By Tony Best
Following the dissolution of Monty Python in the early '80s and the waning popularity of National Lampoon, MTV would breathe new life into the sardonic humor genre with a series of on-air promos that further established the network as a harbinger of cool. In search of the funny, MTV promo producers looked outside of their in-house talent pool to begin the tradition of tapping into a not-so-obvious source of satirical content: unknown stand-up comedians and comic actors. The gamble would pay off in spades when these jokesters went on to develop a cast of characters that rivaled those on mainstream TV, oftentimes becoming stars in their own right. The fresh new material helped evolve MTV’s identity beyond a quirky music video destination and, in some cases, was expanded into television properties and even feature films, supporting the careers of the then-unknown talents.
Here’s a look at some of those early promos:
Donal Logue’s loveable greaseball and bon vivant Jimmy the Cab Driver appeared in a string of iconic IDs in the early ‘90s, made memorable by the Canadian actor’s delicate balance of endearing pathos and creepiness. Here, the baby’s expression speaks volumes for Jimmy’s appeal: intrigue and mild disgust.
If MTV had a mascot in the late ‘80s, it would have been Jim Turner’s Randee of the Redwoods, whose loopy adventures were documented in a series of spots culminating with the network putting forward the half-baked hippie as its dark horse candidate for President.
Before he was a Twitter shock-meister and disgraced voiceover artist for Aflac, Gilbert Gottfried starred in a succession of bizarre, improvised interstitial MTV sketches that highlighted his neurotic take on music television programming. His rants are often nonsensical, but the uniquely irate persona on display was enough to launch him into stardom.
Speaking of rants, no one ever did them as well as Denis Leary, who touched a chord with alternative youth through a string of MTV promos riffing on everything from REM to, as seen here, the dangers of drug use.
TV geeks may remember Judy Tenuta from her stint on The Weird Al Show and other obscure ‘80s cable shows. Today, the accordion-wielding comedienne is perhaps best known for her portrayal as the "Petite Flower and Love Goddess" in this seductively strange ident.
Taking a cue from Def Comedy Jam, MTV tapped into the burgeoning urban comedy scene with the funny-as-shit Your Motha’ promos (which would bequeath a TV show of the same name). Look close at this spot for a glimpse of Jam veteran, and future Day-Day Jones portrayer in the Friday films, Mike Epps.