Oh Adam and Eve wore fig leaves,
In the earliest of earth’s known years
They wore them through Spring and through Summer,
Labeling them his and hers.
They caught dreadful colds though, soon after,
At least historians so recall.
The fig leaves were swell in the summer,
But what happened to those leaves in the fall?
One funny thing about funnyman Ernie Kovacs is that many remember him mainly for the visual humor he pioneered in the early years of television. Take, for example, the trappings of one of his most famous characters, poet Percy Dovetonsils. When Percy showed up to do a reading, he sported oddly slicked-down hair, a zebra-patterned smoking jacket, an oversize book to read from, and perhaps a cigarette in a long holder or a martini with a daisy for a swizzle stick. Most distinctive were Percy’s oversize eyeglasses with eyeballs painted on the backside of the lenses.
But even with all the weird props, Percy Dovetonsils was an audio experience. Accompanied by harp choruses in the background, Percy would introduce himself with his lisping, effeminate voice and read his latest odes and pronouncements. Many were silly stanzas told from odd points of view—a germ, an earthworm, an alcoholic pussycat ruined by poor psychiatry, Julius Caesar while being assassinated, a man falling from the top of the Empire State Building. Or a dog:
O’ sometimes I wish I were a dog,
A Boxer or Cocker Spaniel
Or perhaps a German Spitz,
Or maybe a Chihuahua named Manuel.
I met a girl named Doberman
An without a doubt it’s cinch, her
Figure’s the greatest I’ve ever seen
Now I wish I were a Doberman Pinch-her.
After his reading, Percy would include some concluding remarks before closing with his catchphrase, “I’ll see you on the other side of the book ends.”
Back in 1960, Kovacs intended to release a record album of such material called Percy Dovetonsils…..Thpeaks. He went into the studio, recorded a series of quirky, short, mock-serious sonnets and corny bits of fun and left instructions for the music to be filled in later. But legal entanglements led to the project being shelved. After Kovacs’ death in 1962, the tapes were first mislabeled and then lost. Until now.
As part of the ongoing celebration of the legacy of Kovacs, his estate is making Percy Dovetonsils…..Thpeaks available for the first time in three formats: old-fashioned vinyl, a CD, or an MP3 download. Hoping to complete the album as Kovacs intended, keyboardist Ben Model, who also wrote the liner notes, was asked to add piano support behind Kovacs’ voice. In addition, the listener can get some of the flavor of what Percy Dovetonsils was like on TV in bonus tracks taken from Kovacs Unlimited, a network program that ran from 1952 to 1954.
How much of the comedy from the album proper will appeal to modern audiences is a matter of taste. Yes, it can be said the character of Percy Dovetonsils is stereotypical, not exactly politically correct. (Is any good comedy?) On the other hand, the monologues are of a far, far gentler mode than anything else put out, well, in decades. For example, after referring to a bear, Percy questions if it’s safe to say “bare” on television. Talk about different times…
Admittedly, much of the humor on the bonus appearances has been lost in this format. Clearly, the audiences in the TV studio were seeing and laughing at things we’re not. Some of the references may confuse younger folks who don’t remember Ralph Edwards, Milton Berle, or Bob and Ray. Mostly, the listener will have to decide just how much of this ridiculous imagery, how many really, really stretched rhymes they can take in one sitting. You might not have a laugh fest from start to finish, but it will be hard not to wear a silly grin hearing such, ah, pithy talk. You may find playing ”The Night Before Christmas On New York’s Fashionable East Side” a new Yuletide tradition. And you may well wish more of the stuff we see on TV now was more like this. C’mon, you gotta give Percy a try at least once. It’s not everyone who can give useful advice to a housefly stuck on an ice cube floating in bourbon.