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EPISODE REVIEW: Big Chuck & Lil’ John Present 1915’s A HASH HOUSE FRAUD and THE CHAMPION (January 16, 1999)

Fall is now upon us, and under normal circumstances, that would mean the annual Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardifest convention (and subsequent Big Boy Restaurant visit). Of course, since 2020 is obviously anything but “normal circumstances,” needless to say, Ghoulardifest ain’t happenin’ this year. (Though, provided their dining room is open, the idea of heading that way just for Big Boy has been bandied about between my brother, my cousin and I; who knows if it’ll actually happen, but man, I’m jonesin’.)

Since we’ve been begrudged the annual tradition by the stupid dumb pandemic, what say we fill the void a bit with an old Big Chuck & Lil’ John episode review today? I haven’t done one of these in awhile, apparently (some) people appreciate them, and besides, I want to get one more Northeast Ohio-centric post up before October, when I have several relatively ‘spooky’ topics tentatively planned to show up throughout the month. (Whether any or all of them actually happen remains to be seen, but my heart’s in the right place.)

Anyway, the show we’ll look at today, I actually talked about it before, in this old post. If you don’t remember it, don’t bother clicking; it sucks. (Hey, it’s been nearly 7 years.) Still, it deserves a fuller, better look; even though this aired in January ’99 and isn’t actually complete (more on all that momentarily), it still seems like a decent fit for a late September entry here. Plus, my dance card is (ostensibly) full for October, so if not now, when? (I guess I could wait till the January anniversary, but I, uh, don’t wanna.)

Big Chuck & Lil’ John, or from left-to-right, Lil’ John & Big Chuck.

First of all: Big Chuck & Lil’ John, aka Chuck Schodowski and John Rinaldi. You know ’em, you love ’em. Unless you’re not from around here, in which case just know that they’re indisputable local television legends. From Cleveland’s channel 8, they hosted movies and performed wacky skits for decades. Technically they were horror hosts until they kinda weren’t but sometimes still were, but it didn’t really matter; any movie went better with Chuck & John. (I know this from personal experience.)

They’re still around, too. Even though their regular ‘movie’ show ended in 2007, they came back as a 30 minute skits-only program in 2011, which is still running to this day. Currently airing at 11:30 PM Sunday nights (though sporting events sometimes push that slot later), it’s a fun way to cap off the weekend.

(Although, quick side note: you probably did have to grow up with these guys to really ‘get’ the humor of the show/skits. Recently my brother tried to introduce his fiancée, she originally hailing from Tiffin, OH, to these guys, and her palpable confusion at the whole thing was…well, actually it was pretty funny, to be honest with you.)

Of course, we’re talking about their old movie-hostin’ days here. The slots/running times/days/etc. varied over the years, but for awhile, they ran for 2 hours 30 minutes (generally; it could be even longer, depending on the movie) starting at 11:30 PM on Friday nights, and then had a 2 hour Saturday afternoon show the next day.

While there was, for the most part, little difference in the look or feel of the Chuck & John host segments and skits and general ‘outside the movie’ stuff between the two, as far as the mid/late-90s and beyond go, the Friday night editions generally featured bigger-budgeted films from a variety of genres. Not always; there were times when they ran one of the horror/sci-fi oldies that were formerly their bread-and-butter. But for the most part, those Friday shows featured a relatively more ‘professional’ grab bag of film fare that wouldn’t have been out of place on other stations all across the country that were running movies on that day, at that time, in that era. Except better here, because Chuck & John.

The nostalgic Couch Potato Theater bumper screen.

The Saturday afternoon show, titled Couch Potato Theater (see: right), could be much more eclectic. Not always; big time Hollywood flicks weren’t strangers to the program, but the cheesier old stuff could also appear with a bit more regularity. (Or so it seemed to me.) And sometimes, there wouldn’t even be a full-fledged movie, but rather Three Stooges shorts, Abbott & Costello episodes, or if sporting events were a factor, maybe even no movie at all.

Here’s the backstory for our subject today: Saturday, January 16, 1999. At the time, I was a serious sucker for classic silent comedy shorts, particularly Charlie Chaplin. Thanks to their even-then public domain status, these would regularly show up as after-movie filler on my beloved WAOH TV-29, and attempting to catch new-to-me entries became something of a hobby, not unlike you and your little Pokeemans cards.

As a regular subscriber to TV Guide back then, I’d absolutely pour over the local listings in those issues looking for neat movies to catch. And yet, somehow I completely missed the notation of short comedies being broadcast on Couch Potato Theater that day, until I discovered the truth – as they were airing! What really hurt was the mention of Chaplin’s The Tramp as being among them. And to further complicate matters, the family was leaving for my younger brother’s volleyball game momentarily (these games were interminable excursions for yours truly, but shhhhh, don’t tell my brother I said that!).

What to do? What could I do? I grabbed a random blank VHS tape, threw it in the VCR, hit record, and we left. I wound up capturing basically the second half of the episode.

But what’d I miss? During my recent lock down dig finds (some of which I detailed here), I uncovered, if not all then at least most, of my old TV Guides. The finer details of that listing, aside from that general memory of The Tramp being mentioned, had long since disappeared. So, specifically for this article, I actually (re)dug the appropriate issue out and (re)discovered the truth: starting at noon on the dot, the listing mentioned, along with The Tramp, a film titled Polly Tix in Washington as being among that day’s features. I’ve seen Polly Tix before; it’s a 1933 Shirley Temple short that’s, honestly, pretty terrible. If that TV Guide listing was accurate, that would have been the only non-silent of the afternoon, and in retrospect, frankly, there was no great loss in missing it. (No joshin’; I kinda detest it.)

Oddly, the other two shorts, the two that are our subject today, weren’t specifically mentioned in that listing at all. Now, there’s always the chance the description wasn’t accurate, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and presume Chuck & John did indeed jam those two as-listed short comedies along with the two definitely-aired ones we’re about to look at, as well as all of their stuff and commercials, into a two hour time slot. (Which wasn’t unheard of; They once crammed The Karate Kid, which by itself and unedited runs over two hours, into a two hour Couch Potato Theater installment.)

Alright, all that said, the movies I did get to see…

A Hash House Fraud [Keystone; 1915]

If you go back and read that earlier article spotlighting this broadcast (though I urge that you refrain from doing so), you’d see that I mistakenly believed I had started recording in the middle of whatever short ended up being first in this instance. I WAS DEAD WRONG THERE, SPORTO. In actuality, I got basically the whole thing, but the title screen is such a microsecond flash that it’s very, very easy to miss. Obviously, that’s what happened with yours truly for the longest time.

So anyway, first up here is A Hash House Fraud, a Keystone komedy comedy from 1915. I’m gonna be honest with you; I’m not a mega huge Keystone Films fan. The constant manic slapstickiness of them kinda wears on me after while. A little goes a long way, and a lot, well, you know. I appreciate the ‘earliness’ of them, and I do like Chaplin’s output at the studio, but truth be told, that’s more from a historical standpoint; there’s little doubt that Chaplin’s work from just a few years later, or even just a year later, is superior, and not by just a little; by a lot. (In fact, we’ll be seeing one such example coming up next.)

The Plot: The Busy Bee Restaurant has fallen on hard times. Business is slow and funds are low, and when customers do come in, they never stay long. So, one of the proprietors puts the establishment up for sale (for a whopping $500!), and to pique the interest of prospective buyers, he invites a bunch of folks in to eat free and tells the cashier to simply pretend to collect money. When the swindle – the “hash house fraud” of our title – is discovered, a riot ensues and then the Keystone Kops show up and chase people around.

You know what? I’m just going to say it: this is a stupid movie. I know, I know; you should never, ever go into a Keystone expecting deep comical nuance. Even so, to me it’s just…by the numbers. The Keystone numbers. I kinda got an (inner) chuckle from the “Don’t Flirt With the Cashier” sign in the restaurant, though I’m not sure it was supposed to be funny.

I just know some pretentious film buff with too much time on their hands is gonna chime in now and tell me how wrong I am for missing the deep psychological context and symbolism of the human condition that is both this movie in particular and Keystone films in general. To that hypothetical buff, I say “aw go take a powder.”

