMEMBER THE COMEDY CHANNEL
Growing up, cable television was a whole different game than it is today. There were only a handful of cable stations, and for the most part, they all actually served some distinguishable purpose. You had ESPN for sports, MTV for music, (I know, right?) Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel (which was a pay channel back then) for the childrens, and HBO, Cinemax, and The Movie Channel for boobies. It wasn’t like it is today, where there are eight thousand cable channels, most repeat the purpose of a channel that already existed, and the basic theme of a channel usually just masks the fact that it’s another one with a good twenty hours of reality TV in any given day. But in 1990, moving out of university apartments and an into an actual house, served by an actual cable company was absolutely amazing. Why? Because we had thirty-five channels all of a sudden. Actually, more like 33, because it started at 2, and 34 was just local announcements. But still. We had sports channels, children’s channels, family channels, history channels, superstations, CSPANs, a whole channel dedicated to entertainment (which was rarely actually entertaining), and if you used a cable box other than the one that Warner Cable gave you, you could watch scrambled Wrestlemanias on channel 52. It was a whole new world of amazingness that a shitty little antisocial kid like me could explore for hours on end, without ever having to see the same thing twice. So naturally, I only watched one of them. I liked funny things, and since there was not yet an all Arnold Schwarzenegger channel or one dedicated to dinosaurs fighting, (those have to exist by now, right?) this new-fangled Comedy Channel was my thing. And thinking back, it was really weird that during the 18 months or so that I got to see it, there was a staggeringly small amount of original programming on the network, and it was almost entirely made up of clips of various movies and stand-up comedy shows from the HBO library, shown one after another, MTV-style. Off the top of my head, (and Wikipedia seems to support this) there were only something like six actual original shows, and of those, four still consisted heavily of clips.
Being able to find a picture of the Higgins Boys & Gruber, Allan Havey, Rachel Sweet, and Tommy Sledge in one place almost makes me more scared of Google Image Search than the fact that searching for “cutest baby animals ever” will somehow end up finding only porn.
Short Attention Span Theater and that other show with the really long name: There were two shows that were actually fully designated as “clip shows,” the first one being Short Attention Span Theater, which was later expanded (after the merger that eventually led to Comedy Central existing) into a show with news and hosts Jon Stewart (yeah, THAT Jon Stewart) and Patty Rosborough, (and later, a whole bunch of others, but off the top of my head, Marc Maron might have spent the most time in the chair) and was seriously the place where I first found out that Andre the Giant had died, officially ending my childhood. Like seriously, this was back before the steroids and coke got bad enough that prominent ‘rasslers were dropping three a day like they do now, I was too young to know about Adrian Adonis, and as a WWF guy, I was barely aware of the existence of Bruiser Brody, so this was the first wrestler death I ever really had to deal with. It was just terrible, man. Anyway, before that, S.A.S.T. was just movie and stand-up clips with nothing else, complete with a voice over during the opening saying that this format made for “cheap, cheap programming.” There was also a complete identical show that existed for some reason that was seriously entitled Monday Through Friday, Your Times May Vary, with a little jingle for the opening that seriously just had the lyrics, “Monday Through Friday/ Your Times May Vary / From coast to coast / without any host/ on the Comedy Channel / five days a week.” Somehow, I remembered that, and I swear to god, that’s a thing that actually existed. I was going to go into a whole thing about how awesome it was to have all this access to all these stand-up comics from the golden-ass age of the 80s and early 90s, but seriously, there’s probably enough there for a whole ‘nother post, so I’m gonna sit on that for a while.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Really, if you’re on the internet, you probably know about this show, you’ve probably seen several episodes, and you’ve probably joined a letter-writing campaign to get it un-cancelled by the Sci-Fi Network. So I’m not going to really go into this one, aside from saying that I got to see it when Larry was Dr. Forrester’s assistant instead of TV’s Frank, and that means I’m special.
The Higgins Boys & Gruber: This show had the three-man comedy troupe consisting of brothers Dave and Steve Higgins and their buddy Gruber. (Dave Allen – On the last episode I think, they explained how he got the name by the way their little crew of friends used to refer to each other as “groover” back in the 70s, but he’d always screw it up as “groober” until it became his name.) Most of the show seemed to consist of them just lounging hard in their kitchen, drinking coffee and being stereotypical early 90s slacker types, but there was also a decent amount of sketch comedy, the standard Comedy Channel clips, and full episodes of creepy 1960s puppet action show Supercar and creepy 1960s cartoon-like horror-nightmare Clutch Cargo, where shitty cartoons spoke through actual human mouths and OH GOD THE SPIDERS ARE BACK. And this one time, they did this weird multi-part thing called “Pig Boy,” where Dave was this half man, half pig dude that had been sold to a circus, and it was really kind of disturbing, and not all that funny, but interesting all the same. Really, it was better than it sounds, but it definitely provided my least favorite memory of the channel. After it was announced that The Comedy Channel and Ha! were merging to become CTV, (Once again, today you call it Comedy Central) whoever was in charge for the last few weeks simply did not give a fuck, so there was a pretty excruciating period of a few weeks where I’d get home from school to see the exact same episode of this show over and over for about three full hours, up until the point where they finally did some sort of farewell episode with hosts from the other shows as guests, right before the switch. Or actually that might have been on Night After Night with Allan Havey, but something like that happened at some point. Shut up. Once the show died, they went on doing their thing in comedy clubs and on TV specials for a while, and I can clearly remember Dave as a regular on Malcolm in the Middle and Ellen, and Gruber still shows up as any long-haired hippie college professor character in every modern sitcom, ever. Steve Higgins remains a mystery to me however, which I’m sure he’d love to know. It wasn’t part of the show at any point, but “Cross Country Trucker” is the thing they did that sticks with me the most. Maybe it’s the “naked, burly and free” part, I dunno.
