Zappa, Mike & J.J. - A Token of Their Extreme

By Keith Mason

The Drummer, November 9, 1976

It's a sad fact of life ... some people go through their stay on this planet working without end, to no avail. ..y et there are those folks who, for some reason never to be understood in- our lifetime; who make hundreds of dollars by doing absolutely nothing, Durward Kirby, Allen Ludden - you know dozens like them: they walk into a television studio, do nothing for an hour or two, and walk out, laughing all the way to the bank. What is it about these people that makes them so popular with TV talkshow audiences? What is it about their psychological make-up that induces TV producers to pay them sums of money to sit on a couch and say, "Ed, you're looking well ..."?

To discover the answers to these and other questions that are flooding the mind of the concerned young person today, an examination of a typical Television Shirker is in order. After some weeks of research and preparation, the final choice of a subject was narrowed down to two of the most famous do-nothing personalities of modern television, Art Linkletter and Frank Zappa.
Linkletter, of course, became known world-wide for his Fifties-Sixties TV programs in which he sat little kids on stools and solicited embarrassing responses to inane questions (a format which later proved even more successful on The Newlywed Game.) Today, Linkletter lives in California with his wife, a son, and his daughter's casket on a two hundred- acre marijuana farm in Big Sur.

Zappa first displayed his knack for doing nothing for something on television at an early age, when he appeared with Steve Allen and played the bicycle before a nationwide audience. The response was so great that Allen encouraged the lad to make leisure a full-time occupation. Zappa went on to appear as a celebrity on many TV game and talk shows, highlighted by a stint as Pookie's uncle on an episode of Soupy Sales.

It was decided that Zappa would be the subject of our close-up on professional television shirkers; and the perfect place for our study would be right here in Philadelphia, at the Mike Douglas Show.

ALSO ON THE line-up for the show (which will be seen in our town on Thursday afternoon) were Kenny Rogers, who discussed his new book, "Why Country Music Is So Bad"; comedienne Elaine Boosler, whose act fell flat when she realized midway into her routine that the audience was not from Brooklyn; Mike's co-host Jimmie Walker from the Good Times show, who spent a half-hour with Douglas reading some tear-jerking fan mail ( our team of scientists who worked on the project suggested that Walker has great potential as a TV Shirker); and two authors plugging a book about the destiny of the Children of the Hopeful Sixties. Zappa territory.

When Mr. Zappa came onstage he was greeted warmly by the audience, which proves the old television axiom about how any crowd of people will react positively at the flash of an applause sign after being hypnotized en masse by promises of door prizes for enthusiasm ("Don't forget, ladies, if we see you clapping loudest, we have a beautiful Twistoflex for ya"). Mike Douglas entered into a conversation with Zappa, asking lengthy questions of a rather personal nature, to which Frank replied either "Yes" or "No". Being the trouper that he is, Zappa knew full well that his acceptance by the viewers depended on his saying nothing of any intelligence - the housewife of the Zappian America being a wholesome, decent sort, watching the telly at four in the afternoon, preparing for hubby's return with a few Bloody Marys and a vibrator for the commercials.

Having proven himself in the conversational segment to be a master at Television Nothingness, Zappa proceeded to center-stage where he performed "Black Napkin," a guitar composition of his own design. Backed by Mike's combo, the Joe Palooka Quintet, Mr. Zappa looked very smart in his outfit, which, along with his hairstyle, brought murmurs from some of the more appreciative members of the audience.

After his solo, Mr. Zappa introduced a film clip from a one-hour movie entitled A Token of His Extreme he made with a very creative West Coast animator. Following that segment, the two authors took the stage and debated the fates and follies of the Class of 1965 with Mr. Zappa, who denied ever having been educated much less gone. to high school. Upon hearing the expressions of disbelief from the two authors, Frank promptly accused them of being Communists and demanded that they turn themselves in to Studebaker [Hawk]. Mr. Douglas signaled for a commercial, and as the scene faded out, Zappa was apparently on the verge of striking Kenny Rogers with a wet Turkish towel.

The conclusion drawn by our team of sociologists and psychiatrists was that not only is Frank Zappa a typical do-nothing, well-paid television personality, but that he is probably the least offensive of any now working in show business. One scientist remarked, "Even Bert Parks alienates some people. But Zappa has it all - the ladies dig him, and buy the products advertised on his shows. That makes him great."