Also, this movie just kinda reinforced my stance that the only thing I genuinely like about the Keystone Kops is their Atari 2600 (and later, ColecoVision) game.

The Champion [Essanay; 1915]

Next: I may have missed out on The Tramp, but I did get Essanay’s 1915 opus The Champion, which is even better than a consolation prize since I like The Champion more. Indeed, I’d venture to say it’s the cinematic winner of this entire episode, though that of course may be debatable. Plus, it’s Charlie Chaplin, so it’s automatically one-up on the movie that preceded it during this broadcast.

This is the stuff right here. Made at a time when Chaplin’s movies were starting to get really good, the film may pale when compared to the work he did for Mutual Films after leaving Essanay, but that’s mainly because, man, those Mutual flicks are really, really good.

The Plot: Charlie, as his iconic Tramp character, is in need of some bucks, so he becomes a sparring partner for a renowned boxer. When he sees every previous sparring partner, erm, ending up worse for wear after facing the boxer, he slips a horseshoe into his glove, knocks the guy out, and is then enlisted to fight the champion.

This one is a lot of fun, and Chaplin is utterly brilliant in it. Not that I’m saying anything revolutionary here, but the way he moved, his facial expressions, his timing, just everything about his acting is just so on point, it’s continuously a wonder even today. And what’s even more astounding is that he hadn’t even reached his peak yet! Watching The Champion, I was reminded just what I loved and appreciated about the guy in the first place. (Actually, my appreciation was even higher; you see more clearly when watching with 34 year old eyes than you do 12, after all.)

The climatic bout between Charlie and the champ goes on a tad too long for my tastes, but that’s a very minor complaint; The Champion is terrific.

Also, it’s probably not at all fair to compare the two, but in the context of this broadcast, the difference in quality between this film and A Hash House Fraud preceding it is monumental. Here, the opening scene alone, in which Charlie tries to feed his bulldog a frankfurter, is funnier than the entirety of that other flick.

You know, looking back on it, it’s almost weird that these shorts showed up on TV when they did. Even though it was local television in the late-90s, for a channel as ‘big’ as 8, it’s kind of amazing they got such a relatively-visible afternoon slot. These things showing up on 29 made sense, the movies on that station were almost all oldies anyway, but even in comparison to some of the other oddball things that could appear on Couch Potato Theater, I don’t know, silent comedies just seem way out of place for the time. I guess I was even kinda shocked back then, never expecting such things to air where or when they did. Of course BC & LJ were no strangers to pure comedy classics, their Laurel & Hardy shows of the 1980s were numerous, but still, for 1999…

(And to me, it’s something practically inconceivable nowadays!)

So that takes care of the movies. Now let’s see the rest of the episode; even with only 1 hour to work with here, there’s still a lot of Big Chuck & Lil’ John action packed into the proceedings.

Big Chuck, Lil’ John, Dick Goddard, Tony Rizzo; Cleveland TV legends one and all!

The first (applicable) host segment is just…just fantastic on so many levels. Obviously the hosts themselves, but that set with the Cleveland Browns helmet on the table (more on that later) and the backdrop, just everything about it. (Top screencap here.)

A common element of BC & LJ host segments were trivia segments with the studio audience, always for a prize of some sort. In this instance, said prize was a doozy: the then-new Dick Goddard weather almanac! And even better, Goddard himself sits in with the audience to give the book away! (Middle screencap here.)

Of course, Goddard passed away this past August. To call him a mere weatherman would be a serious disservice; the guy was an absolute institution in Northeast Ohio, and actually holds the world record for longest tenured meteorologist! Around here, he was the weatherman.

Working at the same station, Goddard was certainly no stranger to appearances on BC & LJ, often performing in skits or, as you see here, simply guesting in the studio. He could be really, really funny; when sports anchor Tony Rizzo (he now has his own half-hour show…airing right before the current incarnation of Big Chuck & Lil’ John!) randomly shows up in the studio eating sushi – which he apologizes to animal-advocate Goddard for – Goddard studies the foodstuff and dryly states “with a little medical help, that could be back in the sea.” (Bottom screencap here.)

I met Dick Goddard several times over the years, and he was always extremely friendly and generous with his time. Just a really good guy that was as likable in person as he was on TV. In fact, the last time I met him (Ghoulardifest 2018), I used my bean and brought along my own copy of the very almanac seen in this host segment for him to sign (I also believe I asked him to sign the back of a Ghoulardifest promotional poster), and considering I never had another chance to talk with him, well, wise decision on my part.

So to have him as ‘himself’ in this Big Chuck & Lil’ John segment, and with Tony Rizzo to boot, that’s just fantastic man. (By the way, the trivia question here was what fall festival does Goddard annually host. Of course it’s the Woolly Bear Festival, which a woman sitting behind him easily answers.)

The next host segment features another trivia question bit that, as a whole, isn’t as big a knockout, but is still pretty terrific.

The prize? Frankie Yankovic’s Songs of the Polka King: Volume 2, which as it turned out was his very last album (he had passed away that prior October). Besides the whole polka aspect that was (is?) such a big part of Cleveland culture, there was an added reason this CD was given away as a prize: Chuck and John themselves performed with Yankovic on it! It’s true; the disc contains their rendition of “My Melody of Love” as the fourth track! Neato!

(This CD actually isn’t too hard to find around town here; I’ve come across it multiple times, though oddly enough, Volume 1 has thus far eluded me – though it’s really only a matter of time. Anyway, as far as Volume 2 goes, my first copy I actually bought used online – both because I obviously still needed it for my collection at the time, but also because, while somewhat faint, the cover unmistakably features the signature of Mr. Yankovic himself! Cool winnins!)

The question was: what nationality was Frank Yankovic? “Polish” was guessed, and while the correct answer was actually Slovenian, it’s deemed “close enough” by John.

The Lil’ Flash, along with Chuck. (Chuck playing himself?)

That segment is followed immediately by a longtime favorite skit of mine: The Lil’ Flash. BC & LJ did a lot of a parodies of big time movies and TV shows, sometimes poking fun at Chuck’s Polish heritage or John’s small stature. This was the latter.

I’m assuming this skit first appeared in the early-90’s, when The Flash TV series was running on CBS (which 8 was an affiliate of at the time, though by 1999 it had been Cleveland’s Fox outlet for several years).

It’s a simple premise: the TV-8 payroll, in the form of a suitcase loaded with money, has been stolen (as one of the thieves gleefully exclaims, “probably half of it’s Goddard’s!”), so superhero The Lil’ Flash gives chase. Spoiler: the bad guys get away. Why? The Lil’ Flash’s shoe had a blowout!

(Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John, but no one ever said their skits were intricate pieces of comic writing.)

There were more skits throughout the hour than what I’m showing here; I’m kinda just hitting the highlights, or at least what I consider to be the highlights. I’m trying to get this done and up and with a little spotlight time to itself before my October 1st post, remember. Was I ultimately successful, reader? Time will tell!

Cuyahoga Jones and Shortstuff, considering a $5 airplane ride.

Cuyahoga Jones and the Castle of Doom, another one of those parodies I was just talking about, wasn’t just a singular skit, but rather a serialized, continuing story, complete with cliffhangers. Obviously an Indiana Jones parody, the skits detailed Cuyahoga Jones and his sidekick Shortstuff attempting to steal the fabled “Kapusta Diamond” from the evil Uncle Vic (aka Victor Blecman, a real Cleveland DJ who passed away in 2019).

I’m not sure they ever finished the saga (they play these skits frequently on the current 30 minute show yet I’ve never seen any sort of definitive conclusion), but what they did was a lot of fun. This broadcast here was my first time seeing an entry, and I can’t tell you how clever I found the very name of “Cuyahoga Jones” to be.

In this installment, Cuyahoga and Shortstuff are in need of $20 to buy supplies to break into Vic’s castle, but between them they only have $5. Luckily, they happen upon $5 airplane thrill rides, the reward for not screaming during which just happens to be $20. So, with Cuyahoga in the passenger seat and Shortstuff hanging on top, off they fly in the rickety old plane. The plan is ultimately successful and the $20 is won, but the pilot almost got Cuyahoga to scream, just once: when Shortstuff fell off! (Cut to a dummy freefalling through the air.)

