“Rappin’ Rodney”

You can offend a rapper the same way you can offend a cartoonist; by implying that their career “looks easy”. Cartoonists must compete in the public eye with Internet doodlers who draw in their ample free time, and rappers have to battle the false impression that they’re just boopity-bopping over a beat loop.

Before hip-hop and rap were widely understood, they were exploited as “novelty” records; a passing trend, not something that would dominate and rend asunder every other type of fucking music on earth. Rap was not a “lifestyle”. It was a fad, like the hula hoop and the Twist. So, like many other musical fads before it, rap became a haven for bad comedy.


In the late 1970s, one of the primary forces behind the demise of disco was the proliferation of horrendous novelty acts hoping to shine that mirrored ball. Acts that were gonged off The Gong Show had their own disco singles. It was the last gasp for a lot of road acts, like Bill Saluga, aka “Ray J. Johnson”. You know, “you can call me Ray, or you can call me J., or you can kiss the business end of a shotgun.”

Bill Saluga's Awfulness.

Bill Saluga’s Awfulness.

Around 75% of comedy in the 1970s was based around white people’s inability to dance and lack of natural rhythm. That’s why your claims of “institutionalized racism” hold no water. Watch any comedy from 1969-1999. Are there white people on a dance floor? Then it’s meant as a joke. Try growing up with that shit in everyone’s heads, and go to your high school prom. See where your own resentments lie.

Everything about “Dancin’ Johnson” is god-awful. It is the dark side of avuncularity; the unfunny output of a well-meaning relative you mustn’t offend. The female back-up singers couldn’t sound more disengaged if they were droids. There’s zero energy to the performance, Saluga is as redundant as ever, and no lyric in history is more cringe-worthy than “let the boogie master take over”. It really bothers me that my government used Skinny Puppy, a band I enjoy, as torture, when “Dancin’ Johnson” is actual torture to me.

Did you make it through that entire track? I couldn’t. Saluga’s entire act could barely fill five minutes, never mind eight.

Before intellectual property rights were clearly defined, there was a lot of this kind of thing. In 1982, Buckner & Garcia of Akron, Ohio pulled the ripcord on their career, and cut a whole disc of videogame-inspired songs, following label pressure after the success of “Pac-Man Fever”. They’d been a performing duo since 1972, but their hit is all anyone recalls. This is the inherent danger of novelty recordings; eternal association with the artist.

Why, God? Why?

Why, God? Why?

There’s really only one novelty rap song that you can call the best*. It’s still not good, but it isn’t completely humiliating to its subject, and it’s endearing and appropriate in its squareness.

(*”Think You Oughta Know This” by GWAR is technically the best, but it’s not a novelty, other than the novelty of Sleazy P. Martini rapping.)

A sixth-grader's proudest possession.

A sixth-grader’s proudest possession.

In 1983, comedian Rodney Dangerfield collaborated with the engineers behind Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks”, and the result was the 12″ single “Rappin’ Rodney”. One of the producers was Estie Endler, Rodney’s manager since Stonehenge was gravel. That’s the best I can do for a cutting quip; I’m no Rodney Dangerfield, myself.

That video saw heavy rotation on MTV until at least 1985, and the single peaked at number 83 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song is built around Rodney’s “no respect” mantra, which is chanted throughout by disco maidens. It’s very similar to “Dancin’ Johnson”, but of an increase in quality concurrent with the comedians featured. Rodney has more material to work with, and his delivery is better suited to the timing of the beat. He gets in some pretty solid one-liners, too (for 1983):

I’m getting old it’s hard to face
(No respect, no respect)
Well during sex I lose my place
(No respect, no respect)
Steak and sex my favorite pair
(No respect, no respect)
I have ’em both the same way… very rare
(No respect, no respect)
I know I’m old I could go any minute
(No respect, no respect)
I got a kidney shaped pool with a stone in it
(No respect, no respect)
Doctor Vinnie Boombatz that’s another one
(No respect, no respect)
I said I wanted to stop aging he gave me a gun
(No respect, no respect)
I told him I got water on the knee
He gave me a sponge and raised his fee

All that was tame enough for MTV and Johnny Carson. A kid could get larfs playing comedian at school with this stuff. Honestly, I never saw Fozzie Bear of the Muppets as a parody of a corny stand-up; he seemed more like the eager would-be jokesters I encountered at school. I knew two different guys who literally conversed in comedy routines they memorized by rote, from cable. It took me years to realize they were parroting jokes they didn’t write. One of them was a king-size asshole. He probably makes big bucks in the industry now.

I can’t think of a single contemporary comedian who has a funny face and embraces it, as Rodney Dangerfield did. The fabled “life of the party” isn’t a hot girl twerking like a red-ass mandrill; it’s an average Joe, who sets aside all his problems to cheer everyone up. It’s the one who eases others’ pain by joking about their own. That’s “acceptance”, and it starts with the self.

That’s why we remember and celebrate some comedians longer than others, even if they cut a novelty stinker.



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