Strange Apes

Cidu Bill on Jul 14th 2017

Andréa sent this comic


for the Geezer files — quite appropriately, since it references this:

And I’m adding a CIDU tag, because… yes, it references a 60-year-old Ernie Kovaks bit, but what’s the joke?

Edited to add: Arthur also subsequently submitted this with both the CIDU and Geezer tags.

Filed in Bill Bickel, CIDU, Ernie Kovaks, Hey Geezers! Comics!, John Deering, Strange Brew, comic strips, comics, humor | 30 responses so far

30 Responses to “Strange Apes”

  1. Treesong Jul 14th 2017 at 12:05 am 1

    I think the joke is that they’re great apes.

  2. Dave Van Domelen Jul 14th 2017 at 02:40 am 2

    Rather, most zoos have a great apes display, this one also has not-so-great apes.

  3. Cidu Bill Jul 14th 2017 at 02:44 am 3

    But how does this tie into Ernie Kovaks?

    And while we’re on the subject, if this isn’t too great an ask, can somebody explain why these three apes is considered an iconic comedy bit?

  4. Arthur Jul 14th 2017 at 02:57 am 4

    Well, it’s unforgettable. I think part of it is the silliness of
    the costumes and the action contrasted with the staidness of the
    music. It was only a few years ago that I found out the title of
    the music - Solfegio.

  5. James Pollock Jul 14th 2017 at 03:13 am 5

    “But how does this tie into Ernie Kovaks?”

    There may be a yet-undiscovered missing link.

    No, seriously. In much the way the Looney Tunes introduced a lot of people to classics of music and literature by re-imagining them, there may well be something that was based on the Kovacs show, and then this cartoon is actually a reference to that.

    Isn’t that one on the left Andy Serkis?

  6. Kamino Neko Jul 14th 2017 at 03:59 am 6

    In case anyone’s interested, the only ‘lesser apes’ are gibbons.

  7. Lost in A**2 Jul 14th 2017 at 06:26 am 7

    The Nairobi Trio was mentioned on yesterday’s Comic Strip of the Day, so I looked it up. They were a recurring bit on Ernie Kovac’s TV shows.

  8. Daniel J. Drazen Jul 14th 2017 at 07:26 am 8

    Kovacs’ taste in music was as surreal as his comedy. Standards on his show included “Mack the Knife” in the original German from the soundtrack to “The Threepenny Opera” and a Polish version of “The Tennessee Waltz.” Just roll with it.

  9. Andréa Jul 14th 2017 at 09:35 am 9

    From YouTube:
    Music is “Song of The Nairobi Trio (Sofreggio)” by Robert Maxwell, from his 1956 album “Hi-Fi Harp” on M-G-M Records.

    As if you didn’t already know, the costumed gorilla with the cigar in his mouth is Ernie. The pianist’s has been self identified as Ernie’s co-star Jolene Brand. The timpanist has never been identified but, in this particular performance, his apparent small stature suggests it is Kovacs’ sidekick the late Bobby Lauher. At other times, the role was reported to have been played by Ernie’s best friend Jack Lemmon, Milton Berle, and the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra.

    “Mack the Knife” -

  10. Mitch4 Jul 14th 2017 at 09:51 am 10

    The YouTube page from a Kovacs curator has notes on the assumed / likely performers.

    I didn’t know until yesterday that this piece is called Solfeggio. That’s pretty clearly the Italian for the term I was more familiar with, solfège, for the practice of singing with the syllables used for the pitches, like do, re, mi, fa,… .
    You can hear in that clip that the singers are indeed doing that.

  11. Mitch4 Jul 14th 2017 at 09:55 am 11

    Lenya (man it was a fight to get that past autocorrect) singing Mackie Messer is something not to be missed!

  12. ja Jul 14th 2017 at 09:55 am 12

    >>In case anyone’s interested, the only ‘lesser apes’ are gibbons.

    They may be all called gibbons, but they represent well over a dozen species spread over four genera, while the extant great apes comprise seven species in four genera.

  13. Andréa Jul 14th 2017 at 10:02 am 13

    . . . speaking of surreal comedy (or just plain craziness) . . . Spike Jones . . .

  14. fleabane Jul 14th 2017 at 12:07 pm 14

    Great apes vs. not so great apes is pretty funny to me. But why it should be universally assumed the Ernie Kovacs apes were not so great is beyond me. Isn’t the idea of remembering a skit (which I dont) from 60 years ago imply they were pretty good. Or does the cartoonist have a bugaboo that he never liked them when everyone else thought they were hilarious. Are in the skit were they supposed to be mediocre?

  15. larK Jul 14th 2017 at 12:31 pm 15

    Bill, I think you need to remember the time in which this skit was done: the revolutionary and the outlandish seem just ho-hum and commonplace today. But imagine: the newest technological achievement for the betterment of man, the tele-vision, and they are sending pictures of pretend mechanical apes?? How shockingly irreverent! Remember when a few years later they wanted to put a guy on the evening TV who had pointy ears — it was shocking, and they were worried the public might be discomfitted by it (and the idea that this second in command character should be a woman was vetoed outright!).

    So, you have a paint by numbers skit, where one guy gets increasingly annoyed by another guy until he finally breaks and fires the Chekovian gun over the other guy’s head — only they’re dressed as gorillas! So, Mr. and Mrs. America can understand the basic premise of the standard gag, only it’s heightened by the fact that there’s this bizarre element, and it’s the first time anyone is doing this in the new medium. And probably there’s a lot of the Saturday Night Live effect, where it all seems funnier talking about it the next day than when you watched it live the night before, and only grows in legend as the years pass.

