Thursday, October 25, 2007

PROFESSOR SCHNITZEL: Pennsy Dutch stand-up comedy reaches its zenith

DD's parents had a record collection, one which demonstrated how much they hated music.

The stuff they were into: Assorted records by piano hacks Ferrante & Teicher, a duo who turned popular tunes into muzak; a collection of the Ray Coniff Singers, a vocal group which turned pop hits into muzak, the complete works of Robert Goulet and crap from Mitch Miller's Sing Along With Mitch show.

When it came to 45's, their taste was almost as dire. Think novelties like Rolf Harris's "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport," "Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto and the absolute pinnacle of elevator music, "The Girl from Ipanema."

However, the neighbors -- who were Pennsylvania Dutch -- were another matter.

The Musselmans introduced me to Professor Schnitzel's records. Schnitzel was a stand-up comedian from Lancaster who traded on humorous foibles particular to the Pennsylvania Dutch country, which my hometown, Pine Grove, was smack dab in the middle of.

The Pennsylvania Dutch were good at three things: beer, potato chips and sausage. The chip companies in Lebanon and Lancaster counties were the best in the world. By way of example, nothing made in California, or by the food giant Lay's, compared or compares favorably with Utz.

Interestingly, it took the Pennsylvania Dutch a bit to get sausage right. The natives tended to undercook their pork, the result being that the PA Dutch country had the highest rates of trichinosis infection in the country well into the Eighties. Tastes good, though!

But back to Professor Schnitzel, who issued his jokes on 45's, of which DD believes there are four: "As I Was Saying...", "Schussel Along with Schnitzel," "Imagine That" and his first, "Pennsylvania Dutch Spoken Hereabouts" -- all on Buch Records of Lancaster, PA.

"As I Was Saying... is another in a series of records giving you a taste of Pennsylvania Dutch flavored humor and stories," reads the jacket copy from 1962. "Ingredients: a bit of spice, logic and tall stories of the gay Dutch, served to you platter style by none other than the famous Professor Schnitzel, one of Pennsylvania's outstanding humorists for more than three decades. He bubbles with humor and friendliness, and dispenses corn, comedy and nonsense in a thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent ... [Professor Schnitzel] has become our local ambassador of goodwill to millions of people throughout the nation."

The last sentence may overstate the case somewhat.

For "As I Was Saying...", Schnitzel expounds on his "courting days" as well as his Uncle Louie, who seemed either to be always having sex or knocking on doors answered by nude women. [See also What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? by Alan Funt.]

Another prominent feature of Pennsylvania Dutch humor is the shit joke.

A good Pennsylvania Dutchman thinks there is nothing quite so funny as a mess in someone else's pants. Indeed, the love of brown humor was and is so ingrained, copy editors at the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown used to have to regularly purge it from columns contributed by a local pastor, prior to publication.

Professor Schnitzel contributes his own gentle version of the shit joke, one containing absolutely no four letter words. The fifty second routine, from an old copy of "As I Was Saying..." is here.

The astute listener will immediately notice the crowd laughter appears to be from a women's social event.

[Big thanks and a tip o' the hat to Rick Noll of Bona Fide Records in Pennsyltucky for reuniting DD with the old professor.]

The modern equivalent of my parents' record collection is taken up by the phenomenon known as indie pop. Another description of it might as well be music by nerds for other hopeless nerds.

If you like rock 'n' roll at all, you can't listen to indie pop. It's painfully white, stopped-up and collegiate -- not in a frat party classic rock way -- but in a failed-liberal-arts-major-turned-new-sincerity-writer-with-really-crap-taste-in-clothes sense.

This being the case, many music journalists love it.

The Thursday edition of the Los Angeles Times turned its Calendar section over to pushing what it considered the best local "indie" bands in a feature entitled, "Their Moment Is Now."

Not buying what they were selling, it was time to serve up superciliousness, platter style, aided by a couple handy photographs and captions.

"The world is so confusing ... Maybe it always has been, but especially now because the media is everywhere and there's so much of it," says Mikel Joliet, "the former music journalist and aspiring novelist who fronts the Airborne Toxic Event [band]," writes Kevin Bronson of the Times, without an atom of humor.

"It's kind of mind-numbing..." continues Joliet.

"Joliet's decision to set aside finishing his novel" apparently led to the formation of a band. Please, won't someone get him a literary agent?

Next up, Castledoor.

"If their penchant for neo-hippie fashion doesn't get your attention -- their folk-pop melodies will..." intones the newspaper.

Absolutely! Castledoor's fashion got DD's attention. The act is bringing back the look of the made-for-TV- movie, Heidi, the one that butted in before the end of the a famous Raiders vs. Jets match-up in 1968. One of the bandmembers is also reviving the fashion statement worn by the kids in "A Christmas Story," the uncool winter cap with earmuffs.

Remember, this is a band in southern California, where it never snows except high in the mountains and the temperature didn't go under ninety this week.

The LA Times was so taken by the dude rockin' his earmuff cap look it put him in the newspaper twice.

Castledoor's Heidi and friend in earmuff cap, soCal indie musos ready for a tour of chocolatiers in the Swiss Alps.

Leaked promo shot from the remake/sequel to A Christmas Story: Randy Parker Goes to College.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:59 PM  
Blogger KarenAnn said...

Just for some clarification on Professor Schnitzel who was my great uncle. He was from Berks County and considered the tiny residential area of Turkey Hollow between Shillington, Pennwyn and Mohnton as his home as an adult. My uncle Ted (for his real name was Theodore Rickenbach) performed live for quite a few years, enjoying venues such as the Kutztown Folk Festival, but he also had a radio show on WHUM in Reading. I was just a child when he had that radio show and don't remember much about it. He passed away in 1969. By the way, he was a hoot at family reunions!

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Grandad "COXY" ran a bar in Berkshire Heights Wyomissing and used to play the records on the side of serving drinks. Got all the workers in Rockwell and Burlington Indus. roaring. So of course he brought the records to our house and my brothers and I would play them continuously, and die laughing. I remember most of the jokes still....(Prof) "You know, the Dutch speak fewunny. Instead of saying feed the horse some hay, they say things like throw the horse over the fence some hay. Or instead of turn off the light they say "outen the light". There are so many more, especially the story of going to New York City to find Don to write his Momma a letter. (Prof pulls up to a gas station) "Do you know where there is a little white house? (Garage Man) Why yes, there's one around in the back. (Prof) So I went out back and by golly there it was. I saw a feller coming out putting on his coat. So I said, "are you Don?". (Man) Why yes. (Prof) So why don't you write your Mum a letter (sounds like why don't you wipe your bum a little). Course, maybe he had no paper. God did we love this stuff. A BIG part of my growing up, trying to understand what much of it (the tongue in cheek) meant.

3:57 AM  

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