IT IS NEW Year’s morning and my head is pounding.
I left the night before to the amateurs, so there can be only one explanation:
The Mummers comics brigades are on the tube.
My Mitsubishi’s tinny speakers are spewing a racket roughly the same as that produced when you light a sack of cats on fire, and a glimpse at the picture confirms my worst fears. Prancing pirates, transvestites in cake-faced makeup, purple feathers, golden slippers, super-sized wenches and, ohmygod, Daily News Mummers Bureau Chief Ron Goldwyn.
Happy New Year, now grab the Excedrin.
Most years, I miss the comics and wait for the, shall we say, more talented efforts of the string bands. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the goofballs. They’re pure Philly corn, a kitschy romp that brings together neighborhoods and helps define the city I love. But I prefer to start my new year on a more blissful note than the first act of the Mummers Parade; one year it was elective root canal surgery, another time I spent the morning pounding 8-penny nails into my cranium.
This year’s parade, though, promised to be fan-friendly – a fast-paced, crisply produced march along a new route heading east on Market Street.
So I tune in.
I shudda known that speeding up the Mummers ranks up there among Mankind’s Greatest Lies with “The check’s in the mail” and “The Phillies are in a rebuilding year.”
As always, the strut fest is interminable. WB-17’s coverage is still going strong when I sign off around 6, a mere eight hours after the first Hammond comic brigade hit the street.
Speaking of which, why do they call them comics?
Most of the early units consist of a bunch of guys spinning in dizzy circles like they were looking for their lost house keys in the pachysandra. At one point, announcer Steve Highsmith informs viewers, “You don’t have to be funny to be a comic.”
Funny, no. Drunk, yes.
After a herd of cows serenades him with a boozy chorus of “God Bless America, ” man-on-the-street reporter Steve MacLaughlin offers, “That’s alcohol and patriotism in one neat, little package.”
Neither Highsmith nor Goldwyn takes the bait. Instead, they repeat the City Hall line that – in the wake of Sept. 11th – this year’s parade will be “tasteful.” No talcum-powder anthrax spores, no bin Laden wenches. The parade marshals even chase off a group of left-over anti-GOP puppeteers who had the cojones to mock the Edison public-school sellout.
Tasteful? If I wanted that, I’d tune into the Tournament of Roses Parade on HGTV.
That spectacle is everything the Mummers aren’t: sparkling clean, well organized, sober and bor-r-r-r-r-ring. In the Rose Bowl Parade, the floats are covered with dried apricots and eucalyptus; the grand marshal is Regis Philbin.
Philly? In Philly, you get a bunch of guys in Forman Mills sweatshirts and sequins. In Philly, you get Jerry Blavat proclaiming that “only in America do we have the freedom to do this . . . ”
Exactly what they’re doing, I still don’t know.
The instant post-march interviews with mildly incoherent comics offer some insight into the countless minutes of preparation that surely went into their performances. But even Highsmith seems baffled. After watching one brigade captain’s puzzling rendition of “Willy Wonka,” he advises confused viewers to click over to the station’s Web site for more info. I do, and turn up nothing but a well-hidden page that promises a streaming video feed of the parade. But the link is dead and the rest of the Web site is a waste.
To its credit, WB-17 offers a few decent pre-produced spots on the people behind the parade – choreographers, musicians, and so on. But most of the live conversation is repetitive and inane, the screen frequently fails to identify brigades, and instead my Mitsubishi is filled with some idiot yelling, “Bleeeehhhhhhh . . . “
Meanwhile, the station chews up air time with repeated commercial breaks to promote its lame, recycled prime-time programming schedule, including – if God has an ounce of mercy – “Just Shoot Me.”