Jerry Sadowitz, the original Ebeneezer Goode [August 30, 1992]
Plus: Lionel Richie, Bobby Brown, and two Skid Rows
Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋 Welcome back to the week of August 30, 1992.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is still ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’ by Snap! but it has strong competition from…
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This week’s Number 6: ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ — The Shamen
Sometimes, it’s kind of spooky how 2022 lines up with 1992.
This week’s newsletter has always been scheduled to cover The Shamen’s ‘Ebeneezer Goode’. We were probably going to talk about the controversy surrounding the song, and how the BBC didn’t twig that it contained a pro-drug message, despite Mr. C repeatedly shouting “Es ARE GOOD!”
But then, a couple of weeks ago, something happened with the guy who portrays Ebeneezer Goode in the video. This guy:
That, if you don’t know, is the comedian, magician, and self-proclaimed psychopath Jerry Sadowitz, who has been around for over 40 years.
In August 2022, Sadowitz was back in the news after a controversy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Jerry had been due to play one of the biggest venues in the city (the EICC), but they cancelled his booking after complaints arising from the first night. Specifically, people complained that he exposed his penis and used a racial slur (“P**i”).
“Sounds like a typical Sadowitz show,” said everyone who knew his act.
Sadowitz has always been controversial—it’s quite rare to hear anything about Sadowitz unless he’s got himself tangled up in some kind of trouble.
But the interesting thing about him is that he never changes. A 2022 Sadowitz show is not fundamentally different from an 80s show. He’s never pivoted, or rethought his politics, or embraced a new audience.
And yet, when you look at his career over the decades, you see that the nature of the controversies is always different. Which means that…we are the ones who have changed.
Sadowitz in 1989
The 80s were a transitional time in British comedy. Bernard Manning was still packing them at his World Famous Embassy Club, making a tidy living from racist and sexist jokes. But the London scene (and, therefore TV) was dominated by the Alternative Comedy movement, which was very left-wing (or at least they complained about Thatcher a lot.)
Sadowitz didn’t fit into either camp: too punk for the working men’s club; too offensive for the Alternative scene. He had come to national attention in 1987 after making a joke about the King’s Cross tube station fire that killed 31 people—mere days after it happened. Newspapers were up in arms. The Lord Provost of Dundee said, “[Scotland’s] image could be damaged by this sick comic.”
Sadowitz didn’t get much of an opportunity to explain himself at the time, but in a 1989 interview he said:
''I was very angry about it because London Transport blamed it on a cigarette, whereas they had been warned a year earlier that their safety standards were not up to scratch. I said I thought it ironic that the escalator that took passengers to their death was actually working.''
Most of that 1989 interview focuses on a long-running Scottish comedy rivalry between Sadowitz and the character comedian Bing Hitler. Sadowitz had publicly accused Hitler of stealing his material—Hitler got the lawyers involved and took Sadowitz to the cleaners.
Both men were due to play the Fringe in ‘89. But, while Sadowitz was performing at a regular-sized venue, Bing Hitler was selling out the 3500-seater Playhouse Theatre. That’s because Hitler was now stating to build a global reputation under his real name: Craig Ferguson.
Ferguson had just recorded a comedy special that aired on MTV. Speaking about his new TV success, he said:
“I was warned not to joke about certain subjects, like Salman Rushdie, for safety reasons. When you are playing to several million people you can be sure that one of them will be out there polishing his rifle.''
Craig Ferguson went on to host The Late Late Show on CBS for 10 years. In 2014, he retired and was replaced by James Corden.
Sadowitz in 1992
1992 was by far the biggest year of Sadowitz’s career.
He was still nursing a sore jaw from an incident in Montreal, when an audience member rushed on stage and socked him in the jaw after his opening line, “Hello, Moosefuckers! I tell you why I hate Canada, half of you speak French, and the other half let them.”
(That’s an oft-told story, but it omits the line Sadowitz’s managed to deliver before the punch: “Why don't you speak Indian? You might as well speak the language of the people you stole the country off of in the first place.”)
