“Now look, pal! I know a country where March comes in like an emu and goes out like a tapir. And they don’t even know what it means!” — John Belushi
Do you remember listening to comedy albums? I sure do. In the 60’s, I inherited some classic Bill Cosby disks from my folks, plus the great Allan Sherman. I wore the grooves off his debut record (below), which featured tracks such as “The Ballad of Harry Lewis,” “Shake Hands with Your Uncle Max,” “My Zelda,” and “The Streets of Miami.”
According to the usually reliable Wikipedia, Sherman’s 1962 disk, “My Son, the Folksinger,” became the fastest-selling album up to that time. Think about that for a minute. Imagine everyone on the show “Mad Men” running around quoting Allan Sherman. Soon after, I guess, the Beatles showed up and changed everything.
The Cosby album that I loved was “I Started Out as a Child,” and again, I listened to it over and over again. Those routines are burned into my skull: “The Giant,” “Sneakers,” “Oops!,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Ralph Jameson.”
As I got older, I remember when Pat Sweeney and I discovered his older brother’s album, “Big Bambu” by Cheech & Chong, which came out in 1971 (“Sister Mary Elephant,” “Ralphie and Herbie”). Oh my, oh my. The original album, as I recall, came packaged with rolling papers! We didn’t even know what they were for . . . yet. Comedy was taking on a new edge, an outsider status — and we loved that subversive quality. Just listening to it felt like a small criminal act. For that reason, we loved George Carlin, who raised the stakes considerably. In 1972, he came out with “Class Clown,” featuring “I Used to Be an Irish Catholic” and, most famously, “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.”
Again, it’s hard to describe the naughty thrill we felt as boys huddled around the turntable. We lapped it up and laughed and laughed, and somehow that counter-cultural strain seeped into our consciousness and shaped the way we looked at the world. Looking back now, I realize that I was at the exact right age for that moment in America, a tween when all the hypocrisy was hilariously exposed.
In 1976, when I was fifteen, I got a new album for Christmas (it was on my list, taped to our refrigerator), featuring The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players. We had moved past Watergate and Vietnam, the 60’s were morphing into the Carter era and Disco was beginning to thump from speakers — as the Sex Pistols began gearing up against the bloated rock excesses of bands like Pink Floyd — and somehow this troupe of Saturday Night Live regulars had its collective finger on the pulse of America.
The stars are now legendary: John Belushi, Garrett Morris, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Loraine Newman, and Chevy Chase — with a memorable guest appearance from Richard Pryor (“Word Association”).
The one skit that inspired me to write this today came from John Belushi, as a high-strung weatherman. Here he plays with the notion of March coming in like a lion and out like a lamb. (See full transcript below.) You can also click here to listen to a 30-second snippet of that routine, plus many other classics (“Emily Litella,” “News for the Hard of Hearing,” “Uvula,” “Dueling Brandos,” “Jimmy Carter,” and more). I loved that album, just as I loved the excitement of staying up late to watch the weekly show.
It may be an overstatement to say that comedy was dangerous, but it was definitely no longer my dad’s old Allan Sherman albums. Times had changed and it was reflected in what made us laugh.
Here’s the skit:
Last week we made the comment that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Now here to reply is our chief meteorologist, John Belushi, with a seasonal report.
Thank you Chevy. Well, another winter is almost over and March true to form has come in like a lion, and hopefully will go out like a lamb. At least that’s how March works here in the United States.
But did you know that March behaves differently in other countries? In Norway, for example, March comes in like a polar bear and goes out like a walrus. Or, take the case of Honduras where March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a salt marsh harvest mouse.
Let’s compare this to the Maldive Islands where March comes in like a wildebeest and goes out like an ant. A tiny, little ant about this big.
(holds thumb and index fingers a small distance apart)
Unlike the Malay Peninsula where March comes in like a worm-eating fernbird and goes out like a worm-eating fernbird. In fact, their whole year is like a worm-eating fernbird.
Or consider the Republic of South Africa where March comes in like a lion and goes out like a different lion. Like one has a mane, and one doesn’t have a mane. Or in certain parts of South America where March swims in like a sea otter, and then it slithers out like a giant anaconda.
There you can buy land real cheap, you know. And there’s a country where March hops in like a kangaroo, and stays a kangaroo for a while, and then it becomes a slightly smaller kangaroo. Then, then, then for a couple of days it’s sort of a cross between a, a frilled lizard and a common house cat.
(Chevy Chase tries to interrupt him)
Wait wait wait wait. Then it changes back into a smaller kangaroo, and then it goes out like a, like a wild dingo. Now, now, and it’s not Australia! Now, now, you’d think it would be Australia, but it’s not!
(Chevy Chase tries to interrupt him)
Now look, pal! I know a country where March comes in like an emu and goes out like a tapir. And they don’t even know what it means! All right? Now listen, there are nine different countries, where March comes in like a frog, and goes out like a golden retriever. But that- that’s not the weird part! No, no, the weird part is, is the frog. The frog- The weird part is-
(has seizure and falls off chair)
As a final comment, and coming full circle, I have to confess to lifting some of those ideas for a brief scene in Jigsaw Jones Super Special #1: The Case of the Buried Treasure (maybe my favorite out of all the Jigsaw books, and amazingly still in print). I don’t think I consciously made that connection to Belushi and SNL, but in hindsight I can see that my roots were showing.
Setup: Jigsaw and Mila are at the bus stop, talking with Joey Pignattano. Note to teachers: the book focuses a bit on similes — it’s a minor theme running through the story — and you may find that instructive/helpful.
“I was wondering,” Joey Pignattano said to me. “What kind of animal do you think January would be?”
“What?!” I replied.
“I mean, if January were an animal, what kind of animal would it be?” Joey pondered.
“Do you understand what he’s talking about, Mila?” I asked. “Because I sure don’t.”
Mila smiled. At least I think she smiled. There was a big, fluffly scarf wrapped around her head like a hungry boa constrictor. “Maybe Joey is trying to think of a simile,” she offered.
Joey nodded gratefully. “You know how they say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb? Well, I’m thinking that January would be an aardvark.”
I sighed. “Let me get this straight. March comes in like a lion. So you think January comes in like . . . an aardvark?”
“Yes,” Joey answered. “Or do you think maybe it’s more like an American bald eagle?”
“A woolly mammoth,” Mila stated.
I turned to her in surprise. “Nuh-uh,” I retorted. “January is definitely a skunk. This weather stinks.”