an interview with one of my idols….Doctor Demento!!!!
If you were to tell my 13 year old self that I would interview Doctor Demento in 2012, I would scream “I need an adult!” and runaway. Luckily that never happened to me and here I am in 2012 interviewing a man that helped form the comedic part of my brain. Enjoy the interview and as odd as it sounds yes I was extremely nervous to interview him, so it’s definitely not the best interview I’ve done but still a dream come true.
Curt- First let me say thank you so much for doing this interview, your show defined my humor and my love of comedy. I would never had heard of Spike Jones, Napoleon XIV, Benny Bell and of course Weird Al without your show.
What inspired you to do a comedy radio show?
Dr Demento-The Dr Demento Show did not start out as a funny music show. It was a rare rock oldies show, with excursions into what’s now called “roots music” – blues, old country, etc. I took requests on the phone and got a lot of requests for “The Purple People Eater,” “Monster Mash,” “Transfusion” et cetera. The more of those I played, the more popular the show got, so I became the funny music guy. I had a lot of those records so I was happy to go that way.
Curt- can you tell us a little about your start in radio?
Dr Demento -I did college radio at Reed College in Portland, OR (where I was student manager of the low-power FM station) and a few shows on KPFK non-commercial radio in the 1960s. The Obscene Steven Clean, an air personality at KPPC, met me, saw my record collection, and invited me to be a guest on his show. That turned into a weekly event and then KPPC gave me my own shift in 1971. Steven gave me the name “Dr. Demento.”
Curt- what was your favorite interview? why?
Dr Demento-The one with John Cleese was just bang, bang, bang. Real entertaining. That might have been the single best interview. It was not on my show, but on KLSX’s morning show. (I rebroadcast it on my show). I had several with George Carlin…our talks tended to be a little reflective rather than laugh-a-minute, but they were wonderful. Weird Al is always a blast.
I had Frank Zappa on four times. He was guarded, a bit suspicious, especially later, but always had provocative things to say.
Curt- Do you hate the term “Novelty “ record as much as me? I think it’s harder to write a humorous song that stands the test of time than a one hit wonder type song.
Dr Demento-I don’t hate the term. It’s perfectly fitting for “The Purple People Eater” or “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!” Those may have been one hit wonders but they also stood the test of time, especially the latter, which I still get requests for very frequently. On the other hand there are many things I play which are not novelty songs. With the possible exception of “Valley Girl” none of Frank Zappa’s recordings are novelty songs at all.
Curt- You gave Weird Al not only his start in music but a job too, what made you decide to hire him?
Dr Demento– Al worked for me for about two and a half days once, filing records. That’s the only time I ever “hired” him. He got a job at Westwood One, but outside of introducing him to the staff, I wasn’t involved in that.
Curt- It’s fairly common knowledge that you have a huge record collection, how many albums do you own?
Dr Demento-Well into six figures. I haven’t counted them in awhile.
Curt- Do you still have records stacked up in every square inch of your house?
Dr Demento-Not quite literally every inch, though it often seems that way. Actually there are relatively few records in the house, they are mostly in the studio and record library which are in a separate structure.
Curt-Your show has inspired dozens of today’s top comedians and modern TV shows like 30 Rock, Community and other cult favorite shows, did you ever expect generations of fans to become the writers and performers that are now inspiring new generations?
Dr Demento -I realized after awhile that I had quite a following, and that some of those followers were becoming leaders as time passed.
Curt- Weird Al and Elmo and Patsy had a huge impact on early Mtv were you ever approached to do a video version of your show for Mtv or any channel? It seems like a natural progression for your radio show.
Dr Demento -Yes. I did two April Fools’ specials for MTV. They gave some thought to having me do a regular show, in the 1980s, but it didn’t happen. I was also in a pilot for NBC called Welcome to the Fun Zone. (Weird Al was also involved in that). The pilot aired, but did not develop into a series, alas.
Curt- Because of the anonymity of radio have you ever done any other radio shows not as Dr. Demento that no one knows about?
Dr Demento -In the summer and fall of 1971, I did a nightly show on KMPX in San Francisco. I used the name Dr. Demento, but this was before the character of Dr. Demento the funny music guy was fully established. It was a free-form program of rock, blues, and other things, with one or two funny songs each night.
I did lots of shows on the Reed station, of course, under my real name…and then there was “Old Time Record Review” which ran on KPFK in Los Angeles for six months in 1965. This was a program of 1920s and 1930s blues and country recordings under the auspices of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation, then located at UCLA. I selected the records and wrote the scripts (which had to be approved by the directors of the Foundation before broadcast). Some of the scripts were read by others, some by myself under my real name.
Curt- what upcoming comedian or artist are you just getting into now?
Dr Demento -There are a lot of good songs by unsigned artists you can hear on The Funny Music Project website (www.thefump.com).
One not real well known artist whose work I really love and admire is Logan Whitehurst. Tragically, he died of brain cancer in 2006 at age 29.
Curt-What would surprise your fans the most about your daily life?
Dr Demento -I always liked trains…I have a collection of train videos. I watch them in the evening before I go to bed…much more restful than Leno or Letterman. I’m quite active in the Reed College alumni association.
Curt- Whats next for Doctor Demento?
Dr Demento -emailing this interview to you!
Curt- and finally selfishly, how can I get an autograph?
Dr Demento -You, or anyone interested, can get an autograph by sending an SASE to Dr Demento, PO Box 884, Culver City, CA 90232. If you’d like an 8×10 glossy photo, send an envelope big enough to hold one.
Curt- thank you so much for everything!
Dr Demento -You’re welcome! -dr d
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