Night After Night with Allan Havey: Man, this was just a cool-ass show, and if no one’s ripped it off yet, someone needs to bring it back in one form or another. It was a lot like your basic late night talk show hosted by a stand-up comic, but slowed down and stretched out into this three-hour show without the studio audience. (actually, they had one, but it would be a literal “Audience of One,” where they would just bring one guy in off the street and let him watch the show quietly) And the guests were crazy sometimes, like the time they actually had Lemmy and Wurzel from Motorhead stop by, or when they spent what felt like the whole show just chilling with Bootsy Collins. Also of note was that the Paul Shaffer to Havey’s Letterman, was voiceover guy extraordinaire Nick Bakay, who still shows up all over the place, but off the top of my head, he’s probably best known for his stuff for NFL.com, being one of the Angry Beavers, and being the talking cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Being a three hour show, this was a pretty cool way to just chill out whenever it was a weekend and I’d stay up way into the night, especially when they’d follow it with an MST3K episode. I sorted through a lot of football cards while watching (or mostly listening) to this show, back when that still meant separating a 6-inch stack of ’87 Topps from a 2-inch stack of ’88 Topps and half a damn shoebox of ’90 Fleer. Good times, good times.
Comedy Channel Sports/Sports Monster: This was back when Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, and Craig Kilborn were blowing up huge on ESPN SportsCenter, so Comedy Central had to get into the game with Comedy Channel Sports, which seemed to mostly be quick little shorts, before becoming Sports Monster, which was a full-fledged half hour show. The guys behind the desk were Nick Bakay, pulling triple-duty as sports guy, Allan Havey sidekick, and station ID announcer, along with stand-ups Joe Bolster “the former future hall of famer” and “The much-travelled catcher” Jon Hayman. There was a whole lot of sports bloopers announced as serious sports highlights, along with the ongoing storyline of Bolster and Hayman as retired baseball players, where Hayman was an utter failure and Bolster was a superstar millionaire. Most of my memories of this are pretty hazy, aside from Bakay also portraying the characters Coach “Squirt” Lurtzema and Sir richard Hind, including a public debate between the two, and this one time where he conducted a penetrating interview with Sargent Slaughter, who was with some other military-themed wrestler, possibly Colonel DeBeers or Corporal Kirschner. Man, it always comes back to wrestling. Jesus.
The Sweet Life With Rachel Sweet, Tommy Sledge: Private Eye, and Onion World: Honestly, these were three shows that I barely ever watched, so there’s just not as much to say about them. The Sweet Life was a talk show, maybe (I think?) starring Rachel Sweet, and Wikipedia tells me that she never actually was a comedian, and was a musician of some level of success, despite no one ever having heard of her. Apparently, she did the opening theme for Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains it All, and then more or less re-used it for her own show, changing the words from “na na na” to “doo doo doo,” in a display of lyrical genius. I honestly don’t remember this show being any good at all, aside from it being the only place where the Comedy Channel would show old Mr. Bill shorts. I remember the show got cancelled all of a sudden, and for a while, hosts of other shows kept cryptically hinting that there was some sort of money-related scandal involved. Weird. I just remember her having this weird, squeaky, child-like voice, and when I think about it, that must have been in vogue in the first half of the 90s, because that’s when Juliana Hatfield was getting major MTv air time and Joey Lauren Adams still had somewhat of an acting career. Maybe someday, the mouse-voice will mae a comeback, and they can all have their day in the sun again.
Tommy Sledge was a dude who based a whole standup comedy routine around being a film noir detective, which is crazy and probably some level of genius, but the show just didn’t work. He’d show an old episode of Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp, would possibly solve a mystery of some sort, and then, I’d change the channel. Later, I saw him do his regular standup deal on Comedy Central, and it wasn’t all that bad, honestly. But the show was kind of ass.
Onion World was a weekly news thing with Rich Hall of Not Necessarily the News, Saturday Night Live, and Sniglets fame, and really, I can remember it being good as hell, but I think it was the only show on the channel that really did only get shown once a week, as opposed to daily or even multiple times daily like the others. So my memories of it aren’t really ground into my brain the way the others are. I seem to remember how there was an assholeish ventriloquist’s dummy named Professor Popper who sang this song one time about crashing his car into Frank Lloyd Wright or something like that, but when I read that sentence back to myself, that is insane and has to be some weird mutation of things that really did happen. Wow. If that wasn’t something that was really on the show, I think I must be secretly high somehow.
Anyway, I’m leaving out a bunch of stuff like movies, the giant library of standup specials that I might get to later, and constant Kids in the Hall reruns, bu things went on like this up until early ’91 I think, and then the Ha! merger happened, which sucked, because only MST3K remained of the original shows, while all reruns of the Ha! shows, which mostly sucked but had way better production values and all seemed to somehow involve Dennis Leary, took over the channel for a while, until eventually South Park happened and shit got real. But anyway, it’s weird to think that a cable TV juggernaut like Comedy Central began twenty years ago as a shitty little thing with a handful of shows with public access level production values, and that shitty little thing took over my televised life over the course of its existence.
NEXT TIME ON I REMEMBER THE 90S, UNLESS I DECIDE TO DO SOMETHING ELSE: I remember how O.J. Simpson and Court TV turned us all into a nation of monsters.