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JEAN SHEPHERD–Listener participation

My recent “Mad As Hell” post focusing on Shep’s invectives inspiring a scene in the film “Network;” scenes in “A Thousand Clowns;” and, maybe as a second generation/once removed from “Network,” Dee Snider’s Twisted Sister mega-hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” inspired Joel Baumwoll to post, in part, “‘Hurling invectives’ was one of several ‘pranks’ in which Shep cajoled his listeners to participate as co-conspirators.  As far as I know, this was unique among radio or television performers.  He made the listeners feel they were part of his act, and I think that created a strong bond between him and the ‘kids’ who listened to him.” [I emphasize in red some of the aspects of Shep’s clever ways to bring his listeners into participating, exploiting his followers into upsetting the domestic tranquility of the nation’s creeping meatballism.]

Joel goes on to mention several of Shep’s other pranks.

[I’d like to have a word other than “prank” but there may not be a better]:

PRANK, CAPER, LARK, LEG-PULL, PRACTICAL JOKE

Many of us, of course, are familiar with most of these maneuvers, but it took Joel to point out their relatedness. I’m going to elaborate on them, and I hope others will add to the list and elaborate on what I have to say.

#

HURL AN INVECTIVES

Although well-known as a major caper of Shepherd’s, very few have been noted down or even been available to hear. The most extended, as far as I’m aware, is the one I recorded on my reel-to-reel and quote in Excelsior, You Fathead! in which he builds up to it in part with the prototypical, “Put your radio on your windowsill now!” (Here–top one–is part of the quote from my book):

Myrtle! This is the third time you’ve come home drunk again. What about the kids? What about the kids, I ask ya? How long is this gonna go on? How long?

You don’t think for a moment you’re fooling anyone, do you?

How long do you thin you can get away with this? The jig is up!

You filthy pragmatist!

All right, you guys! Fall in. The doctor will be along in ten seconds. The uniform will be helmet liner, raincoats, and GI shoes, and nothing else! Let’s go!

Drop the gun, you rat! I’ve got the drop on you! Move one more time and you’re gonna get one between the eyes!

The “pragmatist” one was remembered by editor/publisher Paul Krasner. “Drop the gun” was Shep years later quoting himself on the Alan Colmes call-in program in 1998.

#

I, LIBERTINE

Hoax regarding fooling the book-buying-and-selling public by many listeners asking for a non-existent book has been discussed numerous times–here and elsewhere. The book’s afterword is a sly reference to the perpetrators–Sturgeon, Shepherd, Shepherd’s Night People listeners. Of course only those who were aware of the hoax would understand it.

afterword i lib

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MILLS

In these, Shepherd asks his listeners to gather at a particular place and time and just quietly walk around aimlessly (“mill”), which, just by its non-confrontational manner, would gently disconcert the clueless. (Later fads maybe mill-inspired: “happenings” and “flash mobs.”)

Burned-out Wanamaker store when he was fired.

Marboro book store.

Early days at “The Limelight Photography Gallery and Coffee Shop.”

Washington Square to fly tiny kites.

Wave a white towel at the beach or flick your light switch off and on at night and look to see how many others (fellow listeners) are doing it.

Related to “mills,” reportedly Shepherd fantasized  that many listeners should run to one side of a building to tilt it, or that they jump up and land at the same time to move Manhattan Island.

#

GROUP-YELL

During a live-at-the-Limelight broadcast, he would sometimes ask attendees to yell in unison to the radio audience:

EXCELSIOR!

THIS IS W-O-R AM AND FM IN NEW YORK.

#

WE BUY SOAP AND WE TAKE BATHS

When being considered “not commercial” by WOR’s management Shepherd suggests that listeners go out and buy Sweetheart Soap, not a sponsor.

sweetheart soap jpg

WOR management is outraged and fires Shep.

Sweetheart Soap offers and provides sponsorship.

#

_______________________________

There are a couple of other ways that Jean Shepherd promotes

a sense of community among his listeners:

CHUMMY APPELATIONS

Refers to them as ” Gang,” “Listeners,” “Fellow Sufferers”

Those who send in interesting comments/news-clippings that might seem to indicate a burgeoning trend: “cracks in the sidewalk,” or “straws in the wind,” he calls:

“My Spies”

#

CALL-INS

Although it’s well-known that Shep’s was not a “call-in show,” he did receive from time to time calls from listeners–most prominently from Lois Nettleton, then an aspiring actress–they eventually met, dated, married, and divorced. Usually one did not hear the caller’s voice, but sometimes one did, especially when Shep requested a particular response from the caller. One time he did a kind of communal celebration when he asked and got from the caller, on the air, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Shepherd.” Shepherd also sometimes took calls during commercial or news breaks–then I once got to talk to him but was so nervous, I sounded like the klutz I was at the time (I think I’ve improved a bit over these many decades.)