High art it ain’t, but it is funny, and spoiler alert, Shortstuff ended up okay in the next chapter.

Let’s finish this review with something I briefly mentioned during that Dick Goddard segment, and something that, despite originally airing in January, fits perfectly with the time of year we’re currently in: that Cleveland Browns helmet.

At one point, John puts it on and declares “Go Browns!” Not so unusual; these were/are Cleveland personalities, after all. What’s more interesting, to me, anyway, is Chuck’s response to that: “Only 245 days left!”

It’s a small moment, but it points to a definitive time in Northeast Ohio history: this aired when the Browns were still MIA in Cleveland! The time of their return was drawing nearer and nearer however, and as it did so, the anticipation continued to grow. That anticipation was front-and-center here, even with the better part of a year still left to wait.

Anyway, there you have it: a look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater presentation of January 16, 1999. Well, about half of it. Despite the incomplete nature of the recording, this broadcast has wound up being one I’m pretty fond of. Not only is there the personal story behind it, but their content is just so strong here, even though it was just par for the course at the time. The host segments and skits are fun, the Dick Goddard appearance great (and now, bittersweet), and the movies, The Champion is legit and, well, even a dumb flick like A Hash House Fraud makes for a nice piece of lazy afternoon programming.

Hopefully this post scratched the itch of locals who, like me, can’t go to Ghoulardifest this year. Or maybe it didn’t; hey, at least I got something else up.

See y’all in October!

Big Chuck & Lil’ John Promotional Flying Disc (Circa-1993)

Look chief, when I said back in February that I wanted to spotlight more Cleveland television memorabilia, I wasn’t lying. I certainly like seeing original broadcasts, or obtaining promotional photos, or finding vintage print ads, but here’s my hidden secret: one of my great passions in this hobby is collecting the, as I have deemed it, “solid memorabilia.” That is, mugs and glassware, pins, shirts, hats, or anything randomly emblazoned with the names/stations/logos of Northeast Ohio broadcasting. For whatever reason, I place these types of items in a different mental category than I do paper ware and video tape. So there.

Today’s subject fits my weird “solid memorabilia” ideal and new decree that I spotlight such on my stupid dumb blog to a tee, because this, this is legit. Dig this: it’s a vintage (from somewhere in the early-1990s) promotional flying disc for WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show. Yep, the iconic late night horror hosts/comedy duo of everlasting Northeast Ohio fame had their own promotional toy. Neato! As you can see, it features their classic caricatures and the old school WJW logo, all printed on a flashy green disc. Rest assured, this is exactly the kind of memorabilia I’m always on the lookout for!

I’m not totally positive on when it’s from, mainly because I don’t know how long they were pitching these. They were definitely pushing them in 1993, and thus that’s the “circa” date I’m going with, but I’m unaware of when they were first produced for sure, nor do I know when they stopped making them. So yeah, circa-1993.

I’m also not completely sure as to how the common dude-on-da-street could obtain these. I’d imagine they were sold regularly, probably at personal appearances and maybe at stores around town, but don’t quote me on any of that; it’s merely a guess on my part. I do know that they were given out as prizes for correct trivia answers on their show. That is, to studio audience members lucky enough to be called on and lucky enough to have a satisfactory answer to a given question, not to mention lucky enough to be in attendance at a show taping in the first place. If these flying discs were uniquely given out as show prizes, well, that’s just plain cool, and not something easily obtainable, either then or now, I’d assume.

Also, it’s important to note that it’s not a “Frisbee,” but a “flying disc.” Y’see, “Frisbee” is a Wham-O product and a trademarked name, but like “Band-Aid,” it’s often used to describe all similar products. But no, this is technically speaking a “flying disc.”

There were actually two of these discs out at the same time: a large (standard-size) disc, pink in color, and a smaller green one. The smaller variant is what you’re seeing above; I haven’t picked up the big one yet, mainly because I’m at the mercy of what comes up for sale and enters my line of vision. Plus, you know, there’s that whole scraping-together-enough-money thing, too.

The reason for the two different sizes? Well, obviously the big one signified Big Chuck, and the small one signified Lil’ John! That’s actually a pretty great gimmick, one that fits the duo perfectly.

So, not a long post, but then, there’s only so much I can say about a 25 (?) year old flying disc. Oh, and happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way; the disc is green, so it works here, right?

Ghoulardifest 2016!

“Hey, why’d it take so long to post this, North Video Guy?!”

I know, I know, this is a belated update. For the fourth year in a row, it’s time to cover my trip to the annual Ghoulardifest convention on this silly blog. BUT, I didn’t want to just do the same exact thing I’d done for the previous three re-caps again. Soooo, I took video there. Oh how I took video. A first for this site!

Now theoretically, videos should have made getting this post up quickly even easier, which would totally be in line with my usual M.O. of posting these reviews within a day or two, or at least the week of, my visit. So, why did it take so long this time? Simply put, I had audio issues with several of the videos – to the point where I couldn’t even use them. Don’t get me wrong, I could have posted them here, but I like to give the impression of having some semblance of professionalism (HA!), and thus, I just wasn’t comfortable with doing that. Heck, even the videos I can use aren’t always perfect, audio-wise.

You have no idea how incredibly disheartened I was by this. Seriously, more than once I came this close to just scrapping the whole re-cap this year; I just couldn’t work up the energy to write after this development. I felt (and feel) that I was letting the people down that were kind enough to take the time to film with me – but then, the same feeling applied to putting up a substandard video, too. So, since I can still use screencaps (where needed), I will cautiously proceed. Just several weeks late. (It didn’t help matters that I’ve also been fairly busy these past few weeks.)

All that said, if you were someone I filmed with whose segment is absent here, please accept my apologies; fate dealt us both a crushing blow!

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Sunday, October 30, 2016: I woke up tired. I mean, your pal me was draggin’. Y’see, I awoke to a chilly, cloudy, rainy day, and while I love a good overcast weekend, in this case I knew such things would never do. Add in not enough sleep, and a bedside clock that had reset due to a brief power outage during the preceding night, and, well, it wasn’t an auspicious start to my day.

Why the grogginess? Because the day before was bright, beautiful, and fairly warm for this time of year. In short, it was gorgeous. But, unfortunately, when the weather changes, especially when it changes rapidly, I have a habit of getting the grogs. In those instances, I rarely feel like doing much of anything. And yet, this particular Sunday, I would accept no groggin’. Well, I mean, it was there, but I did the best I could to ignore it.

That’s because it was time for Ghoulardifest! Yep, Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s annual convention celebrating the Cleveland icon was once again upon us, and like every year since 2011, I was there for the Sunday edition. I look forward to this year-round, but especially when fall hits Northeast Ohio; the season just wouldn’t feel right without the ‘Fest!

Like the previous three years, the convention was held at the plush LaVilla Conference & Banquet Center. My photo above makes it look inappropriately foreboding; overcast day and all. Trust me, the LaVilla is beautiful.

Since the inception of this blog, I’ve covered my annual trip to the show. For those so inclined, you can check out my coverage of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 shows here. You can watch my writing skills gradually increase! Or, read ’em backwards and watch my writing skills decrease! It’s fun for the whole family!

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There are some downsides to only going on the third (and last) day of the convention. Jan Jones, Tim Taylor and Robin Swoboda, local legends all, were in attendance – on Saturday. Also, I missed my buddy Mike Olszewski, which hurts me deep. Furthermore, the Cavs Championship trophy was supposed to be on display all three days, but if it was there Sunday, I sure didn’t see it.

(Fun fact: I played basketball, poorly, in the fourth grade, and I later went to high school with LeBron; my first two years were his last two years. So, do enough mental gymnastics and you can pretty much thank me for the Cavs winning it all! You’re welcome, Cleveland! I will now sit back and anxiously await your accolades!)

