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Television Thu Mar 31 2011

Svengoolie Goes National April 2


It's true! Starting this Saturday, Chicago's very own "Svengoolie" will be crossing state lines, introducing the rest of the country to the pun-infused, song parodying, rubber-chicken throwing show that first aired in Chicago in 1970. I got to ask Rich Koz, the man behind "Svengoolie," every last burning question I've always wanted to ask.

GB: Because of you I can't hear the name "Berwyn" -- either in reference to the suburb, or the street on the North Side -- without hearing "Beeeerrwyyyn" in my head. I understand this began as a spoof of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" which used the name "Burbank" with the same derision.

RK: Yes, Jerry Bishop did the original "Svengoolie" show and introduced that, they'd make the Burbank joke on Carson's "Tonight Show" about "broadcasting from beautiful downtown Burbank."

Also, I'm so clueless that I just learned the name Svengoolie is a play on Svengalie; I live so close to Andersonville that I assumed he was so named because he was Swedish.

No, he would have had a different accent. Svengalie is a term that was better known 20 years ago.

So this is pretty exciting, you're going national!

It is, we've gotten a lot of email in the past five or six years from people who used to live in Chicago and used to watch it, asking how they could still see it. They couldn't before, other than clips on YouTube and that we posted on the website.

When I picture you at work, I see you, a cameraman, and a guy throwing rubber chickens, is that about right?

It depends. Sometimes it's just one other person in the studio operating a teleprompter and a robotic camera, and a lot of times we have volunteers throw the chickens.

About how many rubber chickens would you say you go through a year?

They get rotated in and out, because after a while rubber chickens do wear out. The more you handle them, the more the oils in your hands makes them deteriorate. I've had fans come up to me with rubber chickens I signed in the '80s, and the latex has deteriorated. We're using newer ones that are more plastic, and will last longer and are easier to sign, but they also hurt more when they're thrown at me.

There's always a trade-off. There are certain sound effects that I forever associate with "Svengoolie," and that pop into my head at appropriate moments, like "Ow, ow, OW," and "Huh-huh-huh, yeah" where are they from?

We've been collecting those for many years; they come from all different sources: old movie trailers, ads, records, and some that people have recorded in the studio. There are literally thousands of sound effects on a database.

That would be a really fun thing to play with.

It would be great if we could make it small enough to carry it around and select sound effects appropriate for whatever situation you're in.

So now that you're going national, do you think you'll still be able to make jokes specific to Chicagoland? Do you think you'll have to change your angle to make your humor appeal to the rest of the country?

Well, we won't go as heavily with the local humor, but there will be some -- Berwyn will stay, and we have to stay loyal to the fans. I've been telling people that when you watch Letterman he's making jokes about New York and people understand it, so I think it's one of those things where if you watch consistently, you get what's happening.

I never thought about that, I guess it's part of the complex we have living between LA and NY, we're so used to nobody paying attention to us that we think nobody will understand our humor. What kinds of movies can we expect to see coming from the new, nationally broadcast "Svengoolie"?

We screened old classic Universal horror movies for a brief time two to three years ago, we got the contract back on that, and will be able to run those and additional ones from the catalog. Some of them have not aired on broadcast TV in decades. We'll be introducing a new generation to films they've never seen before. Black and white film captures such a great atmosphere that I don't think would [get captured] if they were in color; they certainly knew how to shoot them back then.

What's it like to play the same character for so long; do you think Svengoolie has changed over the years?

He's gained some weight; there was one point when I was wearing a double breasted tuxedo that had to become triple breasted. I don't do the accent as heavily because I have a lot to say in a short amount of time, I use the excuse that "I've been in this country long enough that I've lost some of the accent." Other than that it works pretty much the same as it did in '79. It's the same wig -- I bought that wig at a K-Mart for $30 because theatrical wigs were so expensive. I'd like to get a new one, but they don't sell them at K-Mart anymore. I just wash it every once in a while in Woolite.

Is there anything else you want to make sure your viewers know?

I appreciate the fact that the viewers have been supporting me so long. One of the nicest things I hear is people say is, "I used to watch you as a kid, now I watch you with my kids." The whole family gets to watch -- I don't know that there are a lot of shows where the whole family gets to watch.

That's true.

The national roll-out is going to be gradual; we're adding affiliates starting this weekend into the summer, and eventually are going be visible coast to coast.

Sales of rubber chickens will soar around the country. You're going to single-handedly turn around the economy.

I should have gotten in on the ground floor on rubber chickens.

Well, someone will make money. There's a picture of you on the Internet from high school.

Wow, is it the one where I'm wearing thick glasses?

Yes, glasses, and you're holding a record -- looks like a 45.

Must have been when I was on high school radio -- I have a friend who calls those "radio glasses" because everyone she knew who was on the radio in the Sixties wore them.


Little Svengoolie, second from the left, top row. Photo courtesy of the Internet

"Svengoolie" broadcasts on Me-TV every Saturday (WCIU-TV 26.3, Comcast 223/357, RCN 14, WOW 17/19, Dish Network 23, DirecTV 23 and U-verse 23) and beginning April 2 will feature classic Universal horror films, many of which have not been seen on broadcast television in years, including Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Invisible Man.

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Don Moseley / April 1, 2011 8:32 AM

Congratulations on entering the big time in broadcasting. My favorite thing in life is watching your show with my four little grand-kids all curled up together in bed on Saturday nights. They wear the Sven t-shirts like pj's. It has become a family ritual. Thanks.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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