Ya gotta understand, for a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, in the 1950s, being a talking head in a documentary is, just, wow! Who would've thought, ya know? I was just a street kid back then, playing stickball, causing trouble, now here I am on TV. Ya gotta understand, I add a bit of blue collar what's the word ah, integrity to the proceedings. Sure, I'm educated City College, class of '67, as a matter of fact but next to these stuffy intellectual types, I'm a welcome dose of relatability. Waxin' intellectual in a Ken Burns documentary, ya gotta understand, it's like
like being Elvis or being Frankie Valley, if you're a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, in the 1950's. Did I mention that I lived just down the street from Dodger great Gil Hodges? True story.
Where am I? What's that? Jazz? Jazz
OH, the music! Yes. I'm sorry, I'm a thousand years old. I'm older than the topic being discussed. I was receiving Social Security when Mr. Burns was born. My jowls hang well past my shirt collar and the rims of my nostrils are always wet because, again, I am a thousand years old, and yet Mr. Ken Burns lets the camera linger on my grotesque face after I finish talking. He thinks the silence means I'm lost in memories, but I'm actually soiling myself. I was once a great author or academic I honestly don't remember which now so the nice, young 60-year-old directing this film asked that I come by to add a bit of gravitas. And saliva. I'll most likely have passed by the time this documentary airs so if you forget my name and Lord knows I'm a little fuzzy on it just wait for the dedication at the end of the film.
Okay, okay, okay. The thing you need to understand about me is I'm not some stuffy, button-down scholar, yeah? History is violence, and I try to drill that into my students to WAKE THEM UP, yeah? But try telling that to the Dean of Faculty after you bring an antique Luger to class. Mind if I fidget in my chair constantly and sip from this mug that might be coffee and might be gin? I'm here to interpret every single piece of American history in this documentary as revolution against Wall Street fat-cats, yeah? I refuse to accept the American hegemony, just like Martin Luther King, Jr. I refused to accept the status-quo, just like Karl Marx. I refused to take the bullshit doctrine of the capitalist pigs, just like the Unabomber. I don't follow the "rules" of traditional professors. I don't care about tenure, or what recorded history says, or about bathing. I'm a patriot, yeah? I even served in Vietnam, meaning I served to bring Vietnam to an end by bombing a post office in New Jersey.
In West African folklore you'll find the character of Anansi. The lov-a-ble fool. And that is who the white public wanted Lou-is Armstrong to be, you see. I, too, see people, events, institutions in their greater, con-text-u-al position but, unlike these other people, I also punc-tu-ate my words to give my sen-ten-ces an ex-treme-ly cool rhythm. That is why I can dis-cuss anything and make it seem in-ter-est-ing. I can make a 1922 grocery store fire sound like a goddamn sonnet. My buttery voice is like a balm, an aloe, to the pinched, nasal squeaks you've heard from the uptight, emotionally frigid professors in this doc-u-men-tary. I am, at once, a poet, a nerd and stone cold soul brother. I am an enigma. I am un-assign-a-ble. Much like the great Lou-is Armstrong, himself.
Welcome to my museum. Did I know this documentary subject? Not at all. Do I teach this subject at any legitimate university? Heavens no. Do I run a small, illegal shrine to his early work out of my studio apartment? Yes I do, and have the zone-violation notices to prove it. I also run the official appreciation society and fan club, and publish a newsletter with a circulation of seven. My happy-go-lucky attitude masks the loneliness I suffered ever since blocking out my friends and family with my collection of rare Zorro lunchboxes. Aw, listen to me, though! Boo-hoo! Whatever. I simply love being the talking head that shows the subject's pop-cultural resonance. I also love being the inspiration for most Christopher Guest characters.
Aw, bro, Ray Charles? Such an inspiration to me. His bravery against violent segregation in the south was just like my struggle through the semi-finals of Dancing With the Stars. Check it: being a talking head proves that I have a deep interest in the history of my craft, provided we can knock out this interview in a quick 10. I've got a Details cover shoot this afternoon. And in return for my too-cool appearance, the mean age of interview subjects in this documentary stays just below 85. Stay tuned for the part where I tell a story about how I discovered my dad's old records by whoever this doc's about. It was, like, the moment I knew I wanted to do be a storyteller and junk. If I keep this up I'll achieve the ultimate celebrity cred goal: narrating one of these bad boys. I'll have so much class I'll have to clear out my Ed Hardy shirts to make room for it.
Teddy Roosevelt was just a great big bear of a man, big, barrel chest, all bravado and swagger. I bet you wish I were talking about you, huh? You find me a little sexy, don't you. But you're also intimidated by my clearly superior intellect. No, no, don't try to wrap your head around how you're feeling right now. Instead just listen to me talk about Teddy Roosevelt in what you think is a somewhat sexual way. Am I trying to be sexy? Not at all. But your poor male mind has been so starved of eye candy for this entire documentary that you're going to sexualize the first living female you see, and that's me. I'd be upset, but I am smart enough to understand that you're biologically hard wired to act that way. (Winks.) Oh, did I just wink at you?! I did not; I was trying to recall an 19th-century psychologist you've never heard of, you pervert.
Vaht? Vhy for am I a talking head in ziz picture show? I'm just a schlemiel comedy man, after all! Well, as it turns out, ladies and germs, PBS's over-65 set is the only audience left that appreciates my brand of humor: specifically impressions of my long-dead relatives, musical plot summaries of films from 1993, and an O.K. Sammy Davis Jr. impression. I'm here less to provide any actual commentary on American history and more to give the illusion there's something remotely fun about learning who was treasury secretary when North Dakota broke ground on its first national park. I am also physically unable to go three sentences without mentioning the 1961 Yankees, which somehow is a topic that fits into every Ken Burns documentaryyup, even The Civil War. So until production starts on City Slickers 3, I'll just keep (pretends to hold martini; Sammy Davis Jr. voice) swingin' with all the cool cats, ya dig? (Silence.) Oh, come on! Nothing? That had Whoppi in tears at Comic Relief.