‘Course, that’s not to say there’s nothing going on by the last two day; there’s cool merch and celebrities as far as the eye can see no matter what day you attend. As expected, my brother (who always comes with) and I had a terrific time – and yes, I’m already jonesing for next year. If my merchandise haul was substantially less than previous visits (and it was), it was only because I’d bought most of the stuff that strikes my fancy already. And yet, I left satisfied nevertheless; Ghoulardifest, no matter what you buy, who you meet or what you do, is always an experience, and this year was no exception.

Above: The ever-terrific shirts table, which lines a good portion of the left side of the main room. One of my top favorite buys this year came from these tables; we’ll see that momentarily.

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Like other similarly-themed conventions, there’s memorabilia everywhere you look. Toys, games, records, CDs, DVDs, movie posters, glassware, you name it, there’s a good chance it’s there.

Indeed, as I’ve mentioned in previous re-caps, Ghoulardi is really just one facet of Ghoulardifest; obviously Ernie Anderson’s legendary horror host and Big Chuck & Lil’ John are the main draws, but Ghoulardifest is also a celebration of horror and sci-fi in general, horror hosts as a whole, music (particularly 1960s music; The Beatles and such), and other areas of pop culture. Even if someone wasn’t enamored by the main draws (yeah, right), there’s still plenty to take in at Ghoulardifest.

Above: My attempt to show off the various wares in one all-encompassing shot. I wasn’t at all successful, but you can see the kind of cool stuff available there. I’m diggin’ that Addams Family 45!

That’s my brother photo-bombin’ to the far left. Thaaaaaaanks Luke.

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Aww, Son of Ghoul, you wacky guy! It continuously blows my mind that the guy I grew up watching now kinda sorta knows me – thanks in no small part to all the crap I’ve sent to his show over the years. Plus the interview. Plus Monsterfestmania. So, is it too early to go around proclaiming him my best friend in the whole wide world? That might be a bit premature, but I am considering it….

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I’ve mentioned this before, but one thing that endlessly impresses me about our local celebrities is just how fan-friendly they all are. These people not only give their fans the time of day, but also truly go the extra mile for them. Son of Ghoul, absolutely, as well as Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who you are helpfully seeing above.

Case in point: They (naturally) have helpers, but these guys all sell their own wares themselves, and they all are very free and giving with their time, answering all questions, taking pictures, and so on. Northeast Ohioans are fortunate to call people like this their own.

Much to my chagrin, Chuck & John had sold out of their new “Top 20 Skits” DVD that very morning, which was a fan-voted project. (Yes, I contributed my picks.) I was really looking forward to picking up this DVD, but I knew it was going to be a hot-ticket item, so what can you do? I thought about throwing a tantrum, until I remembered that Big Chuck & Lil’ John are two of my heroes and that probably wouldn’t look too good to them.

Speaking of Big Chuck & Lil’ John…

 

 

 

I totally filmed a quick, mostly off-the-cuff bit with them! This, needless to say, ranks up there with the proudest achievements of my life.

Backstory: The video doesn’t lie; Big Chuck has endorsed the Empire Window Company for quite awhile. The commercial for them in which his Stash character falls from a ladder is positively ingrained in my memory, and that ad goes back to at least 1991 – and it certainly aired for a long time afterwards. So, when print ads featuring Chuck began showing up in the mail a few years ago, I really did begin cutting them out and saving them. It started out as just a funny thing to progressively hang more and more of on the fridge, but after awhile, the action became something that felt more like a duty. Result? I have a ton of these, far more than what’s seen in the video.

Eventually, the joke arose between my brother and I that it would be funny if I brought them all up to Chuck and asked him for a free window in exchange, though of course these ads aren’t coupons, and no such offer actually exists anyway. And thus, the genesis of this bit was born. I naturally briefly explained to Big Chuck & Lil’ John what I wanted to film beforehand, but it was more of an outline than anything, and truth be told, I only expected a quick, few-second video – which would have been more than enough for me. But MAN, these guys are total pros; they just completely took the idea and ran with it, and absolutely brilliantly at that!

Because the last thing I ever want to do is step on anybody’s toes for any reason, prior to posting I did indeed contact the Empire Window Company to make sure everything would be fine with them regarding this bit. They simply couldn’t have been any nicer; no kidding, they were just wonderful. The Empire Window Company gets my legitimate, heartiest recommendation. If you need windows, siding, doors, or what have you, head to the official Empire Window Company website!

Some of the dreaded audio issues I mentioned at the start of this post reared their head here. Not so much in the Chuck & John portion, but rather, I wasn’t quite happy with my intro on the video. I had to take whatever measures I could, and therefore, you’ll notice (especially since I outright say so) that I dubbed over the audio in the first half of the video above. It was necessary, and while a bit glaring, I don’t think it hurts the final product; indeed, nearly a month later, and this bit still cracks me up! Some way, somehow, this happened!

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Unfortunately, no amount of dubbing could save my bit with Son of Ghoul, and thus, you only get this screencap. This hurts me deep.

The premise was that SOG knows me, we’re pals, we’re tight like Gs, and therefore when I go up to him, it’s like two old friends meeting. Of course, the punchline is that SOG has no idea who I am, he stares at me blankly, and then calls for security to throw me out. It’s the funniest thing in the world, and I can’t use a second of it.

It should be mentioned that these audio issues weren’t really a fault on the part of me or my brother, who was filming. Maybe I could (and should) have spoken up a bit here and there, but the main thing was that it was just loud in there. This was not a fault of the venue or anyone else, but between the live music and the crowd, well, it all tended to drown out the microphone of my brother’s cellphone. But, it is what it is.

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Same deal when I semi-interviewed Jungle Bob Tuma. (His official website) Like Son of Ghoul, JB knows me, we’re buddies, and it really, really pains me that I can’t use this video. We even stepped out into the hallway for this, and yet, you can still hear the music inside more than us. Again, it’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just how things worked out. Had this been in a more-controlled environment, the results would have been different, but when you’re filming things on the fly, well, you take your chances.

This was less of a skit and more of a chat; JB explained why he didn’t bring any animals on this last day of the show; it being the final day, and there being celebrations afterwards, it just wasn’t a good idea to bring them, especially if they’d need to be left in the car after the show. (I made a crack about winding up with a deep fried tarantula if the animals were brought into the restaurant that was practically Letterman-worthy… or not.)

You know what’s awesome about Jungle Bob? If you watch him on The Son of Ghoul Show or catch one of his appearances, he’s just as engaging in-person as he is during his performances. The man is a born entertainer, and besides being wildly informative about animals, he tells absolutely great stories. Jungle Bob is the man.

 

 

 

 

Hey, another real, actual video! It’s about time!

My buddies from Monsterfestmania, Mike Mace and Dave Binkley, were on hand to promote their show, The Weirdness Really Bad Movie. Even though I had met them in-person just a few months prior, this really was like an old-friends-catching-up sorta thing. It was great. Let the video above tell the rest of the story!

Fun fact: Mike himself was on American Pickers just this past week! Cool winnins!

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This was certainly the wildest video I took. The screencap just doesn’t do it justice.

What started out as a chat with Bill “Greatest Voice Ever” Ward (he was the WJW TV-8 announcer for years) quickly devolved into just a general screwing around when Teri Wells, daughter of Bob “Hoolihan” Wells popped in. It was an absolute riot, climaxing in Ward’s dead-on Clint Eastwood impression. And Teri was just the nicest.

Unfortunately, this more than any other video was hurt, audio-wise. Due to the activity around us, large chunks of it are incomprehensible, and to make matters worse, poor Teri had laryngitis. It’s a real shame, because it was fast, funny and freewheeling.

That said, if you ever have the chance to speak with Teri Wells or Bill Ward, do so, because man they are just great.

 

A quick bit with Bob “Hoolihan” Wells!

Unlike previous years, we wound up staying at Ghoulardifest until pretty much the very end. There was much to see and do, not to mention filming videos, that it took a whole lot more time than I was anticipating. Still, I was able to catch up with Hoolie just as he was getting ready to go on stage for the show-closing group photo. It’s a brief video, but it’s awesome. Why? Cause Hoolihan.

