Wednesday , October 21 2020
Recalling musical parodist Allan Sherman.

My Son, the Dead Comedian

Comedy writer Mark Evanier links to an L.A. Times story on sixties song parodist Alan Sherman, and if you can get past the periodic “isn’t it too bad that he killed himself by being so fat?” bits, it’s a decent limited overview of the man’s career – and the son who inspired his biggest pop hit, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!”
Like Mark, I was a big Allan Sherman fan (and, no, we weren’t related: Sherman was his stage name); spent more money as a pre- and early teen on comedy albums (Sherman, Bill Cosby, Stan Freberg, Smothers Brothers) than I did on rock ‘n’ roll. It wasn’t ’til I got to college that I thoroughly dove into rock: which may’ve been a factor in my lasting interest in new pop music. I owned all of Sherman’s elpees, and like most hard-core fans, used to spend my after-school study time memorizing the lyrics. Somewhere, deep within the recesses of my memory, are all the words to “Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb, Grow.”
Aside from his summer camp opus (which showed up intact in the end credits of the Sam Raimi-produced Indian Summer), Sherman’s material doesn’t get much play today. Several years back, The Simpsons even based a joke on this fact, Bart hiding an incriminating cassette tape inside an Allan Sherman Greatest Hits tape box and chortling that no one would ever think to look there. It’s not his flat non-voice or reliance on orchestral arrangements that sounded old hat even in 1962. It’s just that most of Sherman’s humor has dated in ways that don’t connect to an audience today. Listen to “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas,’ for instance, a listing meant to exemplify sixties era kitsch (e.g., a “statue of a lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be”) ending with a punchline that the singer is going to exchange all of these gifts; today that same group of items (Japanese transistor radio, simulated alligator wallet, et al) would be considered collectibles.
Additionally, much of his song parodies are steeped in the safe arena of Ed Sullivan era stand-up: every album contained at least one dialect number (“Sarah Jackman,” “Streets of Miami”) and a fat joke song (fat to Sherman was what food would be to “Weird Al” Yankovic). Unlike Spike Jones, say, who still sounds so exuberantly chaotic that he fits the modern milieu, most of Sherman’s cuts just seem quaint.
I own a copy of Rhino’s hits CD, My Son, The Greatest, though, and – sorry, Bart! – I still occasionally pull it off the shelves and listen to it. Don’t much laugh, but the better cuts (“Jackman,” “Miami,” “Good Advice”) still make me grin. And every once in a while I even get an urge to hear a song not part of that collection, though unless the mavens at Rhino get it into their heads to release this stuff as a limited edition Rhino Handmade, I suspect that won’t be happening any time soon. So it goes in the ultra-ephemeral world of novelty music. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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