How David Spade Led Me To A Week-Long El DeBarge Obsession
I just spent most of this week obsessed with the 1986 song "Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge. I haven't been able to listen to it enough, and the video is a feast of 'WHAT?" for the eyes.
It's become an all-consuming earworm obsession that's earned me many a confused side glance from other cars at stoplights.
So today, I had to stop and retrace the steps that had led me to this existence. I think it started when I fell into a YouTube suggestions hole that started with Johnny Carson, led to 'Weird Al', and finally to me joining the quest to identify Johnny.
Well, it actually started with Eddie Murphy.
I saw a clickbait headline about what David Spade said that kept Eddie Murphy away from Saturday Night Live for many years. I couldn't resist and clicked it.
The story led, eventually, to an SNL clip from 1995 where Spade makes fun of Murphy. It was as underwhelming a joke as I figured it'd be.
But then YouTube's suggested I watch Murphy's first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1982.
I watched it and remembered I'd watched it before, probably after a similar click adventure.
Murphy is very funny. But, in 2022 his stand-up makes me feel the way I felt trying to explain the first Ace Ventura movie to my son. It's like 70% brilliantly funny, and 30% horrific. And it was horrific at the time, we knew.
And, of course, I saw a whole bunch of Ed McMahon.
Seeing Ed, of course, got me thinking about the Weird Al song "Here's Johnny." It's on his 1986 album Polka Party. It was the first song on side two of the cassette I got for my 11th birthday in 1987.
Luckily, like any good Close Personal Friend of Al, I have his discography on my phone, just for emergencies like this. So I fired up the song several times.
After having His Weirdness' tribute to the top second banana on repeat for a while - probably longer than a normal human brain can stand - I remembered that Al's song was a parody of the song "Who's Johnny."
This is where the Youtube Rabbit Hole got really deep...
The song is an 80s R and B-influenced pop song. It is just fun, and my brain couldn't get enough.
As the earworm worked its way into my brain, I headed back to Youtube. I remembered the video being one of those videos that are basically a long commercial for the movie the song comes from.
The video for 'Who's Johnny' is that, and so, so much more. I was off on a journey of self-discovery. Or at least bewilderment.
I hadn't seen this video since it was a hit on MTV for a few months in 1986. It was one of those songs that burned bright and fast. As big as it was at the time, it disappeared just as quickly.
In the video El, the star of Short Circuit Ally Sheedy, and a cardboard cutout of Steve Gutenberg appear to be on trial. They seem to be accused of knowing who Johnny is and the prosecutor is demanding they share that info.
You can tell she is a serious 80s lawyer because she is wearing glasses and has her hair pulled back. The international signal for 'no-nonsense.'
As the video continues, the whole courtroom starts demanding the answer to the titular question.
But, El is playing coy, and Johnny 5's robot hand is playing pranks on the court. He takes the lawyer's glasses and the judge's gavel, replacing them with props of future hilarity.
Is Johnny a person, a robot, an imaginary friend created in response to childhood trauma of having to move to the other end of town and having to change schools, and not having any friends in the neighborhood?
No? Just me then? OK.
Then the lawyer pulls out her secret weapon, a VHS copy of the movie Short Circuit!
Dun, Dun, Dunnnnnnnnn
She shows the court clips of the film showcasing its futuristic robotics, cutting-edge humor, and problematic casting choices.
The comedy and action the scenes highlight don't advance the case, but they do do an OK job of promoting the movie.
Sheedy takes the stand and there's a robot hand (unintentional rhyme).
Everybody falls in love with her, because of course they do. It's Ally Sheedy.
Then this happens:
Look, I don't know what or why that happened. I mean I know Johnny 5 replaced her glasses as a prank. But, it's just not funny.
I was there in the 80s, and the glasses with a fake mustache and a big nose weren't anymore funny then, and they aren't funny now. It just seems to indicate that humor was present.
Maybe it was a sort of placeholder. And nobody came back later to insert the real joke into the video.
Eventually, the rhythm of the night infects the courtroom, and nobody can hold back. They all must dance!
Johnny 5 demands it.
And look! That lawyer lady is cool now because she let her hair down. And there are firemen, because why not?
She seems to have forgotten that she's still wearing the glasses and nose. Unless she was going for the crazy hippie with bleached hair look. It was the 80s, so who knows.
Then the judge's gavel explodes, the dancing continues, and Alley and El escape. Presumably to cash their check for a day's work.
So, that's how I ended up here. From Spade to Eddy to Carson to Al and finally to El DeBarge. It has been a busy week.
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