Backstory: During the old “Soulman” skits from The Hoolihan & Big Show, Wells was always the narrator, and oftentimes he’d let out a great, dismayed “Ohhhhh Noooooo!!!” that I endlessly love. Thus, I asked him to give me one such “Ohhhhh Noooooo!!!” there in person, but because we were in such a hurry, I forgot to reference what I was talking about! You can see my kinda-goof in the video above.

Even though he doesn’t live in Northeast Ohio anymore, just like everyone else involved in this sort of thing, Bob Wells is always the nicest, most generous guy you could hope to meet. He’s good people!

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And yes, we did indeed stop by the nearby Big Boy for the annual post-Ghoulardifest meal. Super Big Boy, you are a burger among burgers. And the fries! I’m not a big fry-eater, but Big Boy’s are always fantastic! Also, our waiter was phenomenal and got a well-deserved monster tip.

Look at that pic above. Big Boy has no qualms with the oncoming rain. Dude’s been around forever; you think a little water is gonna phase him? Nope!

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Like I said before, my merchandise haul was substantially less that previous years. That doesn’t mean I didn’t pick up some cool winnins though, cause I did.

Above: Another Son of Ghoul DVD to add to the collection (The Death Kiss), a Ghoulardi bumper sticker (at a buck a pop, I bought a few), and a Big Chuck & Lil’ John mug I’m this sure I don’t already own. Not that you can ever have too many, of course.

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But this, this was the big buy of the year: A Ghoulardi shirt celebrating the Cleveland Cavaliers’ monumental win in the NBA Finals! I’m a huge Cavs fan, so I flipped when I saw this! Forget buying just one; I bought two! One of the faces of Cleveland, pitching the historic win that was a true victory for all of Northeast Ohio? It does not get any cooler than that! I like wearing sports shirts, and I like wearing Ghoulardi shirts, so this was directly up my alley! I love it.

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And with that, the Ghoulardifest 2016 re-cap comes to a close. Was it worth the wait? I think so! Well, I hope so. I’m ready for Ghoulardifest 2017, either way!

Until next year, LaVilla! (Hopefully, the weather will be more fitting for the event!)

WJW TV-8 – The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special (October 10, 2015)

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I usually don’t look at ‘modern’ television broadcasts, especially broadcasts as recent as this past weekend, but this was so unabashedly cool that I can’t resist. Besides, it may be a new broadcast, but it’s a new broadcast of older material which in turn featured even older material. There, wrap your mind around that!

‘Course, the fall-back here is that this is my blog and I’ll write about what I want. I could go in the backyard and describe all the neat-lookin’ rocks I find if I so desire. You keep pushing me and I just might, too.

I was made aware of this special just the night before it aired: on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at 3:30 PM, WJW TV-8 would be airing the 30 minute Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special. I’m glad I only had to wait less than a day for this, because man, I was stoked. A Big Chuck & Lil’ John special, airing (roughly) in their old Couch Potato Theater time slot, and focusing solely on Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson, the man who set this whole thing in motion waaay back in 1963? I was so there.

This is what I love so much about Northeast Ohio TV: for all of the changes it has gone through over the years, the steady erosion of locally-grown programming in favor of syndicated content and whatnot, there’s still a sense of history here; there’s a reason Big Chuck & Lil’ John have been forever in the public eye, Son of Ghoul is still plugging away, and no one bats an eye when a special regarding a character that hasn’t been on Cleveland airwaves since 1966 is allotted a 30 minute time slot. Doesn’t hurt that Ghoulardi had (and continues to have) an incalculable impact on so much of the populace, either.

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The announcement I saw didn’t elaborate, and I automatically assumed this was going to be a half hour edition of their regular skits-only show, tailored solely to Ghoulardi material. As it turned out, this wasn’t actually a new special; as the above screencap attests, this was instead a re-broadcast of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s tribute to Ernie Anderson following his 1997 death. It’s actually not too far off from what I envisioned, just 18 years older. I guess it makes sense to simply re-run the earlier special; a new version would just cover the same ground and take time to film.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Anything that gives Big Chuck & Lil’ John and Ghoulardi airtime is absolutely fine with me. Always. Besides, seeing Chuck & John on that old set with the studio audience gets the nostalgia fired up somethin’ fierce.

(By the way: why the slightly fuzzy reception in this day and age of ultra-clear digital everything? Meh, for old times’ sake I recorded this onto DVD on my downstairs CRT TV, which apparently doesn’t play by the same rules as my cute HDTV upstairs does. I also DVR’d the special upstairs, but what the heck, this DVD is already made and handy for screencaps, so here we are.)

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Being a tribute to Ernie Anderson, in addition to actual Ghoulardi footage there’s also a lot of reminiscing, as you would expect. In addition to a short bio of Anderson and how he wound up as Ghoulardi, among other stories Chuck recounts the famous tale of his stealing a Ghoulardi poster off a bus while Anderson kept the driver distracted. Funny stuff!

Keep in mind, this originally aired some time before the phenomenal Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride book was released, and waaaay before Big Chuck’s terrific autobiography (head on back to that BC & LJ store link for that one), so a lot of the information here hadn’t been widely recounted and available to the masses yet.

(For the record, both of those books are absolutely essential reads, not only for Northeast Ohioans or fans of Horror Hosts, but for television lovers in general; both offer an indelible snapshot of TV history, an era that won’t be repeated, and are ridiculously entertaining to boot.)

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Much of the tribute also consists of Chuck’s one-on-one interview with Anderson himself, obviously conducted some years prior. As I recall it, this interview provided the basis for a previous BC & LJ special show, though integrating the segments into this tribute show makes all the sense in the world, given the circumstances.

After giving up Ghoulardi in 1966, Anderson went to Hollywood and made the mighty dollars doing voiceover work. I have countless commercials/promos featuring his voice, and on a nationwide scale that’s what he’s really known for. At one point during this show, Chuck mentions that when Ernie went to Hollywood and became a millionaire, it didn’t change him a bit; he was still the same guy he was back in Cleveland. You get a real sense of that during these interview segments. There’s no showing off, no posturing or anything like that. It’s just two friends talking about the old times.

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As far as actual Ghoulardi material goes, with only 30 minutes and so much ground to cover, well, you’re only going to see so much. However, the official Ghoulardifest website sells a phenomenal DVD of much (all?) of the remaining footage from Ghoulardi’s show, the only official place to get this stuff. I have it in my collection, and you should have it in yours too.

As for this special though, I personally would have liked to see a few more bits with Ghoulardi on his set doing his thing. As it stands, there are two brief clips, and the skit you’re seeing above, The Pitching Coach.

Y’see, Chuck got his behind-the-camera and, as in this case, his in-front-of-the-camera start on the show, performing in skits and even providing the basis for running gags such as the whole “PARMA?!” thing. In this skit, he plays the new pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians, who proves to be fairly incompetent. My favorite moment comes when Ghoulardi tosses a ball back to him, and it lightly hits Chuck’s arm; Chuck holds his arm in pain and pouts in the corner while Ghoulardi tries to apologize!

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More Chuck, this time in one of the legendary skits from Ghoulardi’s show: Parma Place.

Parma Place was a take-off on the soap opera Peyton Place, and the line of skits basically existed to poke fun at the Cleveland suburb of Parma. The loose idea was that Chuck’s character was always trying to make time with Anderson’s wife behind his back (and often right in front of him), but the more notable aspect of the skits were the stereotypes of Parma they perpetuated: white socks, polka music, and so on.

And this was all in addition to the jokes Anderson would make about the suburb when in character as Ghoulardi. Naturally, some residents of Parma didn’t take too kindly to all this, but it’s all still funny, and the genesis of a running joke that continued (and continues) on through The Ghoul and Hoolihan & Big Chuck (& Lil’ John).

A few different Parma Place entries are spotlighted during the special, and this screencap comes from a moment when Chuck’s character “Jerry” gifts Anderson with a pair of white socks, to which he and his wife marvel at endlessly.

Also, you have no idea how funny I find Chuck’s PARMA shirt.

