It’s been quite a treat to see Jay Johnson nudged or attracted — it’s hard to know which — into social media. A prolific and detailed blogger for a long time, Johnson recently has made infrequent appearances on Twitter, Facebook, and now, God love him, in the first video blog by Bob. Yes, if Albert Einstein were alive today, someone would doubtless be pushing him into the social media sphere…
So glad to see Jay Johnson posting about the filming of his forthcoming DVD “The Two and Only.” As most of you know, this is Jay’s Tony-winning show that not only shows off his ventriloquistic virtuosity, it also tells the very poignant story behind Bob. I strongly urge those Chuck & Bob fans out there to “Like” the project on Facebook. This DVD really is a long time in coming, and I’m certain will be well worth the wait.
In the interest of leaving no part of the Soap-verse unexamined during the writing of this book, I submit the screen grab above. As I saw that Jay Johnson appeared on That ’70s Show (“Vanstock,” Season 2, Nov. 2, 1999), I naturally had to see how he was incorporated into the hi-jinks.
Though he only appears for a few seconds, he’s quite clearly portraying Chuck & Bob. (And yes, that’s not the same Bob we all know and love. He currently resides here.)
The setup: While the kids head off to “Vanstock” (like Woodstock, only with more vans), Red gets caught up in watching a soap opera. The very end of the episode is a straight-up homage to Soap; not surprising as executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were instrumental in getting Soap on the air back in the day. Rod Roddy himself delivered the following closing narration:
“Will Red get a job? Will Jackie ever find out about Kelso and Laurie? Will we ever find out where Fez is from? Will Hyde ever find his topless Cinderella? And what ever happened to Midge’s daughter Tina? Will Eric and Donna ever consummate their illicit teenage love? And what about Chuck & Bob? Oh wait, they aren’t on this show. [Bob: See I told you we weren't on this show! Chuck: Oh shut up, Bob!] Confused? You won’t be after the next episode of That ’70s Show!”
Note: This episode is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and you can also find it on YouTube until somebody gets a takedown notice….
No, this is something that occurred to me yesterday while going through Season 4, Episode 11 of Soap. Like much of Season 4, I had completely forgotten a brilliant bit in which (spoilers, spoilers) Danny is in hospital after being shot, and Bob is going over his condition with Dr. Saxon:
Bob: OK doc, give it to me straight. What’s the damage to the pancreas, colon, kidneys and duodenum?
Doctor: Well there’s a lateral rupture of one kidney. There’s capsular damage to the other but-
Bob: I see, so there’s a possibility of uremia renal shutdown and peritonitis.
Doctor: I tend to concur.
Chuck [to Bob]: What are you talking about?
Bob: Shut up.
Aside from the obvious comedy in this situation is Soap‘s primary running joke with Chuck and Bob: everybody else forgets that Bob isn’t “real” (though I think there’s a strong case to be made for believing quite the opposite).
What Bob Can Teach Us
I’ve found myself recently believing that one of the keys to happiness in this world of 24/7 information bombardment is refusing to allow yourself to be drawn into the whole dog and pony show, whatever the subject.
For example, it seems that the moment you start getting involved in the “us and them” bickering of politics — bloody Republicans/Democrats/Labor/Torries/Lib-Dems/etc. — you’ve missed any opportunity to maintain your mental health. The 99% vs. the 1%, North vs. South, this team vs. that team, reality TV vs. scripted TV — whatever the skirmish, you lose.
So after watching that episode of Soap yesterday, it suddenly hit me that any time I hear myself devoting the slightest brain power to weighing the merits of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, the Kardashians, the European Union, I’m essentially bickering with Bob. Listen to talk radio and you can hear people up and down whatever great land you happen to live in bickering with Bob.
Now the beauty of Soap is that usually at some point whoever is bickering with Bob will suddenly realize that he’s just a puppet and snap out of it. Yet these days it seems it’s taking us longer and longer to have that moment of clarity when arguing over the same subjects we’ve debated for decades; some of us never experience that epiphany at all.
Yes, all of these subjects (with the possible exception of the Kardashians) require some thought and some action, but increasingly it seems the amount of heart we put into these debates is indirectly proportional to the likelihood we will be able to change anything.
And all things being equal, I think I’d rather argue with the real Bob.
How did I ever miss Broken Badges? This 1990 series was created by Stephen J. Cannell, who also brought us such classics as Silk Stalkings, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, The A Team and The Greatest American Hero. In other words, a TV god.
Fortunately, some public-minded citizen has posted several episodes of Broken Badges on YouTube. I know I’m not supposed to encourage this sort of thing, but until somebody markets an official copy of the series, it’s fair game as far I’m concerned — that is, until YouTube yanks it. Enjoy it while you can. Among other high points, it gives you some idea of what the genius that is Jay Johnson was able to pull off beyond Soap. (At least until somebody markets a The Two and Only DVD of his Broadway triumph.)
I should be starting a new interview in about an hour — more on that later. In the meantime, I’ve been working today on the story behind the creation of Chuck & Bob, and how Jay Johnson kept that character fresh throughout the series.
For those who’ve always suspected as much, you’re right — the characters were Susan Harris’ riff on Magic, William Goldman’s 1976 novel (and later, 1978 movie starring Anthony Hopkins) about an unbalanced ventriloquist who believes his puppet is alive.
As Johnson says, the trope of the insane ventriloquist is “as old as our artform itself, that they’d be seen as villains, or at least shady or crazy…or something.”
It amazes me how much insight exists in these interviews that I’ve been transcribing since picking up the Soap book once more.
I spent much of yesterday going through the words of Jay Johnson, who brought us the hilarious Chuck & Bob — for many the highlight of the series. His analysis of the Soap controversy is extremely unique, and his behind-the-scenes stories are quite riveting, too.
All of which is simply an excuse for me to post one of my all-time favorite scenes from Soap. Enjoy!