#

ENCOURAGING READING

Shepherd encourages his listeners to listen to and read various works of literature that he likes–at least in part so that they will feel this bond  of mutual enthusiasms: including haiku, Thomas Wolfe, Robert W. Service, Don Marquis (Archy & Mehitabel), George Ade, and various specific books which he discusses on the air with enthusiasm.

#

SUPPORTING THE ARTS

A major form of assisting “the arts” includes his discussions with three of the rare guests on his show, the projects in which they are involved: Herb Gardner, Arch Oboler, John Cassavetes.

next week we got toHerb Gardner’s Nebbishes.

Drawn and widely popular before his soon-to-be-produced

play and film, “A Thousand Clowns” was to destroy their friendship.

I heard Shep’s broadcast with Gardner

discussing the Nebbish phenomenon–and I bought a ceramic tray of the above image

and a soft, white statuette of a Nebbish. I still have them.

*

nightofaukNightAukplay_landing

“Night of the Auk”

I heard Arch Oboler, the well-known radio scriptwriter of such shows as

“Lights Out”

and various suspense dramas with Shep discussing on his show in 1956,

Oboler’s soon-to-open dystopian sci-fi drama. I attended one of the previews.

*

shadows title credit

An opening title of John Cassavetes’ Shadows.

Shepherd and Cassavetes, actor and aspiring playwright, discuss his need for money to make the

film–so Shep’s listeners send in small amounts totaling about $2,000.

___________

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE MORE COMMENTS TO THE ABOVE IDEAS

→ 2 more appropriate additions from Joel←

SPIES: The very idea of calling us “spies” is so loaded with the us vs them feeling, which is so much a part of Shep’s attraction to adolescents who had any sense of humor.  He really was an innovator in the art of getting his audience to feel they were part of his act.  In fact, I can’t think of anyone today who is doing anything like this on TV or radio.  The internet has created a great wave of participation.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram with followers and likes and such give users a sense of belonging.  But a single performer creating the kind of true followers as Shep had has never been duplicated.

___

AWARD BRASS FIGLAGEE: Another technique he used was awarding a brass figlagee to anyone who could tell me the name of..the color of…the program that did…etc. This was Shep’s version of a tv quiz show, with some long forgotten esoteric person or even as the answer. He would take calls, but rarely put the caller on the air.

I remember one where he described a favorite childhood toy, a metal taxi cab painted in the yellow checkerboard colors and with two characters inside. I knew he was talking about Amos and Andy. He offered his prize to anyone who could name the cab or the program. I shouted at the radio “Sunshine Cab Company–Amos and Andy.” Almost always, the program would end without the answer ever being revealed.

Yet another technique was deliberately getting a name wrong, knowing that many of his listeners would know what he was doing and feeling in on the joke. He often called the Dickens character Ebineezer Stooge, and deliberately got the first name wrong for some famous character like Madeline Monroe, knowing it would drive some in the audience nuts wanting to correct him. All effective ways to make the “in group” feel in.

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10 Comments

  1. mygingerpig says:

    Gene, yes, I had not included the “spies” idea, but that sure made me feel I was part of his “conspiracy” against “them” who were whoever the listener decided was the “enemy.” He read two articles I clipped and mailed to him. I was stoked.

    Joel

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. The very idea of calling us “spies” is so loaded with the us vs them feeling, which is so much a part of Shep’s attraction to adolescents who had any sense of humor. He really was an innovator in the art of getting his audience to feel they were part of his act. In fact, I can’t think of anyone today who is doing anything like this on TV or radio. The internet has created a great wave of participation. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram with followers and likes and such give users a sense of belonging. But a single performer creating the kind of true followers as Shep had has never been duplicated.

  3. Another technique he used was awarding a brass figlagee to anyone who could tell me the name of..the color of…the program that did…etc. This was Shep’s version of a tv quiz show, with some long forgotten esoteric person or even as the answer. He would take calls, but rarely put the caller on the air.

    I remember one where he described a favorite childhood toy, a metal taxi cab painted in the yellow checkerboard colors and with two characters inside. I knew he was talking about Amos and Andy. He offered his prize to anyone who could name the cab or the program. I shouted at the radio “Sunshine Cab Company–Amos and Andy.” Almost always, the program would end without the answer ever being revealed.

    Yet another technique was deliberately getting a name wrong, knowing that many of his listeners would know what he was doing and feeling in on the joke. He often called the Dickens character Ebineezer Stooge, and deliberately got the first name wrong for some famous character like Madeline Monroe, knowing it would drive some in the audience nuts wanting to correct him. All effective ways to make the “in group” feel in.

  4. Barry says:

    I remember when he wanted everyone to jump off a chair at the same time in order to cause an earth quake or something like that.

  5. Bruce Price says:

    For Eugene B. Bergmann,

    As a kid, I was totally bonkers for Jean Shepherd. I am ecstatic to find Shepquest. Great stuff!!! I just found the material on pranks, mills, practical jokes.

    As I recall it was a winter Sunday morning when a group of about 7 junior delinquents of the Shepherd kind including myself went to Shepherd’s mill in Washington Square Park. We the night people, from Westfield, N.J. went by train and ferry and on the ferry I wore a large sign on my back which said, “Do Not Let This Happen to Your Child.” It was a deeply religious event.