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A fun bit where Ernie Anderson interviews, well, himself. Using a split screen and some handy pre-filming, Ernie Anderson as Ernie Anderson interviews Ernie Anderson as Ghoulardi (who insists he be called “King”). It actually works pretty well; in fact, for the time period it’s fairly seamless.

My favorite line: “I first got my start as Ghoulardi when they fired me from channel 3 and 5 wouldn’t hire me!

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The whole open-wounds-shock of Anderson’s passing may not be as hard to take today as it was in ’97, which is understandable; it has been nearly 20 years, after all (20 years? I refuse to believe this all happened that long ago!). That’s not to say it isn’t still sad, because of course it is. I don’t mean to downplay anything here, it’s just that after 18 years, (most?) Northeast Ohioans have learned to live with Ghoulardi being gone, really gone.

All that said, there is a moment that still packs an emotional wallop in this tribute: the final scene returns to Chuck interviewing Anderson, and Anderson recounts that he met a lot of great people in Cleveland, and then jokingly says to Chuck “You’re not one of them,” to which they both crack up. After they calm down a bit, he then adds “You are, you’re great,” and then the scene freezes as the copyright info pops up. It stays there a bit before fading out, and in that little moment, the deeper meaning of all this is hammered home: it’s not just about what Anderson accomplished as Ghoulardi and what he meant (means) to Clevelanders, it’s also about the genuine friendship between him and Chuck that was there up until the very end of Ernie’s life. It’s a terrific, honest scene, and an absolute perfect way to end the special.

You know, maybe it’s for the best that they didn’t film an all-new Ghoulardi tribute episode; it would be nearly impossible to improve upon this one. From the recollections to the clips, it’s as concise a definition of the character and what he represented to Clevelanders as you’re likely to get in half an hour.

But wait! In a for-modern-day rarity of rarities (for me), there were some great commercials during this broadcast. ‘Course, they all had to with Ghoulardi and/or Big Chuck & Lil’ John, but frankly, that’s how I prefer things. Behold:

Big Chuck For Empire Windows

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Chuck has been pitching Empire Windows for quite awhile now, often in print ads that come nearly every week in one of those circulars. I haven’t seen a whole lot of TV advertising with him for the company, so I was glad to see this and add it to my collection (y’see, through my massive collection of old videotapes, I have amassed a large “archive” of commercials, promos and whatnot featuring horror hosts, and not just our horror hosts, either; it spans the entire nation).

Chuck gives really a pretty standard pitch, though the commercial is so short (15 seconds) there isn’t a whole lot of time for much else. Chuck says he’s been plugging the company for 29 years at this point; that’s as long as I’ve been alive!

If I ever need new windows, I’ll go to Empire. Why? Big Chuck told me to.

Empire Windows’ official website is here.

WJW TV-8 Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special Promo

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A mega-quick (5 seconds!) promo for the special itself, which aired less than a minute before the show began. I was really, really happy to capture this one; not only does it give me fond memories of this, but also because I just wasn’t sure if there even was a promo for this special. I don’t care how short it is, either; it’s another one for the collection!

The voiceover: “The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Ghoulardi Special, today at 3:30!” Yeah, yeah, basically the same info that’s printed on-screen.

Ghoulardifest 2015 Commercial

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I’m thinking Ghoulardifest is the reason this special was run in the first place; what better promotion could there be? In prior years, the convention was sponsored by WBNX TV-55, but this year it’s WJW, which means they’ve got carte blanche as far as Ghoulardi footage and whatnot goes. It’s a more involved commercial than what has aired in recent years, which more or less usually amounted to basically Chuck & John standing in front of a green screen and giving their pitch. In this spot, however, lotsa Ghoulardi clips are interspersed with the pertinent information, though perhaps oddly, Chuck & John are nowhere to be seen.

WJW was pushing Ghoulardifest pretty hard during the special (as you’d expect). A full 30 second spot aired twice during the show, and a 15 second version right after it.

Needless to say, I am now even more jazzed for Ghoulardifest, which is saying something since I’m always jonesing for the convention. Yes, I will be attending again this year, and yes, there will be another write-up. In the mean time, check out my 2013 and 2014 reviews! And if you can attend, please do so! It’s always a blast!

The Ghoulardifest website with all the info y’all need is here.

The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show Promos

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And finally, promos for Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s current 30 minute Sunday night show proper were, for obvious reasons, ran twice during the special. On the left, a spot featuring a brief clip from their Nukey Shoes skit. On the right, the bit where, as part of the opening fanfare for a movie, John gears up to hit a gong but instead accidentally nails Chuck in his, erm, manhood. Yikes!


 

I love the fact that a special so undeniably Cleveland in every facet can still air on local TV here in 2015. The sad fact of the matter is that there’s not always a place for this kind of thing on modern airwaves. Like I said at the start of this post, there’s a very real sense of history in Northeast Ohio television, one that seemingly won’t let people forget the accomplishments of its past.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

WJW TV-8 – Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Pregame Show (September 20, 2003)

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Man, I used to tape a lot of stuff, so much so that it’s not uncommon for me to come across something I recorded myself back in the day and yet have NO recollection of ever doing so. (See: this post.) When it came to all of the crap things I taped, I like to think that I have a pretty good memory, but I’ve been genuinely surprised by what I recorded years ago enough times to realize that my mental synapses aren’t always untouchable when it comes to this sort of thing.

While this particular broadcast isn’t one I had completely and totally forgotten about capturing, I only retained the vaguest memories of taping it. For obvious reasons, I’m sure glad I did, though. Behold: from WJW 8, it’s Big Chuck & Lil John’s Saturday afternoon “Pregame Show,” from 2003. Has it really been 12 years since this first aired? I refuse to believe it’s been 12 years. I was 17 years old! A junior in high school!

Truth be told, I’m really not sure what drove me to record this. I was of course a full-fledged Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan by 2003, but, aside from a few scattered instances (such as the one seen in this post), I didn’t really tape their show(s) that often. Thanks to those aforementioned super-vague memories, I seem to recall there being something ostensibly special about this broadcast. Maybe I thought it would be a one-off kinda thing?

No matter, because I taped it, I saved it, and thus, here we are.

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Even though the branding is never used here, make no mistake, this is really an installment of Couch Potato Theater, Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s long-running Saturday afternoon showcase, which was always in addition to their regular late night program (they had moved to Saturday nights after MadTV by this point). The features shown during Couch Potato Theater varied from week-to-week; could be a movie, could be old comedy shorts, could be episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show. Or, as in this case, it could be just be skits.

As implied by the whole “Pregame” thing, this episode preceded baseball on WJW 8 that day (actually, it precedes a local special on football and an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer before the game, a difference of scheduling that is noted during the show). As such, it’s a half-hour show made up entirely of skits.

Actually, one thing I really like about this broadcast is just how much it reminds me of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s current show: 30 minutes of skits with the occasional host segment. One major difference between now and then, besides the set and live audience of the old days I mean, is how ‘current’ they were back in the day; references and reminders of what was going on around Northeast Ohio, including where they would be appearing in person (indeed, as per an announcement from Chuck, they were appearing somewhere following this very episode), was a constant part of their hosting duties. Not so hard to understand, since they were (I’m guessing) in the studio quite a bit back then. It’s a much simpler affair nowadays, though anything that keeps Big Chuck & Lil’ John on the air is fine by me.

(Speaking of on the air: up until a few months ago, WJW was running Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s new show in a Saturday11:30 AM time slot, which reminded me even more of the old Couch Potato Theater days. They’ve since moved them to 11;30 PM, Sundays. I DVR the show no matter what, so the time change doesn’t impact me all that much, but I preferred Saturday mornings solely due to that nostalgia element it presented. There was just something about kicking off your Saturday with Chuck & John!)

Being only 30 minutes in length (or, if you want to be really anal, about 28 minutes; the next show didn’t start immediately after this one, dig?), I naturally don’t have a whole lot to work with here, even if I do find it incredibly cool and undeniably nostalgic. But, I’ll give it a shot.

