DECEMBER 19, 1969
by Tom Prideaux

Groove Tube - Where the Joke is On, In and At TV

When can a case be made for bawdiness in entertainment?
      This question is raised by a little show, Groove Tube, that is running now off Broadway in a theater called Channel One, also in Chicago and is booked into a dozen institutes of higher learning, starting this month at Cornell University. Groove Tube is a bunch of skits put on video tape and projected by closed-circuit TV onto three monitors.
      The show is the brain child - or brain litter, if you like, of two young graduates of Bard College, Kenneth Shapiro and Lane Sarasohn, who have been tinkering underground with video shows for three years. Now they have surfaced with a new theater and have spliced together their most popular items for wider exposure. In this private dart game the main target is television, and Groove Tube finds plenty of malicious fun in steamy commercials and the lofty expertise of some news and sports announcers.
      A pair of Olympic sportscasters, for example, guide us through the final event of the "34th annual sex games." Curt and Christina, the West German team, must win another 19 points against the aggressive Canadians. We watch them on the TV screen, represented by a scratchy oldtime sex-party film that blacks out at crucial scenes. The cool announcers bid us appreciate "the classical frontal embrace which is favored by most European teams," followed by "a sweep, a false pass, a curl and a probe." All this nonsense, far more comic than erotic, makes us laugh at the phony aplomb of the commentators who have a glib word - for anything.
      The basis of most Groove Tube humor is incongruity. We see it again in Kramp TV Kitchen, which without benefit of ribaldry reduces audiences to more aching laughter than I have heard on Broadway this year. As the camera closes in on a pair of busy hands at a kitchen table, the Voice of Authority instructs the housewife how to make an awful mess called Fourth of July Heritage Loaf.
      Casseroles are rubbed with Kramp Easy-Lube shortening. Apples are peeled and smeared with Easy-Lube. The housewife is told to put a big glop of mashed potato on her palm, stick an onion in the middle and squeeze it in her fist. Chaos prevails. The Voice rattles on. And the Heritage Loaf finally emerges from the oven, ugly and hard as a brick, to be coated with fake whipped cream. Frankly, I don't know why this should convulse an audience - it did me - unless it releases some old childhood glee in making mud pies. Or does it remind us of all the brainless blather we hear in the face of calamity?
      As an interlude, Finger Ballet shows close-up shots of a man's two fingers prancing and pirouetting across a hilly landscape that turns out to be a woman's body. Lewd? Yes. But also imaginative, humorous, and rather preposterously lyrical.
      TV-spoofing is resumed with a medly of commercials for beauty and hygiene deodorant sprays, shampoos, ungents, soaps, salves and lathers, with shots of gorgeous females shaving their legs and young mothers ushering little girls into this seductively sudsy world, all to a background of velvety organ music and a flow of verbal Vaseline. A similar visceral approach is kidded in a pitch for a new motor car, which begins by implying that a man who buys this vehicle will gain greater sexual potency, and ends with a promise that here is "the car that supports the illusion that you are important."
      Groove Tube may prove offensive to some people, and should be avoided without shame or embarrassment by anyone who is leery of such goings-on. But, in most cases, I found its dips into ribaldry justified by their humor and inventiveness. It never sinks to the mirthless level of New York's big skin show, Oh! Calcutta!, nor does it, like that show, feel bound to be bawdy every minute. Its finest moment for me, in fact, shows a newscaster winding up with a vapid little anecdote just before the camera leaves him. Only, instead of leaving, the camera remains riveted on him, minute after minute, while he sits miserably at his desk with nothing to do but stare. The empty face of television was never better personified.

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