Jammin’ George: LOCAL HERO.

Jammin' George

The first thing I noticed when I met up with local comedian and surrealist Jammin’ George was that he had a bobble-head of himself sitting on his table. It wasn’t a total likeness; the sculpture reminded me of Harry Caray whereas George, a big man with close-cropped white hair and rectangular black glasses, looks more like Drew Carey. But the fact that Jammin’ George commissioned a bobble-head to be made of him is stunning. It’s one more way by which he crawls into one’s head and wreaks havoc.

My relationship with Jammin’ George is full of such brain-melting incidents. Earlier in the year, my cohort Shuggypop Jackson got a hold of me and delivered an urgent message: he had something he had to show me. His offering was Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun, an hour-long video in which George dances to music, reads poetry, does impersonations, and films his television. It’s one of the most bizarre videos I’ve ever seen, but the strangest thing is that I’ve watched it so many times that I’m no longer fazed.

The Sweet Shop janitor known on his paychecks as George Haug is a joyous man, quick to ham it up and not given to extensive self-examination. The one thing he isn’t is a one trick pony. Land of Fun, which was made circa 2006, is his newest project, but Jammin’ George has been around for decades. In that time, he’s also been a stand-up comedian, written his own newsletter, and released three comedy albums. His current goals are to get some of his videos up on YouTube and perhaps make it to the Twin Cities to do a few shows.

“I’ve been a comedian since the early 80s,” said George. “I started out writing newsletters, these ‘Jam Reviews.’ Then at Popcorn Tavern’s open mics I would get up and do a little schtick, little jokes, and they asked me to do more and more. [I usually perform] once a month, maybe once every other month. I haven’t done it for a while.”

George described his stand-up as such: “I do one-liners, but I also do impressions or lip-sync somebody, like Roger Whittaker’s ‘Wind beneath My Wings.’”

His influences, both in comedy and beyond it, range from the obvious to the surprising. George is a big fan of Chris Farley, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Bill Murray, but he’s also into surreal artists such as Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. In reading his newsletters I picked up an affinity for Tracy Chapman and the Grateful Dead. The fact that he likes the expectation-shattering Andy Kaufman is no surprise.

He LOVES Alice from The Brady Bunch.

George’s newsletter, The Jam Review, captures the full spirit of Jammin’ George. The volumes which George brought to the interview ranged from 1989 to 2001, and were filled with one-liners, poetry, photography, and strange stories. One story described “The Weekend from Hell,” in which George had to deal with his shiftless brother-in-law, who drank heavily and stuck George with the bills. In one edition there’s an autograph from Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Her picture next to the autograph is in negative, giving the whole exhibit a disturbing quality.

“I had my dad’s secretary type them up, and I took them to the printer. I was taking them to RC Printing, down by WKBT. I had about 12 issues, about 100 or so [copies], and they’d have them at the Co-Op or Deaf Ear. It was kind of fun, but my brother goes: ‘You don’t think people are actually gonna read these?’ They were very odd.”

The Jammin' George Audio Collection

Jammin’ George followed this project up with audio recordings, beginning with a series of tapes and resulting in three comedy albums. In chronological order, they are Giving the Fans What They Want, The Joke’s On You, and Jammin’ George’s Buffet. The old tapes were mostly helmed by Chris Zobin or John Boyle, frequent contributors to Jammin’ George’s misadventures. Boyle also helped produce Fans, whereas Ken Eisler helped create the two latter albums. Though much of what I heard on the audio recordings consisted of one-liners, Jammin’ George attempted to translate his entire act to the albums. “At the end [of Buffet] I sing ‘Cheer Up, Charlie,’ and I’ll sing that song by Barry Manilow, ‘I Write the Songs,’ except it’s ‘I Write the Jokes.’”

A few smaller videos followed, filmed by George’s neighbor John Ross, before the pair created Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun. On the differences between recording an album and a video, Jammin’ George said: “When you’re doing a CD you can read the whole thing; you almost have to wing it in a video, but it’s the most fun.”

Jammin’ George isn’t in this for the money. George has released roughly a hundred copies of each newsletter, album, and video, and most of the time he gives them away for free. With his video, the reason is partly because he’s playing copyrighted music and filming television shows, so there would be an easy infringement case if he tried to turn a buck. But the greater truth is that he would rather someone find his work for free than not find it at all. An example came during my interview as George gave me a t-shirt featuring the Jammin’ George bobble-head, with no thought of repayment.

