Friday, October 7, 2011

10 Beatnik Spoofs for Talk Like a Beat Day

Unless you’re from Squaresville, you know today is Talk Like a Beat Day. Invented by the UK’s Guardian, the celebration of Beat culture requires folks to spread awareness about the literary movement by speaking in Beat-ese.

The previous article gave some background about the Beats and their writing, but it also contained a clip from The Beverly Hillbillies in which Jethro becomes a Beatnik. (I semi-jokingly referred to it as the best short-version explanation of Beat philosophy ever.)

A commenter noted the fact that for most of us who weren’t around in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, our first exposure to Beat culture came from TV and movie characters who by the late ‘60s were spoofing the movement.

Beatniks may have begun in the literary world, but the squawk box made them stock characters, distilling them down to black-clad spewers of bad poetry and slang buzzwords.

The best way to celebrate Talk Like a Beat Day --besides talking like a Beat-- is to read some Ginsberg. Otherwise, for a crash course on the lingo, and a look at how television and film appropriate literary culture, these are some of the best, funniest and most bizarre examples.

1) The Munsters Go Beat

Herman Munster already wears the dark uniform of the beatniks, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he got caught up in the movement. What is a surprise is how well he can spout Beat poetry off the cuff. “Ibbity bibbity canal boat” may be a spoof, but it’s as good as Gregory Corso’s “Hark the hot dog soda olive grape.” 

2) David Lynch Cues the Hipster

On the Air was a short-lived post-Twin Peaks sitcom directed by David Lynch with weird and hilarious results. Most of the public was baffled, but it really was the work of a lunatic genius. Start at :55 with “Cue the hipster” for beat-style interpretive dance as only Lynch can provide.

3) Pee Wee’s Cool Cat, Dirty Dog and Chicky Baby

Kids may not have picked up the reference to Beat culture when they tuned in to Pee Wee’s Playhouse on Saturday mornings, but they probably enjoyed the rhymes. Older viewers probably appreciated the Puppetland Band more for the spoof --and for Dirty Dog’s ridiculously doped-out, bloodshot eyes.

4) Beatnik Prototype: Maynard G. Krebs

Before he was Gilligan, Bob Denver was the prototypical beatnik on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Most people who watched from 1959-1963 remember Maynard jumping in fear whenever he heard the word “work.” (The words “marriage” and “police” had similar effects.)

5) Shaggy as Animated Beatnik

Cartoon legend has it that Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy was directly inspired by Maynard G. Krebs, and some say Fred was meant to be a Dobie counterpart as well. Warner Brothers distilled the idea of a beatnik even further by stripping him of his artistic and cultural awareness and leaving only the slacker.

6) Kerouac

Oops. That’s not a spoof. Or is it?

7) John Waters’ Beats: Zadora and Ocasek

Embedding is disabled, but you can watch a video clip here.

You gotta love the cameos by rocker Ric Ocasek and (actress?) Pia Zadora in the original Hairspray. The spoof is not only spot-on, but the reactions of the more mainstream kids aren’t just funny: they reveal the beatnik as an outsider and maligned oddball.

8) Flander’s Parents 

The SImpsons' Ned Flanders may be the ultimate upright citizen, but his parents were --Gasp!-- bongo-beating hipsters.

9) The Hudsucker Beatnik

Steve Buscemi played the role of a beatnik bartender in The Coen Brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy, and if you only watch one clip to get an idea of how to sound like a Beat, make it this one. Buscemi sells it.

10) Dennis Hopper Goes to Hooterville

Tons of popular shows of the ‘60s and beyond had a beatnik episode (The Beverly Hillbillies and The Munsters, as already mentioned, but also shows like Peter Gunn, and much later, Laverne and Shirley featured Art Garfunkel as a Beat performance artist.)  Petticoat Junction had the distinction of casting a fresh-faced Dennis Hopper, five years before Easy Rider. (The episode also featured Adam West.)

Spread the word about Talk Like a Beat Day, and let me know in the comments if you participate or if you know of anyone who does.


  1. I was thinking of participating, but I would just sound like another spoof. Daddio. I will read some Corso tonight instead. I've always been fond of his poetry, even the stupid stuff.

  2. I'm participating with a post of my own which references your earlier post. Thanks for turning me on to this special day. No beat talking for me though. I think my wife would become confused if I started talking beat to her. I wonder if they had beatniks in Ecuador?

    Tossing It Out

  3. K.C.: Maybe we can popularize a Talk Like Wooster Day instead.

    Lee: Let me know if you find out more about beatniks in Ecuador. :-)

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  5. You wrote
    "best way to celebrate Talk Like a Beat to read some Ginsberg"
    I'll pass. Ginsburg was a founding member of NAMBLA, a child molester. You might argue that doesn't lessen the Art he created,
    but I'll be damned if I'm going to read it.

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