One of the most amazing lost performances of all time, Steven Banks: Home Entertainment Center was a one-man show filmed as a 1989 Showtime special. Introduced and lauded by Penn and Teller, the fact that this gem is mysteriously unavailable on DVD is one of the bigger crimes in the entertainment world’s current landscape.
If you’ve ever seen Banks, it was probably in the movie The Aristocrats, Penn Jillette’s tribute to stand-up comedy’s dirtiest joke. Banks silently acted out his version of the tawdry joke in the guise of Billy the Mime, leading many to comment that it was the first time in the history of mime they had ever been amused by one.
Home Entertainment Center is nothing less than one of the most amazing one-man variety shows of all time. Besides being hysterically funny, Banks in the course of an hour, sings and plays banjo, flute, bass, drums, harmonica, and both electric and acoustic guitar. He’s not an impersonator, but that doesn’t stop him from doing brief tributes to Elvis, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Van Morrison.
Home Entertainment Center is the story of a pop culture-addicted Dilbert, a young man rapidly growing older who is desperately hanging on to his teen dreams that he’d actually someday become a rock star.
Essentially, he’s every single one of us, except for the fact that he really is magnificently funny and musically gifted. Unfortunately, he’s not a rock star and the rest of the world is finding his daydreaming less and less cute.
The onstage Banks conducts his life as if he were living out some weird rock and roll version of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Arriving home from his dead end job, he immediately changes into his pajamas to the strains of an imaginary crowd cheering his name as if he were Sting with an arena full of rabid Police fans demanding an encore. Banks, Banks, Banks, Banks!
He lives in a dingy one-room flat decorated with a couch, a drum set, tons of rock and roll posters and enough crappy action figures to entertain thirteen nursery schools. He also has a refrigerator full of Jolt Cola (does anybody remember Jolt Cola?). Oh, don’t worry, he won’t starve, because he’s got three cabinets full of instant Toll House Cookie mix to keep him nourished.
What do you do if you’re Steven Banks and you’ve just come home from work? Well, obviously you put on a show. What do you do if you’re Steven Banks and your enraged boss calls you wondering where the speech you were supposed to write for him is? The speech he needs to give in one hour? The speech your job depends on?
Well, if you’re Steven Banks, you try and write that speech pronto. Show over? Not when you have the attention span of a tse-tse fly.
In the course of the hour, Banks sings about seven seemingly improvised songs, loses his apartment, plays with toy dinosaurs, bakes some cookies, loses his girlfriend, dreams about his high school crush, flings number two pencils out his window, reads a Jehovah’s Witness newsletter, answers his phone as Bob Dylan, reenacts the taming of the West with plastic Cowboys and Indians, and plays the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with his nose and a wooden toy flute.
What he never exactly gets around to doing is writing that speech. He uses his typewriter, but mostly as a percussion instrument. This is a life rapidly going down a toilet that doesn’t flush in hilarious and soul-affirming fashion. Will Banks finish the speech or will he find himself yet another lost insane street hobo with a dream?
Home Entertainment Center should have made Steven Banks a star. It didn’t. The Showtime special led to a short-lived but equally brilliant PBS series that was essentially a show just as much about nothing as Seinfeld ever was.
He hung on in Hollywood as a writer for Spongebob Squarepants, and still performs as Billy the Mime. Will this masterwork ever come to DVD or will its rabid fans continue to have to pass on faded copies that they videotaped over fifteen years ago? We can only pray, but hopefully someday Showtime will wake up and acknowledge the diamond that’s been forever gathering dust in their basement.
Here’s an episode of his PBS Show where he reenacts the history of the Beatles!
Banks! Banks! Banks! Banks!Powered by Sidelines