November 27: A Glorious Day in Comedy History!

On November 27, 1954, Steven Banks was born. Who is Steven Banks, you ask? You (or your kids) may know his work from the scripts of many cartoon series in the 1990s and 2000s, including CatDog, Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi Show, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and Spongebob Squarepants. He’s appeared in various films and TV shows, and he joined the staff of Chuck Lorre Productions in 2012. But those are not the reasons why I honor him today.

In 1994, PBS aired its first-ever sitcom, The Steven Banks Show. It told the story of an avid rock fan and amateur musician who struggles to reconcile his dreams with the daily grind of work and other obligations. While the short-lived series had its flaws (the oppressive laugh track being the biggest), each episode had moments that resonate with anybody who spends far too much time listening to records (spoiler alert: me). My favorite gag: in one episode, Steven wins a radio contest by identifying a song…just from the sound of the phonograph needle hitting the vinyl. Banks revealed himself to be a talented musician, playing multiple instruments while performing the humorous songs he wrote. “I Miss Paul” tweaked “Imagine” to portray John Lennon in his New York years, while “Carol (Do You Remember Me?)” had him confronting his snobby high school crush in the style of a ’50s ballad. Sometimes he’d be joined by guest stars: a series highlight was Banks rocking out with Penn Jillette on the macabre Bongos, Bass and Bob! tune “Clothes of the Dead” (which did not end up on the show soundtrack album for reasons that escape me).

The Steven Banks Show evolved from Banks’ one-man stage show Home Entertainment Center, whose 440 performances (including an eleven-month run in San Francisco) won Banks several theatrical awards. In 1989, a filmed version aired on Showtime:

Banks collaborated with Jillette again on the script for the music-themed play Love Tapes, which premiered in Los Angeles in 2005. If anyone has seen a production of it, I’d love to know what it’s like!

Now, we go to November 27, 1980. While Steven Banks was celebrating his 26th birthday, Tom Hanks’ greatest vehicle to date premiered on ABC. I still don’t understand why Bosom Buddies only lasted two seasons. Granted, there was the premise, explained every week in the opening credits:

Bosom Buddies was no low-rent Some Like It Hot imitation, however. It featured an excellent ensemble cast (including future Emmy winner Holland Taylor as the guys’ devious boss Ruth Dunbar), and dialogue that I quote to this day. Witness an ambassador explaining his tiny South American country’s place in the world economy:

“Our main export is tile grout. Our country may be very poor, but we don’t leak.”

Or, this classic exchange from an elaborate scheme the gang concocts to exact revenge on a cad:

SONNY (as Malvina): Oh, Bruno, you’re drunk!

KIP (as Bruno): Nope, dis is Saturday. I’m doped up. [smiles]

I was obsessed with the show as a five-year-old, and I miss it now. Steven Banks’ sitcom deserved a better fate, too. But, as I sit down to the Thanksgiving feast tonight, I will be grateful for these shining moments in pop culture history.

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