    As for the cartoon, well, it references this classic old sketch! What more do you need?

    PS: fish in a blender!

  16. BBBB Jul 14th 2017 at 02:19 pm 16

    I almost sent this in as a CIDU, but then I got it. It’s a simple play on the word “great”, which these apes aren’t. Then, I almost sent it in as a “geezer”, but I was running late, and well…..

    A few years back one of my sons gave me a complete Ernie Kovacs CD. I had two reactions. First, it really doesn’t stand the test of time well. Second, you have to watch it because Kovacs is incredibly visual, and the trio is a good example of that. Most TV isn’t visual. You can sit there reading a book or doing a puzzle, listen to the show, and pretty much get everything. There are exceptions but not a really high proportion.

    Andrea @ 9: Thanks. Interesting trivia.

  17. James Pollock Jul 14th 2017 at 02:31 pm 17

    “But why it should be universally assumed the Ernie Kovacs apes were not so great is beyond me.”

    Try this instead. The joke is “you’ve heard of the great apes, but some are not-so-great, and here’s what the museum diorama might look like”.

    Completely unrelated, the cartoonist says to himself “I saw this bit on an old TV show, with apes in it. I’ll use those as my ape models.”

  18. Scott Jul 14th 2017 at 03:04 pm 18

    Making this only slightly less geezery, there was a TV special, I think, about Kovacs in the late 1960s, perhaps because his very visual comedy led to stuff like Laugh-In and was very popular back then.
    As for not-so-great, the Trio was a tiny bit moth-eaten, and only seemed to play one song. I always saw them as more or less mechanical.
    If anyone is interested, there is a biography of Kovacs from over 20 years ago.

  19. Andréa Jul 14th 2017 at 03:24 pm 19

    A variation on the one song . . .

  20. Boise Ed Jul 14th 2017 at 05:33 pm 20

    Good catch, Lost [7]! I know we watched Kovacs when I was a kid, but I have no memory of The Nairobi Trio.

    BBBB [16], of course, has it right on the basic joke here.

  21. fleabane Jul 14th 2017 at 11:01 pm 21

    But… but… they’re not “not so great” apes. They’re… pretty good and decent apes. They’re no King Kong, Koko the Gorilla, or Mighty Joe Young, but they’re a dang sight better than Magilla Gorilla. Seems an unmescessarily harsh criticism out of the blue.

    Maybe if there were more than just one not so great group…

  22. Arthur Jul 15th 2017 at 12:15 am 22

    I think I finally understand the artist’s intent. The sign
    would work best with gorillas acting or looking stupid. That
    could be difficult to illustrate. So, instead he shows the
    Nairobi Trio, who could be considered the Three Stooges of

    However, it still doesn’t work for me as a comic, because I had
    to figure it out in reverse. (And is he really writing only for
    those of us who remember them?)

  23. fleabane Jul 15th 2017 at 12:36 am 23

    Arthur. I got the not so great/great apes right away and thought it was funny but didn’t get what the actual apes were supposed to be, never having heard of the Nairobi trio. Figuring that out just made things worse for me because they seemed a very poor choice of candidates.

    I think it’d work better if they just showed a bunch of lazy apes sitting on a couch watching TV and drinking beer, scratching themselves and generally being not so great.

  24. James Pollock Jul 15th 2017 at 01:10 am 24

    “However, it still doesn’t work for me as a comic, because I had to figure it out in reverse. (And is he really writing only for those of us who remember them?)”

    As noted above, the cartoon works just fine if you have no idea who the Nairobi Trio are/were. There’s nothing in the text that identifies them because it isn’t necessary to identify them. They’re just apes that aren’t all that great. They don’t have to be any specific apes that aren’t all that great. If you show natural-looking apes, the joke doesn’t work, because ordinary gorillas don’t do much of anything, naturally, but are still “great” apes.

    The redesign that would have worked better is to have two displays… the great apes (King Kong, (gezzer) Bonzo or (geezer) J Fred Muggs or (not-geezer) Caesar in one, the not-so-great apes in the other (apes who are sitting on the couch, watching TV). Or you could have “great” apes doing things like building things from blueprints or whatever.
    Note that these variations are still not-that-funny and might be hard to fit into a single panel format, besides.

  25. Minor Annoyance Jul 15th 2017 at 04:09 am 25

    As some have pointed out already, Kovacs had a sort of revival with a “Best of” series that ran on local PBS stations for a few years. Thus a fair number of post-boomers know the bit, just as a fair number of millennials know bits from the still-repeated Monty Python.

  26. Andréa Jul 15th 2017 at 07:42 am 26

    My fave Kovacs bit was his role in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ . . . somehow, I don’t think he was acting so much as he was exaggerating his own persona. A little.

    (Also: Kim Novak, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lancaster, Hermione Gingold . . . what a cast! What a movie!)

  27. Mitch4 Jul 15th 2017 at 12:00 pm 27

    NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day today is the closeup of the Really Totally Great Red Spot.

  28. Boise Ed Jul 16th 2017 at 02:36 am 28

    Spectacular, Mitch4 [27]. So is today’s.

  29. Brian in STL Jul 17th 2017 at 06:18 pm 29

    Looks like hoomans get lumped in with the Great Apes these days. Reminds me of a cartoon I saw in one of my books as a youth, probably a Time-Life offering:

  30. Meryl A Jul 18th 2017 at 02:09 am 30

    Not a use of the categorization of animals as “Great Apes” or “Lesser Apes “.

    It is a rating of the individual apes appearing themselves as not so great (lower case G).


    This is just what the band calls itself - perhaps to lower the patrons’ expectations.

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