The recent post on a very young Corey Feldman in a Milk Mate commercial reminded me of one of the funniest things I ever saw on TV, which also happened to feature Feldman, a year younger and much less intelligible.
The 1977 show Fernwood 2 Night (revamped the next year as America 2-Night) was a comedic parody of the whole talk-show genre (a decade and a half before the better known Larry Sanders Show) starring Martin Mull as the smarmy host Barth Gimble and Fred Willard as his bumbling Ed McMahon-style sidekick, Jerry Hubbard.
Like the later Sanders show, Fernwood was less an imitation of a talk show than a deconstruction of one, poking fun at every convention of the genre. But Fernwood, having spun off from Norman Lear’s parody of soap operas, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was also a satire of all that is tacky and corny about locally produced, heartland television: the polyester leisure suits, Hawaiian shirts, dour polka bands, tabloid topics, blue-collar guests, and ham-handed regional sponsor segues.
Taking this show within a show within a parody one step further in its second season, Barth Gimble engages in a little nepotism and launches his “adopted son’s” imitation talk-show for kids as a segment during one episode.
The kids show is called America After Lunch, and the host, Little Wayne Coleman, is played by a 10-year-old Gary Coleman. Norman Lear had seen little Gary doing local Chicago commercials and within a year would give him his own show, Diff??rent Strokes.
Corey Feldman, all of 7 years old and looking astonishingly like a miniature Fred Willard, takes on the sidekick’s duties. His toddler lisping and wandering attention span provide most of the humor for his act. It’s Coleman though who already has star power showing through his performance. Although a more visual opposite for Mull’s bleached blonde persona could not be found, Coleman nonetheless mimics Mull’s facial and vocal affectations perfectly and hilariously (the sequence starts at 12:17 but if you have not seen the program before, start at the beginning so you can get a sense of Coleman’s imitation, from his quips at the expense of his guest to his exasperated side-glances at his sidekick’s gaffs).
Although Coleman’s kidney condition had left him at the same height and size as Feldman, he’s actually 3 years older in this clip and much more mature and sophisticated. Still, Feldman has a natural charisma for such a little tyke, and he would hang onto this slightly dazed approach that would make him a reality-challenged Tom Sawyer for 80s moviedom
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