First up, some of the skits themselves:

 

Muldoon’s Bar

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One of my all-time favorites, though I’m pretty sure it’s just a filmed version of an old joke. “Resident Irishman” Tom Bush plays Paddy, who every week or so enters Muldoon’s Bar for two shots of Irish whiskey: one for him, and one to drink for his brother back in Ireland (“To his health!”). One week, he stops at the bar, but only orders a single shot. The bartender is understandably concerned about Paddy’s brother back in Ireland, but when questioned, Paddy reveals the truth: his brother is fine, and in fact, the one shot he drinks is for him. So why not the second shot? Because Paddy gave up drinking for Lent! I love it!

 

The Amazing Stanley

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You can almost see where this one is going from the start. it’s the classic “sawing a woman in half” magic routine, which “The Amazing Stanley” performs to the satisfaction of the crowd. It’s only backstage that the “magic” of the illusion is seen: it’s been two little people curled up in the individual sections of the box! It’s a trip seeing John in high heels, and as per the host segment following the skit, the woman is played by John’s real-life sister.

 

Rockhead

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The Rockhead skits were never my favorites, though I think there were only a few of them. It’s a parody of Rocky, obviously. In this one, Rockhead is training for his big fight with “Alonzo,” while fake Adrian continuously nags him to give up boxing and instead take a steady job as a delivery boy for Rego’s Supermarket. Rockhead always gives the idea the brush off, until he disturbs Alonzo during his training; Alonzo angrily crashing through the wall is enough for Rockhead to immediately change his plans for the future. Fun fact: Chuck’s Rockhead wears a Ghoul sweatshirt throughout the entire skit!

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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Even though he passed away three years ago, Art Modell still isn’t the most popular guy in Northeast Ohio. But back in 2003, the hate for him was pretty venomous. He took away our Browns, man! This sketch plays into that sentiment. In it, Modell is seen talking on the phone and snickering; turns out Cleveland wants him back! We just couldn’t live without him! The pay-off to the skit is that he is indeed brought back to Cleveland…selling hot dogs! And to further insult him, he’s seen calling after people asking if the men’s toilets are backed up while holding up a plunger!

Obviously, there’s no way the real Art Modell was going to come back to Cleveland just to film a skit ragging on him. Instead, “Art” is either seen from behind or, using the same technology as Clutch Cargo and Conan O’Brien, with a pair of live-action, talking lips superimposed over a still image of his head.

It’s a very, very Cleveland sketch, needless to say.

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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Another really good one. Chuck’s classic Stash character is the “certain ethnic artist.” He’s seen painting a portrait of John, the results of which, well, you can see above.

Okay, so that does it for the skits themselves, but what about the host segments? I’m so used to Chuck & John only appearing intermittently during the new show that I had forgotten just how many there were back then; they follow every single skit! For the most part, I like the batch of skits seen in this episode, but as far as I’m concerned, the real heart lies in the host segments. Just seeing Chuck & John on that classic set takes me back like you wouldn’t believe.

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Did you notice the pizza box on the table in the host segment screencap way at the start of this post? That was your first clue that quite a bit of the host segments are dedicated to pitching Pizza Pan pizza (alliteration). Pizza Pan was a big sponsor of Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time. The fellas even did a number of commercials for the company (I’ve got a few). Chuck & John make a point of showing off the pizza box and mentioning the company numerous times during the episode. This is borderline The Pizza Pan Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show!

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: order a pizza and have it delivered, you got an extra pizza free. Even better, order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two free pizzas! Obviously, a deal like that is going to attract some attention, and for a time, Pizza Pan was pretty ubiquitous in Northeast Ohio. I certainly partook of the ‘Pan more than once. Why? Chuck & John told me to. (Also, free pizza is always nice.)

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At one point during the show, the owner of Pizza Pan himself joins Chuck & John onstage to further promote the company. Not only is a special deal mentioned (free ribs when a pizza is ordered – at the Mentor location only), but also the then-recent expansion of the company to more areas. I wasn’t kidding, there was a time in the early-to-mid-2000s when Pizza Pan was a pretty big local chain.

And then, it just sort of seemed to fade away. I seem to recall, though don’t quote me on this because my memory isn’t that clear on the matter, that after awhile the free pizza deal was done away with. If that is indeed what happened, I guess I can understand it; the whole free pizza thing was what the company built its success on!

There are a few locations still around though. As to whether the free pizza deal was brought back or not, I couldn’t say (the official website seems to only give me the current locations and the ability to order online). Check the official website out to see if there’s one near you.

See, now I’m plugging Pizza Pan! Why? Chuck & John, man, Chuck & John.

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Finally, the pregame show ends with a mention of their feature for their normal, late night program: Rocky II! They both seem quite excited by this, not only because they had run the original Rocky the week before, but also because this is apparently the third good movie they’ve had in a row, though what entailed the third movie in that line-up isn’t stated.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I love the old movie bumpers Big Chuck & Lil’ John used for their films. The Rocky II one above is a good example. There’s something just so right about them, though my nostalgia obviously plays a part in that feeling.

(By the way: I didn’t notate on the tape when this originally aired, but Bob “Hoolihan” Wells’ 70th birthday is mentioned as coming up on September 27th, and this episode followed my recording of Conan O’Brien’s 10th anniversary show and preceded Saturday Night Live‘s 29th season premiere. Those aired September 14th and October 4th, respectively, and with the help of this calendar, it pretty much has to be September 20, 2003. I can’t see a way that it’s not!)

Anyway, during these broadcast recaps, I usually look at some of the interesting (to me) commercials found during the respective airing. Being only half an hour, again, I’ve only got so much to work with, and frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot that stood out to me. BUT, there were two I couldn’t end the article without taking a quick look at:

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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Buddy’s Carpet! At one time, it was pretty difficult to watch local TV in Northeast Ohio without seeing at least one Buddy’s Carpet ad. Initially, Buddy himself pitched the company in these commercials, though later on a woman (his daughter, I guess?) took over those duties. As evidenced above, this is one of those later commercials. No matter, because it still gives me a far bigger nostalgic charge than any carpet commercial has a right to.

Buddy’s Carpet is still around, though like Pizza Pan, it seems the locations are more limited now. Check them out here.

 

Regency Windows Ad

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I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that up until fairly recently, I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen a Regency Windows ad on TV in a long, long time. Just like Buddy’s Carpet, their commercials were nearly omnipresent on Northeast Ohio TV. Most of them featured owner and spokesman Mikey (that’s him above) screaming “I’m gonna save you a lotttttttta money!” This ad is (probably) one of the few where he doesn’t give his famous line, but he’s still there, and he’s still excitable, so it’s not a total loss.

Turns out Regency Windows closed some years ago, though what remained of the company was purchased by Window Nation. That official website is here.


 

For what is only a 30 minute recording, this one actually packs quite a nostalgic wallop for me. Besides the whole Big Chuck & Lil’ John Saturday afternoon thing (which is more than enough by itself), there’s also Pizza Pan, Buddy’s Carpet, Regency Windows (and more specifically, Regency’s Mikey), and of course, the skits.

Also, It’s amazing to realize that in 2003, in four years Chuck would retire and they’d be off the air entirely, but in less than 10 years, they’d be back hosting a show that is very reminiscent of this (and other, I’m sure) pregame episodes, a show which continues to this day. If there’s one thing I love about Northeast Ohio, it’s that more than once, our movie hosts have not gone quietly into the figurative night. One way or another, they find their way back!

Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck Barley Wine Ale!

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“Big Chuck’s getting a beer?! When?! Where?! MUST. HAVE. NOW.

That was more or less my reaction when I first learned a month or so ago that local legend “Big Chuck” Schodowski was getting his own beer. It’s funny how after all these years, the announcement of “somethin’ new” related to one of Northeast Ohio’s movie hosts *still* has the ability to turn me into a total spaz.  It’s one facet of my personality that I’ve come to accept as never changing. And, when it’s something out-of-the-box like a beer (as opposed to your expected t-shirts and whatnot), well, that’s the kind of thing that can turn me straight-up violent with anticipation.