    Shepherd himself showed up and he was my God. He stood on a shut off fountain head and there were maybe 50 night people in listening to Shepherd give his inspiring speech.

    He handed out 4″ yellow kites and impressed upon us the great importance of this “mill.” Which I now see as an existentialist exercise in building a meaningless life. So I tried my best to fly my 4″ yellow kite, which had printed on it “Go fly a kite buddy!”

    So not only did we mill, but we intently endeavored to fly an un-flyable kite. It was a great Shepherd Experience. It clarified and emphasized and imprinted on my brain and soul the deep value of absurdity. But more seriously, or not, my early teens on and even now that I am 74 years old were given agreat sustaining boost by the creative fountain that was Jean Shepherd. The Fountain of Inspired Comedic Energy and Joy..

    I recall the hurling invectives thrills too. I opened my childhood bedroom window around midnight at
    Shepherd’s instruction. I put the radio facing outward into the black Westfield night. I was high on adrenaline already.

    I cranked up the volume all the way, then Shep shouted at full volume, on my behalf, “I’m not going to play scrabble with this crowd anymore!!!” My soul soared and burned bright in the night.

    The only other “invective” experience I recall was when Shep played a tape of a freight train, chugging and clanking and ding dinging along. It went on maybe two minutes.

    Thanks so much for your Shepquest excellent work.

    Bruce Price, retired philosophy professor, Dover, Del.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Thank you for your enthusiastic and informative comments! Info on invective and kite-flying I didn’t know. I trust that you’re aware of my book (Applause Books, 2005) EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD, and my edited Shep army stories, SHEP’S ARMY: BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES (Opus Books, 2013). Excelsior!

  6. Bruce Price says:

    Excelsior! Eugene B. Bergmann,

    Thanks for your nice comments on my listener participation inspired by Shep.
    Yes I am very aware of your 2005 wonderful book on Shepherd. I have owned a copy since shortly after it was published. I did not know of your 2013 book which sounds most interesting. I am honored to be able to make verbal contact with someone of your stature who has done such great work on Shepherd, the books, and the Shepherd Quest site which I am in love with. When I Googled something like Jean Shepherd, pranks, practical jokes, mills I never could have dreamed that your section on this would pop up on my screen. I confess I have just read this section over quickly but I think it is a great document so detailed, thorough, and infused with Shepherd’s practical joke expertise and range. Thanks so much for this.

    I own very little Shepherd memorabilia in addition to your fine book. I have one Shepherd LP, of his stand-up at The Limelight (I think) and the title of it is so Shepherd, “Will Failure Spoil Jean Shepherd?” Love the title and the album.

    Second, I have an award certificate on fake parchment from Shepherd’s Pie, It is a comedic riot.
    It is I am certain signed by Jean Shepherd. Wow! Great! I have the original and a small number of good quality copies. I would be very glad to send you a copy if you would like and will provide some mailing address. If you do not already have one that is. Let me know if you would like one sent as a gift.

    Part of what is on it is the Shepherd’s Pie logo and it praises me as “a thinker of clean thoughts, a doer of noble deeds, and a TV Coo-Coo.” I was and am thrilled to have it and it is kept in a fire resistant safe in our house. I could not afford having an armed guard standing next to the safe, 24/7.

    I tend to go on forever since I am a recovering philosophy professor, Delaware State University, 1971-2005,. I saw Shepherd in person one other time, other than the kite mill, and this was around 1964-65 at Princeton U. where my brother was an undergraduate. My brother was and still is a great Shepherd fan. I hardly remember anything about this except that it was in a darkish wood paneled room with may 80 or more people attending. Someone asked Shepherd if he thought that psychology was taking the place or religion. Shepherd said yes. This is all I recall.

    One more micro-point. The home town paper, The Westfield Leader was pranked upon by a local Shepherd agent kid. The paper published a notice like this. Frederick R. Ewing will speak at Westfield High (the day, time)
    on eighteenth century erotica, sponsored by the Junior Literary Club.

    I love it that Shepherd’s masterpiece film is run for 24 continuous hours on Christmas by TBS. This has deep meaning for me and it truly is a comedic masterpiece.

    Sincerely,

    Bruce Price

    P.S. I published only one full length journal article, You can Google the abstract thus:
    Bruce Price worthwhileness theory. It is written in philosophic code. No books published.
    Shepherd was sometimes described as philosophical and certainly this is true. I think this was one significant factor, among many, in my finding him so addictive.

    I

    • ebbergmann says:

      Thanks for all the praise! Bruce, call me Gene (by the way, my middle name is Bruce). See my email to you with my address to send a copy of the Shepherd’s Pie certificate–I’d love to have a copy to add to my extensive Shep Shrine. I’m impressed that you were a philosophy professor (for 34 years–I was an exhibit designer at NYC’s natural history museum for 34 years.) –Gene

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