Soupy Sales died tonight. He was a comic genius–a term I do not throw around lightly. Though it’s unexpected for someone on the news to say this, he was a guiding force in what I do on-the-air.
I watched Soupy every afternoon on Channel 5. This caused constant conflict with my sister who had other viewing ideas in our one TV family¹.
Soupy’s show was done live from the Channel 5 studios at 205 East 67th Street.
I didn’t look that address up. Anyone around my age who grew up in New York City knows it. It was always said as “Two oh five” and it was the entry address for dozens… maybe hundreds of contests on Channel 5.
Soupy was on in the late afternoon and he was live. It was silly, sophomoric comedy performed with one off screen voice and a studio full of technicians whose laughter was part of the show. Soupy didn’t need a laughtrack. If something was funny all inhibitions were off.
Twenty some odd years ago I hosted the Easter Seals Telethon with Diane Smth. Pre-show we went to “Telethon School” in Las Vegas. As I was being brought around someone introduced me to the director.
“Geoff, this is Arthur Forrest,” he said.
“Artie Forrest?” I asked and smiled some more.
Artie Forrest was Soupy’s director and Soupy was always talking to him or about him on-the-air. Same thing with the make-up man, Carmen Gebbia and someone named Eddie Bezzares (sp?).
It’s forty five years ago, right? I remember the names. Indelible.
The show was live–an hour of shtick daily. But, of course, the rub was you couldn’t write an hour of shtick every day. Even if you could there was no budget on this show.
As awful as the material was it was treated like gold. The set-up for a one liner could take five or six minutes as Soupy went into comedic tangents and stage managers and cameramen giggled.
The show was for kids, but performed for and in front of adults. Much of what went on went on at two levels. Even as a kid I knew that. My job was to try and understand the stuff for adults. Who knows how successful I was (or wasn’t)?
There were a handful of characters Soupy dealt with all played by Frank Nastasi. He never appeared on camera. He was Pookie (a puppet), White Fang and Black Tooth (only a single clawed paw and furry arm was seen for either) and a zillion voices on the radio and telephone.
Often there would be a knock at the door. Soupy would walk over, open it and begin a conversation with whomever was on the other side. But, of course, we saw no one. The voice was Nastasi’s. The set-up to punchline had begun.
When he was in California Soupy threw pies with major celebs. In New York on this local kid’s show there were few guests and all the pies hit Soupy.
The scope of his job is more than I can fathom. He was on live every weekday and then, again, on Saturday with a more scripted and produced show. On Saturdays he even appeared in a pre-produced continuing detective serial as “Philo Kvetch.”
Soupy became hot nationally with a release of “The Mouse.”
Hey, do the mouse, yeah,
Hey, you can do it in your house yeah,
On the rug, or on the wall
If your folks get bugged do it in the hall
Do the Mouse yeah let’s do the mouse
Come-on do the mouse with me
It was not Soupy’s finest moment though he probably made a mint. He performed “The Mouse” on the Ed Sullivan Show! He hosted a live rock show at the New York Paramount.
Soupy never stopped working when he was delivering comedy. As he weaved along he’d spot openings to divert. That was the attraction. He really was putting on a show. And he was doing it live and virtually unscripted under the most rudimentary of conditions in a media just reaching puberty.
If you watch me on TV (thanks if you do) and you hear me talk to the director or one of the guys on he floor–that’s Soupy. If you hear me stop in the middle of a sentence and go off on a tangent, only to come back and finish my point–that’s Soupy too.
We never met. I wish we had. We spent a lot of time together.
¹ – How old school is that? One TV!