But things were taking off! 1992 was the “comedy is the new rock’n’roll” era when it really felt like witnessing the birth of a new art form. People with a unique angle had a chance to shape the future of comedy, and Sadowitz’s “offensive to everybody” sure was a unique angle.
BBC had given Sadowitz his own show called The Pall Bearer’s Revue, which had been a bit of a critical hit. Later in the year, he starred in the video for ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, which lead to one of the entertainment industries highest honours: getting roasted on Beavis and Butt-Head.
So, what happened?
The Sun pushed a backlash against ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, and everyone from Jarvis Cocker to Status Quo condemned the song. Sadowitz distanced himself from the whole debacle and claimed that he, like most radio DJs, hadn’t realised that “Es ARE GOOD!” could somehow be interpreted as a pro-drug message.
In truth, he was probably still reeling from the fact that The Pall Bearer’s Revue had become BBC’s most complained-about program. That was predictable; less predictable was the fact that he had no support from the BBC. The show was pushed into a graveyard slot for the rest of its five-episode run, never to be repeated or reissued.
Sadowitz blames Alan Yentob; Yentob says Sadowitz is difficult to work with. Either way, he was effectively blackballed from TV for the rest of his career* and excluded from the comedy/rock&roll revolution.
(* He did have a Channel 5 show for a while, but I’ve never met anyone who watches Channel 5.)
Sadowitz in 2012
2012 was a transitional time in comedy.
The 2000s had made Edgelord comedy very cool. Some of that stuff is great—Chris Morris’s Jam and Sarah Silverman’s Jesus Is Magic are both amazing (also, I personally love the collected works of Kunt And The Gang.)
But shock comedy quickly became quite mainstream. Jimmy Carr had middle-class audiences rolling in the aisles at his rape jokes, while Frankie Boyle’s Madeline McCann gags were a key part of the chummy Mock The Week banter.
By 2012, however, the Edgelords were retreating. Comedy was actually starting to get better at promoting work by women and minorities, which made racist and sexist comedy sound…just not that funny.
Plus, Twitter was becoming a very effective tool for bashing people into silence. People like Daniel Tosh and Dapper Man had their careers torpedoed by very focused social media campaigns.
A weird time for Jerry Sadowitz then. He never courted Jimmy Carr’s audience, but he probably wasn’t going to find new fans in Josie Long’s crowd either.
I reviewed him in 2012. He didn’t get his cock out, but he did say an eye-watering amount of racist and homophobic stuff. I spent a lot of the show wondering if I should laugh or walk out, before eventually realising that this was the point.
At the time, I wrote:
The key to enjoying Sadowitz is to sit back and let the vitriol wash over you. It's strangely soothing. The fucks and cunts have a metronomic regularity; the hatred is evenly spread. It's an unstoppable torrent with too many victims to list and after a while it starts to work like a vaccine, like aversion therapy. His pointless hate makes hate seem pointless; his anger is kind of relaxing.
One thing I remember from that show was that his masked slipped a little, just once, when he mentioned Frankie Boyle.
You could see that there was a substantial amount of professional jealousy there, but also genuine anger, and maybe even some grief.
In an interview around this time, he said:
"If I had known in advance that so many people would hijack the material I put across in my act, and what they would do to it, I would never have taken up comedy. Never. I'm sorry I've given some very nasty people a good living."
Sadowitz didn’t face any public controversy in 2012. Possibly because everyone was distracted by the backlash to Frankie Boyle’s quite shitty and personal jokes about Rebecca Adlington and Harvey Price.
Sadowitz in 2022
So, here we are. The same basic show, the same basic performer. Except this time, he gets cancelled.
Not in a “people were mean to me on Twitter way”. Properly cancelled—his venue pulls the show. Sadowitz becomes one of very few people to get booted from the Fringe for going too far.
What does the 2022 cancellation tell us? Well, you could argue that it’s another front in the war between Wokesters and the Freeze Peach mob, if you like.