It’s one more way in which Jammin’ George sets himself apart from typically safe and fantastically average comedians. The current state of comedy doesn’t impress George much. “It’s pretty lame. Most [comedians] always tell the same [jokes],” he explained. The problem, in his estimate, is that it’s too easy to predict what a comedian will be like.

Do people know what to expect from Jammin’ George? After laughing long and hard, he answered: “Maybe, sometimes.”

Oh yeah. He has a bobblehead.

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Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun

Jammin' George

I don’t know what the hell I just saw. I just know that it’s Shuggypop’s fault. He got a hold of me today, saying that he had the perfect movie for me to feature in Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre. Intrigued, I invited him to my house, where he proceeded to show me the most mind-blowing thing I’ve seen since Trailer Town. I can best describe it as a home video variety show for the insane, hosted by a man with the body of Drew Carey and the rockin’ soul of Wesley Willis. And best of all, this guy is local. Jammin’ George found Shuggy and gave him one of the only copies of his Land of Fun, and our lives are forever changed by its majesty. I made a list of all the crazy shit that happens in Jammin’ George’s hour of power. That list is three times as long as this review is going to be.

Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun is roughly divided into a few themes: where George rocks out to music, where George talks to the camera and tells jokes, puppet shows, poetry reading, impersonations, long musical numbers, and bits where George just films whatever’s playing on television. As could be guessed, it’s roughly made and even more roughly edited. There are multiple times where George tells the cameraman to stop filming, the camera occasionally shows the time and date, and those long musical numbers get uncomfortably Kaufmaneque toward the end. But similar to the music of Wesley Willis, you have to take the rough to get the diamonds – and the diamonds are many.

Immediately, Jammin’ George takes no prisoners. He gets things started by wearing a purple beret and whirling around a countryside while “The Sound of Music” plays. The opening sketches are great, but the first one that really knocked me on my ass what when George wears a hot pink shirt and a hot pink feather boa and sashays around to the theme of “The Young and the Restless.” After a series of sketches in which his gray t-shirt gets progressively sweatier, he launches into a puppet show based on the Land of Make-Believe from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where the cats get jobs cleaning King Friday’s bathroom. After a Manilow-inspired musical tribute to Oprah, George begins a few of those lengthy music and television phases, the most surprising two being a performance by Billy Corgan on the Bozo the Clown Show, and George filming a video of himself singing “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” A robot would have died from paradox at that point.

And then, there’s much, much more glorious ridiculousness.

Jammin’ George. LOCAL HERO.

The Land of Fun!

Here are the notes I compiled as I allowed Jammin’ George to destroy my fragile little mind.

* * *

A variety show for the insane.

A cross between Drew Carey, Jim Gaffigan, and Wesley Willis

* * *

*George dancing to the Sound of Music in a purple beret

*Foxworthy Redneck joke.  Bambi is the bible for hunters, and apparently Bambi is the story of the birth of Jesus

*“What would Alice from the Brady Bunch do at a time like this?” and then proceeds to sing.

*George provides rim shots to George Burns doing jokes at a Friar’s Roast while filming a picture of a rubber chicken.  Then, a rim shot to “Get your damn hands off me, you damn dirty ape!”

*A creepy 12 Days of Christmas “Three burritos farting…”

*In a pink blazer and boa, swishing around to the theme from “The Young and the Restless.”

*Rock music playing over a pic of George and his mom (I think)

* * *

THE PROGRESSIVELY SWEATY GRAY SHIRT PHASE

*Gray shirt phase one: Interpretive dance to “Memory” from Cats, wearing a Pikachu coonskin cap, wearing a gray t-shirt that gets progressively sweatier as the sketches wear on

*Gray shirt phase two: stop motion to a rock out to the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.”

*Gray shirt phase three: “Hello, Clarice,” into the phone.  Then asks for milk from Kwik Trip and promises loving.  Then hangs up and stares at the phone for an uncomfortable amount of time.

*Gray shirt phase four: Flailing and dancing his heart out to “She’s a maniac.”  Kicks the air.

*Gray shirt phase five: Reading inspirational Maya Angelou quotes off a card.  Offers his own inspirational quote about being wasted in Ambrosiaville

*Gray shirt phase six: Lady across the hall? Getting a pet rock neutered

*Gray shirt phase seven: Whistling to upbeat tropical guitar rock.

*Gray shirt phase eight: Playing with nun dolls and wearing a flying nun hat, while singing to “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

* * *

*Daniel Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat sitting on a couch eating Funyuns and drining orange drink, then watching an episode of Mr. Rogers.  George FILMS the actual show as it plays on his TV.  Then he enters the Land of Make-Believe.  King Friday interviews the cats, who get the jobs cleaning the toilets because nobody else applied.  They go to dinner with everyone, and Daniel, a vegetarian, orders pasta and chicken, but gets ham.  King Friday then fires them, and then Daniel shows off his truck to Henrietta.

