Television personality Ed Schrader is a fairly implausible figure until you see him in action. On assignment in Baltimore in January, I found that his was one of the names that came up most often in relation to ever-present art-amoeba Wham City, and yet was one of those that I knew the least about. Ed Schrader seemed a central character, and yet all I could recall about him was a photo or two where he was decked out in a suit and holding a Bowie record. And what did he do, I asked? Apparently, he recorded skits. Skits which consisted entirely of Ed. Walking around by himself talking into a dictaphone. Telling stories about his suburban childhood home, right next door to David Bowie himself. He was starting to sound basically like one of those guys you see ranting frenziedly to themselves outside the bus station. And what else did he do? He had a talk show. Of course he did.
Well, YouTube proved the Ed Schrader show to be reality in the best tradition of kids framed by cardboard boxes retooled as TV sets, with all their friends as guests, a tradition perpetuated in slightly higher-fi by public access television everywhere. In creating such a show, it really helps to have a lot of talented friends. In creating such a show, it also really helps to have a very good grasp of how real late-night talk shows work, if only to exploit all the best and worst conventions for all they’re worth. One of the guests on the most recent episode of Ed’s show, filmed at Ridgewood Temple in Bushwick, Brooklyn, was Eric Fensler of G.I. Joe PSA recutting/redubbing fame. I couldn’t help thinking that there’s a parallel between those classic shorts and what Schrader is doing now.
All facets of the show were instantly familiar — house band, co-host banter, opening monologue — yet altered. In this case, the band was fellow Whammer Josh Kelberman (Santa Dads) wearing wig, ruffle-collar, pancake make-up, and red leotard, and smacking a drum set around while yelling “THE ED SCHRADER SHOW” backed by a keyboardist and singing saw player. Sub-host and announcer Connor Kizer (also a Santa Dad) announced, yes, but also digressed into animal growling sounds over the end of the Fensler interview, then rushed the podium with musical guest Dan Deacon to grab Schrader’s hands for “as long as we can.”
The monologue was so unfunny, and so clearly written by others and unpreviewed by the host, that it was almost exactly like watching an actual Letterman opening, and hence awkwardly hilarious. I envision Schrader’s various friends (including, perhaps, artist and monologue cue-card holder Dina Kelberman) all trying to come up with monologue jokes most likely to throw Schrader off-balance. Likewise a segment of painfully clumsy re-captioned Marmaduke comics, which became more amusing as Schrader went to great pains to explain each one, and as I simultaneously recalled having sat through similarly questionable filler segments on real network television plenty of times. I really want to envision Carson starting this way, up in his Aunt’s attic with a shitty early camcorder, back in Corning, Iowa. But Schrader has this stuff down already, he just lets all fall apart constantly. First guest Michael Showalter actually seemed at a loss for response to the first of his THRREEEEEEEE COOOOOOOOOOL QUESTIONS (Kizer again, losing count on question two), though he recovered quickly. A painted head (looking like a Blue Man Group escapee with a skin condition) popped out to complain of depression. General chaos boiled right up to and over the show’s mostly un-tended pot rim.
By un-tended I mean that no seemed to be too concerned with keeping anything in check or sane, not that no one attended. Attendence-wise, in fact, it seemed that most of the former Masonic Temple’s folding seating was filled, plus those crowded onto the floor down front. I guess organizers had hoped for an even greater crowd, but the venerable building — the interior feeling like a slightly classier combination of all weird semi-public buildings; Grange Halls, Elks Clubs, and Rec Centers everywhere — is, after all, out so far into Bushwick that the usual low slung post-war architecture gives way to a section of stately pre-war grandeur. Apparently the space will be re-requisitioned for Todd-P-and-cohort use again in the future, except on weekends when it’s already booked until forever for “booty-bass dance parties.”