But what really fascinated me was the extraordinary context collapse around this event. Nobody seemed that interested in finding out why he got his dick out or why he used racist slurs (the joke in question went, “The Tories are such cunts they probably call Rishi a P—i”.)
In fact, many people weren’t interested in what happened at the show at all. They only cared that something had happened that might fit their existing agenda.
Former comedy legend turned full-time anti-trans Substacker Graham Linehan rushed out a bizarre post linking the cancellation with the Tavistock clinic . Online gender critical types also joined in on social media. When I first heard about it on Twitter, I thought he had been cancelled for making transphobic jokes, because that’s how people were framing it.
Think about how wild that is.
Something happens. People take it out of context. Then they put it in a different context so they can carry on the conversation they were already having. It’s a process similar to the way that Salman Rushdie’s stabbing immediately became a debate about JK Rowling’s politics.
In 2022, we experience the world in chopped-up bite-sized facts, all mixed together by an algorithm. Instead of news, we have a kind of news salad.
Sadowitz is only 60, which means that he’s got at least another decade of ranting, doing magic tricks, and showing his penis. He’s always going to be Sadowitz.
Question is, who will we be?
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Elsewhere in the charts
Number 11 (↑ from 16): ‘My Destiny’ — Lionel Richie
Everyone had a Best Of out in 1992, and Lionel was no exception. Filler track ‘My Destiny’ ended up being a smash hit across Europe this summer, thanks to Mr. Rich Tea’s slick vocals. A mid-tempo pop classic.
Number 20 (↓ from 19): ‘Humpin Around’ — Bobby Brown
Talking about people getting cancelled, I’m never entirely sure if Bobby Brown is cancelled or if we see him as another sad victim of addiction.
Either way, knowing how the story ends can take some of the shine off of these upbeat pop numbers.
Number 22 (New Entry): ‘Dancing Queen’ — ABBA
The Best Of to end all Best Ofs. It’s amazing to think that ABBA were in the doldrums a little before Gold came out (and Erasure’s ABBA-esque EP) when they had such monumental classics as ‘Dancing Queen’.
Number 22 (↑ from 25): ‘Youth Gone Wild’ — Skid Row
There’s a long-running legal kerfuffle about the rights to the name Skid Row.
As best as I can piece it together (please don’t sue me if I’m wrong), an Irish band used this name for a long time. That band included Phil Lynott (of Thin Lizzy fame), Gary Moore (of being Phil Lynott’s friend fame), and Brush Shields (who is familiar to Irish people of a certain vintage.)
Jon Bon Jovi was trying to help get this band up and running, and part of that meant sorting out the rights to the name Skid Row.
Here’s where it gets hairy.
Jon Bon Jovi allegedly paid a sum of money to Gary Moore, and Gary Moore allegedly signed over the rights to the name before parting ways with Brush Sheilds. Shields, however, doesn’t accept any of this. To this day, he is still performing as Skid Row and complaining about Jon Bon Jovi.
Hopefully, this recent tweet indicates that they’ve reached some kind of agreement:
Album of the Week
Fontanelle — Babes In Toyland
Folks, won’t lie—I ran out of time to finish this newsletter.
But, now is a good time to plug The Riff on Medium, where the missing Babes In Toyland review should appear soon. Check it out, you’ll find tons of great music writing there:
Brian May tries to carry on without Freddie.
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Who knew a song about E had such a long & winding backstory? That was a ride! Hadn't thought of Craig Ferguson is some time, either. Probably because I haven't been up past 9 or 10 since he was last on the air...
Re: Bobby Brown. I want to hate on the guy (or at least point and laugh), but I just can't; he's been through too much shit, and "Every Little Step" is great.
P.S. Thank you for the signal boost for The Riff!
It's funny how Gary Moore never had the fame in Ireland and the UK that Thin Lizzy did. When I visited Japan he was mentioned in the same breath as Lynott and co. Never heard the Skid Row name thing and often wondered.