Music

Ernie Kovacs Presents Percy Dovetonsils...thpeaks

While Kovacs' reputation is unshakeable, his most famous character does not travel well.


Ernie Kovacs

Ernie Kovacs Presents Percy Dovetonsils...thpeaks

Label: Omnivore
US Release Date: 2012-06-19
UK Release Date: 2012-06-19
Amazon
iTunes

When I was eight or nine, our local independent channel started showing old Ernie Kovacs episodes late at night. My father, a huge Kovacs nut, would let me stay up to watch them with him. Even then, I realized two things: A) Yes, Kovacs was some kind of crazy genius of early TV, and B) A lot of the humor that left my dad wheezing with laughter on the living room floor just didn't mean much to me... even the Nairobi Trio, who were supposed to be apes playing jazz music and hitting each other on the head. That should have been a slam dunk for a nine-year-old boy, but it just seemed kind of creepy.

In recent years, there have been plenty of re-issues of Ernie Kovacs' work. I am now able to appreciate his deconstruction of the new medium of television, and some of the jokes seem funnier. But some of them just fall flat even now...and one of them is Kovacs' most famous character. Percy Dovetonsils was a poet who was among the earliest examples of homosexual stereotyping on TV. He lisped, minced around, and talked to his off-camera assistant Bruce. Percy would periodically pop up lisping his new poem, which was always in Ogden Nash-like doggerel couplets, and then giggle in a self-satisfied way. It doesn't seem particularly mean, necessarily, and that was a different time, blah blah blah. But this is how my father and a lot of people of his generation still act when they are making fun of gay men. I wonder to this day how influential the character of Percy Dovetonsils was.

This CD contains the material Kovacs recorded in the early 1960s for an album that never saw the light of day. I thought that maybe the audio medium of Percy Dovetonsils...thpeaks could help me chill out about the stereotyping issue and just listen to the hilarious poetry.

Sadly, the record just isn't that funny. Percy's poems were supposed to be bad; even as a longtime appreciator of bad poetry, that joke gets old pretty quickly. Some poems, like "Some Pertinent Thoughts of Julius Caesar While He Was Being Assassinated", still stand up; Caesar starts bragging about how he has provided "two chariots in every garage... and free orgies at the Acropolis", and then calling out everyone who is "thtabbing" him over and over. And the class satire of "The Night Before Christmas on New York's Fashionable East Side" is still pretty funny.

But most of the other stuff here just isn't based on everything. "Ode to Stanley's Pussycat" is just a series of jokes about psychoanalysis, which might have been pretty topical back then but seems corny now. Many of the pieces are under one minute long, which means they are one joke long, which is pretty bad when the joke doesn't work.The best stuff here is appended at the end at the disc; Edie Adams, Kovacs' co-star and widow, helped to rescue old kinescopes from the "Kovacs Unlimited" archives. Here, Kovacs is younger and edgier, and mostly improvising, so the character is actually in context...and a lot funnier. But by then, one's patience has been worn to a nub.

A lot of comedy records from back then still stand up today: Bill Cosby's best records, Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar's "2000 Year Old Man", and more. Those records have something at their core. This, however, does not; it's just a series of jokes based on a character that -- thankfully -- no longer resonates to the average American.

4

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image