Topic I

Because there just hasn't been enough talk and discussion about Don Imus lately.

Background, if you've been living under a rock: Last week Imus, on his talk show, referred to the Rutgers University womens basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's". Much upset resulted. Once it was realized how much upset, Imus apologized, and his parent company suspended his show for two weeks.

The sincerity of Imus' apology is suspect. His career has been mostly built around being rude, insulting, in-your-face offensive.

But what made Imus famous wasn't that. It was something called "1,200 Hamburgers To Go." 1200HTG was a classic prank phone call Imus made from his radio show way back around 1970. At the time, there were numerous university and college student demonstrations against the Vietnam War, not always peaceful; in a number of instances, National Guard units were called out to preserve order on campuses (not always successfully; see Kent State).

One such NG unit was called out for such purpose in Imus' home city. Imus called a local MacDonald's burger joint, and pretended to be the National Guard commander, who explained to a hapless clerk that arrangements for feeding the NG members had fallen through, and that he needed to order twelve hundred hamburgers to go. An extended conversation later, roping the MacDonald's manager in, and the MacDonald's had agreed to provide the twelve hundred hamburgers.

"Okay," Imus said, "We'll need two of those with pickle and ketchup, no, make it three with pickle and ketchup, and---" At which point the MacDonald's manager finally realized he was being put on and hung up the phone.

It was funny. It was classic. And... it was benign. It didn't put anyone down, or belittle them, or insult them. It just played a joke, and a good joke. It got airplay everywhere, and repeatedly. It made a local radio host into Don Imus, National Celebrity.

Flash forward a few years, to 1978, when a fellow named Dave Klause was staying with Hilde and me for several months following the Phoenix Worldcon.

Dave was a big fan of 1200HTG, and somewhere he came across a tape of Don Imus performing as a standup comic at a private club. He brought it back to our place, and eagerly popped it into our tape player for a listen.

It was... ugly. Imus' performance was racist, vulgar, scatological, way way over the edge of acceptability. And none of it, none, was even the least bit funny. It was just ugly, and hateful, and... literally... disgusting. After listening to about ten minutes worth, Dave turned off the tape player, a shocked look on his face, and said "Uhh, I guess we won't listen to any more of that."

You see, when Imus is on the public airwaves, no matter how much you think he's rude or offensive, he's actually behaving himself.

Because the real Don Imus is the man who slipped and called a group of black women athletes "nappy-headed ho's", the real Dom Imus is the man we heard on that tape from 1978.

Imus has described himself as "an equal-opportunity bigot"; he hates everybody. I don't think that's a joke. I think Imus is a man deeply poisoned by hatred and anger and bigotry; he just (usually) keeps himself (barely) on the acceptable side of behavior. I think he is a deeply ugly, bone-ugly, soul-ugly individual.

I said above that 1200HTG is a "classic" piece of comedy. It is. I wish it had been the product of someone who deserved the credit.

[02/29/2012 -- A rude, petty, and irrelevant endnote removed.  My apologies, Dave.]

1 comment:

Gary Farber said...

Dave Klaus writes me a lot. This is his address: david_k_m_klaus@yahoo.com

Since you ask.