*“An Opera of Oprah,” George dresses up as Oprah, and then Dr. Phil, who then serenades the camera to the tune of Manilow’s “Mandy.”

* * *

THE UNCOMFORTABLY LONG MUSIC AND TELEVISION PERIOD

*Films the TV as it plays HR Pufnstuf

*George teaches us to make toast.  He does nothing unusual during this.

*Story Time: George reads his own episode of “Curb your Enthusiasm” to two guys on the couch.  Classical music plays in the background.  Excessive detail.

*Films the TV as Billy Corgan performs at the Bozo the Clown Show and a kid-filled montage plays.

*Films the TV as the opening to the Brady Bunch plays.  George shouts “Alice!” when she shows up at the end.  A slow burn with a big payoff.

*Films the TV as Jammin’ George sings “Wind Beneath My Wings” at a bar.  Lives the lyrics.  This would be the part where a robot’s head blows up from all the surrealism.

*A still photo of George on a couch, overlain by a touching acoustic guitar song titled “Don’t Laugh at Me.”

* * *

*A remake of The Flying Nun

*In a bunny suit, saying “Trix are for bunnies” before he hops around.

*In a curly red wig, pretending to knead dough.  Wasted in Ambrosiaville, again.

* * *

THE LONG, UNCOMFORTABLE PHASE, PART TWO

*A long, uncomfortable shot of what I think is George pretending to be on life support in a bed, wearing an oxygen mask.  He tries to pretend he’s in a coma, but occasionally twitches.

*White Balance Hell.  George holds up a doll, doesn’t move at all, and blinks repeatedly into the camera while a Sinatra song plays in its entirety.  The top of his head and the white wall behind him are indistinguishable.  At the end, he grabs a pie and smashes it into his face.

*Wearing a cheesehead top hat, twirling a cane around and kicking to “New York, New York.”  Occasionally his kicks run out of steam.

* * *

IMITATION HOUR

*Wearing a blond wig, possibly making fun of a Toyota dealership.

*Holding a bible and singing Alleluia.

*“As David Letterman would say, “’Here Kitty Kitty.’”

*I don’t want pancakes

*His country song, while wearing a cheesehead cowboy hat

*Dr. Phil, get excited about your life!

*Imitating the guy from Sling Blade.  Grunting.

*Reading a poem – “A Filet of Aspirin”  “Slow dancing with Charo/ Give me the simple life.”

*In the car joke.

*Singing about biscuits

*Imitating Lucille ball by crying loudly in a red wig

*In another wig, singing

*Flo from Alice “Kiss my grits!”

*Saturday Night Fever

*Wearing a curly wig and imitating John Legend

* * *

HOT PINK SHIRT

*In a hot pink blazer and shirt, saying that if you crossed Howie Mandel with Nathan Lane, you’d get Annoying Olympics

*Singing about how great life is

*Getting serious: “You will never go down the drain.  You’re bigger than all the soap and all the bubbles.”

*Pretending to vacuum

*Getting a phone call from himself, in a wig

*Imitating Aunt Bee and Andy Griffith

*Save big money at Menards.  “A 15 Inch tape measurer…”

* * *

*Filming the end of John Travolta’s Bubble Boy.  “They don’t make songs like that anymore!”  As Travolta rides away with a girl on horseback, George cheers that Bubble Boy got the girl.

* * *

THE FINALE

*Wearing a bunch of wigs and acting like a lady

*Dressed up as an old veteran who thinks George is disturbed.

*Audition for Wheel of Fortune: clapping a lot.

*Being “On TV”: wearing a TV on his head.  Imitates Mr. Brady, has a nun on TV, then sings the Down the Drain song again.

*Sings “Ebony and Ivory” to bring the whites and blacks together.

*Bothers the Curb Your Enthusiasm guys as they walk down the hall

*Two dolls eating dinner

*George in a car, saying that he has a reason to live

*Playing the guy in the sweet shop, as well as the customer

*An appeal for a job

*Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun – sponsored by Jean-Claude Van Damme (Films Bloodsport commercial)

*Wearing a Cubs jersey, reading a poem that begs God to kill him.  Waits for God to kill him for a minute of silence.  Continues the poem, which gets progressively more ridiculous.  Concludes that simple things in life are best.  Then sits there for another minute.

*Walks off to the forest in his purple beret, turns and waves goodbye

*One last thing to say: “Adios!”