I had a huge crush on Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse. Not to be confused with the animated stuff he does on SNL–which is also usually very funny or at least very envelope-shoving–the TV Funhouse television series was an insane satire of children’s shows like Bozo The Clown or Howdy Doody. It featured a human host (usually dressed like a cowboy) interacting with a bunch of very cheap-looking animal puppets called The Anipals on a bright and colorful set. In between their interactions, they’d show cartoons (similar to the SNL stuff), short films, and Mr. Rogers-style field trips to places like a cookie factory and a sperm bank.

All the studio stuff was really funny and crazy, but my favorite thing about the show was its inclusion of live animals in many of the sketches. That’s what made me love the show so much, and is probably why it didn’t last more than a season. (The logistics of attaching a tiny pink bow to an iguana’s head or getting a cow to eat a steak in their “Sames” restaurant sketch must have been pretty awful on the show’s budget and its producers.) I really admired how much Smigel seemed to appreciate the humor you can mine from an animal without doing anything but letting it be itself in a super-weird environment, like in that Sames sketch or the animal testing lab sketch. So. Good. I wanted it preserved forever, like a pretty lady in a glass jar. And, finally, as of yesterday it is because TV Funhouse was just released on DVD. Tell Netflix to give it to you!

Sorta related: I can’t figure out if this is included on the DVD set, but a while back I got a chance to see the pilot for this show, which was very different than the format that aired on Comedy Central. (By the way, I’m hoping the pilot is included; not me watching the pilot, although I’d be cool with that, too, if they had that footage.) Apparently, Smigel had originally envisioned the show to be even more like Bozo the Clown. In fact, he wrote the pilot with himself cast as a mean, boozy Clown host and shot it (amazingly) in front of a live studio audience filled with actual children and their moms.

I don’t remember everything about the pilot but there was one moment that still makes me laugh when I think about it now. At one point in the show, Smigel-as-Clown announces that he’s going to bestow some kind of honor on a lucky person in the audience–I can’t remember what but it was the equivalent of “king for a day” or something. Then they cut to the audience and do one of those tricks where the camera is just whizzing around from person to person, never making it clear where it will land. After about five or six seconds of this, it finally settles on a young boy. When the boy notices that he’s on camera he has just enough time to react with excitement…before the camera starts moving again. A few seconds later, it lands on a little girl and the music plays, graphics pop up and she’s bathed in glory. It is at once one of the meanest and funniest thing I’ve ever seen, especially since the camera lingers on that original boy long enough to see his expression change from glee to confusion once it moves away from him. If I’m ever feeling sad, sometimes I remove that memory from my brain and press it against my heart. (Note: this memory alternates with my memory of the before-and-after pictures of the iguana make-over, also from TV Funhouse.)

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