I first learned of Ernie Kovacs on a random stop in 1984 when I stumbled into the New York Radio and Television Museum. I was dumbfounded when I learned I could view old Kinescopes of shows I had never even heard of. A docent recommended an Ernie Kovacs kinescope and I was hooked. I spent a couple of hours looking at rare footage and falling in love with his childlike spirit and risk-taking comedy. As an arts teacher I am constantly in search of ways to show my students what artistic expression can be. Ernie Kovacs used the medium of television the way Picasso used brush and canvas or Julie Taymor uses the stage. Unfortunately, for Kovacs, his legacy is only just now being heralded with a release of a retrospective by Shout! Factory. He was a clear creative genius at a time when his talent found a voice in a brand new medium of expression. His ideas and the medium were new. Everything about his art was difficult to assess as there was no precedent for what he was doing. This lack of a grade or measuring stick made it possible for Kovacs to play as a child would play. It was a gift to television and comedy in general that he create fearlessly. Some ideas failed, others were before their time and still others kept his fans tuning in and his fan base growing. To this day there are numerous iterations and flat-out copies of his work. His comedy is as fresh and funny as it was when he was competing with Uncle Milty, Jack Benny, Steve Allen and Danny Thomas for laughs. Television comedy is an art form that doesn’t garner a great deal of respect. But if you are interested in seeing the work of a true artist regardless of the art form, consider giving Ernie Kovacs your attention.
April 19, 2011