I’m (sorta) kidding of course, but considering that the March announcement of Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck-themed barley wine ale didn’t include a specific release date (I only saw a somewhat-vague “In April” release mentioned) or where I could find it for sale when it was on sale, I was a bit concerned about finding some of my own. Was it going to be available only in Cleveland-area stores, or all of Northeast Ohio? Maybe there was an article somewhere that answered these burning questions, but I sure didn’t see it.

More troubling to me than all that, however, was the specific mention that the release was going to be limited to about 8000 cans. Not 8000 cases, not 8000 4-packs, 8000 cans. That doesn’t seem like very much to me, at all. Especially when you consider all of the Northeast Ohio beer-drinkers that could potentially be interested in this. Now, under most circumstances, I take the statement “limited edition” with a grain of salt; I’ve picked up so many ostensibly ‘collectible’ things over the years with that term plastered all over ’em that it really doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Anything made to be collected usually isn’t worth much in the long-run. Everyone goes out and buys it (because it’s “limited edition,” you know), which means it’s not scarce, which means…well, you get the picture.

BUT, unless there’s another run, Big Chuck beer really is a limited edition, and considering it’s a disposable product, there are less likely to be unopened cans popping up online in the future. Then again, the sad fact of the matter is that there are people as fanatical about this kind of thing as I am; the more I think about it, the more I can almost guarantee there’s going to be a bunch of folks at the next Ghoulardifest getting Big Chuck to sign can after can for them.

All of this was indeed running through my head to prior to finally finding Big Chuck beer for sale in my neck of the woods. And with the way my mind works, I had basically worked myself into thinking “there’s no way I’m going to be able to find this stuff at one of my stores! It probably sold-out instantly, anyway!” I get the same way with concert tickets, though in that case it’s a bit more understandable. Heaven help anyone that gets in the way of my purchasing Springsteen tickets, by the way.

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Of course, in other, similar instances, I always tend to see the glass half-empty as far as my probable success-rate is concerned. But in reality, I usually do come out of things kinda sorta successful. It’s rarely as bad or rough as I get myself worked up into thinking it is or will be. And such was the case with Big Chuck beer. Prior to the release, a friend of mine said it would in all likelihood be at Acme. Since I had no idea when it was hitting stores (if it was hitting anyplace in my near-vicinity, that is), I just sort of started checking this store or that store when April came around. Three Giant Eagle stores, one independent drive-thru, and the info that Big Chuck beer was indeed at Acme “store #1” later, I finally decided to check the Acme on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Since this Acme is nearby and easily visited, it’s a mystery why I didn’t check there sooner, but nevertheless, they had it, and it’s now mine, as the picture above aptly demonstrates. Big Chuck beer, happily traveling in an official Acme-brand shoppin’ cart. Tis beautiful.

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There they are, the fruits of my semi-fervor. Ain’t they cute? The red plastic rings keeping the cans together are a sign of quality, and the well-known Big Chuck caricature on the front of the cans is ample proof that this isn’t just another alcoholic beverage, this is a product. Or, dare I say, an event? And look, the UPC is housed in an Ohio! Even before tasting it, you know this is something special. At $10.99 a pack, they kinda have to be.

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There’s the can, liberated from the necessary plastic rings that keep the four cans together and away from ragamuffins and whatnot.

Big Chuck beer comes only in 4-packs of 12 oz. cans. At $10.99 a pack, it’s most definitely a premium beer. Didn’t stop me from buying 3 packs of it, though (one to drink, sparingly, at home, one to drink, sparingly, with friends, and one to keep minty sealed fresh for the rest of my days). Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter is many things, but rolling in dough he is not, so I had to make sure the $35 or whatever it totaled out to after taxes was not spent in vain. So, that means you can thank the higher-price for this post.

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For scale comparisons, there’s Big Chuck beer next to a regular ol’ can of Diet Pepsi and an Adam West Batman action figure. It’s the same size and height as the Diet Pepsi, but not as tall as the Batman. This is really a pretty pointless pic, since everyone knows what a 12 oz. can looks like and Batman has nothing to do with anything. I’m not sure why I’m including this at all, but hey, there it is. “Holy superfluous picture, Batman!”

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Geez o yikes – Big Chuck beer ain’t for the wimps! 11.7% alcohol is just under the current 12% Ohio limit. $10.99 for a 4-pack of 12 oz. cans may sound like “a lot for a little” to some, but if you’re just looking for alcoholic content, well, it kinda evens all out in the end (besides, a limited edition beer from a microbrewery almost has to cost more than your average beer, right?)

The high alcohol content presents a small problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: I am by no means a teetotaler, but the fact is that I’m not much of a drinker, either. The result is that I have an admittedly sad tolerance, which I’m sure is probably letting John Wayne down somewhere, somehow. Prior to picking up this beverage, I think the last alcoholic anything I bought was a pack of that Budweiser Cranbrrrrita stuff right before Christmas, and it sat untouched, except for one (by my Brother), in my fridge for several months afterwards, until I brought them to a friends, where I think I eventually ended up having one, maybe two, tops. I have no problem with alcohol, but I’m the first to admit I’m a lightweight.

So, I can drink Big Chuck’s beer, but I’m gonna have to drink it slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w. There’s just no conceivable way I can drink this thing even remotely fast, unless I want to put myself into a drunken coma, which I don’t. This, of course, is not a fault on the part of the beer at all, it’s totally my shortcoming. I yam a weakling, I admits it. As it stands, I’m gonna have to nurse this beverage like a, um, nurse.

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See that mug? Is it not fitting for the occasion? It’s the closest thing I have to a legit Big Chuck mug, at any rate. Never mind that the graphic on it is kinda obscuring a clear view of the Big Chuck beer outside of the aluminum prison it was formerly housed in, it’s still a nice match to me. Especially since when I do drink, this is totally my mug of choice.

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As you can see, it’s a dark beer, and boy, is it powerful! A big beer for Big Chuck! Another downside of not being much of a drinker is that I can’t really describe all of the nuances of the flavor (seriously, I admire the people that can drink wine or something and then list all of the little flavors they pick up, because I’ve just never been able to do that.)

Portside Brewery has done the formerly impossible though, because prior to this, I haven’t been a big fan of dark beers, preferring instead your lighter domestic beers (not only am I a lightweight, but I’m also extremely mainstream). Believe me when I say this is a good beer. I’m not just saying that because my judgement is clouded by fondness for Big Chuck, either. No joke, I really, really like it! It has that kind of bitter-y taste you associate with dark beers (what is that? Malted barley? Hops?), but in a good way; no cringing here. I may be taking it in slowly, but I’m totally enjoying it. This is really good stuff, the perfect drink to sit back and relax with after a hard day of work. Of course, in my case, a hard day depends on how long I decided to sit in front of a VCR going through ancient videotapes, but I’m assuming the sentiment is the same for people that have real jobs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I first tried Big Chuck beer the other day with a buddy, and he was picking out all of the subtle (or maybe not so subtle, I don’t know) flavors. He was impressed, as were two other pals that tried it. Unlike me, these guys know their beer, and Big Chuck totally passed the test with them. It also passed with high marks from my Brother. My word may not always mean much, but theirs certainly do.

So, you’ve got a limited edition beer featuring a local television legend that comes in a swanky can and is tasty to boot. I consider that a successful purchase. I should pick up some more while I’ve still got the chance. Sure, it’ll take me forever to drink all of it, but I’ll enjoy every second. I know full well that things I’m super-anxious to pick up are often hyped (in my mind) to near astronomical proportions, so much so that sometimes it’s impossible for them to live up to such lofty expectations. But, Big Chuck beer was definitely worth the wait and search. I dig it. It’s certainly worthy of the Big Chuck name.

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Awww, now it’s just a 3-pack. Tis a bittersweet sight.

I guess the only question remaining is: when are we going to get a “Lil’ John” Rinaldi beer?

Just for fun:

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(Visit the official Portside Brewery website here, and the official Big Chuck & Lil’ John site here.)

UPDATE: Totally went and got some more, which as it turned out, was the last one on Acme’s shelf (my brother got the penultimate pack.) Will more arrive in the future? Only time will tell, but I’m certainly stocked for awhile!

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