Hey all, Ernie here with a fresh piece from David Buck, who last came to you with a piece on DOS nostalgia. This time, he highlights the story of a guy who helped bring you the most recent season of MST3K, among other things.
Today in Tedium: From the early days of civilization to modern day pop culture, puppetry has always been used to tell stories. What happens when you mix music, comedy and puppets? Well … you get The Muppet Show, of course. But, what if you mixed in a bit of podcasting, a Dr. Demento-themed sense of humor and a modern day revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000? In today’s Tedium, we talk to a guy that can tell you all about it. — David @ Tedium
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The year Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson successfully used Kickstarter to revive the show for 14 episodes. It’s also the year Throwing Toasters hit #2 on the Dr. Demento Funny 25. Their song “Unfriend”—about ditching annoying acquaintances in a certain social media site—made the annual year end countdown alongside Rob Cantor’s “Shia LeBoeuf” and Insane Ian’s “Benedict Cumberbatch.” What do these two things have in common, you may ask? A guy named Grant Baciocco.
Our story begins with a one-man band
Grant Baciocco started Throwing Toasters with the intent to perform clean, family-friendly comedy. Inspired by “Weird Al” Yankovic, Baciocco began writing his own humorous songs and began using humorous excuses for why the other band members were never with him on stage part of his act. He started recording them and sending them into Dr. Demento, who liked them and began giving Throwing Toasters airplay on the show.
One day, Baciocco was sitting in his college dorm, enjoying an episode of The Dr. Demento Show when he heard one of his parodies played back on the show:
I remember the exact moment, place and time I first heard one of my songs on Dr. Demento. I was in my college dorm room listening to the show on KSCA here in Southern California.
I was sitting at my computer on a drum stool and I heard Dr. Demento say, “And now, I give you, Throwing Toasters…” and he played my Alanis Morissette parody ‘Money In My Pocket.’ I nearly fell off that stool! I was glad my girlfriend at the time was in the room with me because I wouldn’t have believed it had happened.
Luckily, he didn’t fall off the stool, and was able to record several albums. The first Throwing Toasters album, Alvin, is a hilarious set of songs that truly illustrate the quirky, non-vulgar style of the “band.” Follow-up albums Burnt, Chrome and Dork carry on that tradition. All of them are available at Throwing Toasters’ website, along with numerous live show offerings. The albums are all worth their weight in laughter and set the tone for much of his later podcast work. Some of the songs, like “Debbie” and “Patrick the Spoiler” would become big hits on The Dr. Demento Show and become some of Baciocco’s favorite songs to play live. “Debbie” in particular is a blast for him to play on-stage. In the past decade, he exuberantly performed the song, using the name of one of the women attending the show (typically in the front row) as a substitute for the name Debbie, to great comedic effect:
In 2007, Throwing Toasters opened for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Straight Outta Lynwood tour—one of the most memorable experiences of Baciocco’s life.
The Throwing Toasters website hasn’t been updated since 2015, but that doesn’t mean Baciocco has given up on the band. He still performs from time to time, mostly at a comedy club in Burbank, California, called Flappers. When he isn’t performing, he is quite active in podcasting and—perhaps more unlikely—puppeteering. Regardless of his direction, Dr. Demento is very much a driving force behind Baciocco’s work.
“Dr. Demento has been and continues to be a huge influence on my life both personally and in the songs and artists he’s introduced me to. It is always an absolute honor and pleasure to have him play one of my songs. And the Demento fan community is really just the best. I’ve friends with so many artists and so many of the fans and have been for over a decade! That’s pretty incredible.”
— Grant Baciocco, explaining what The Dr. Demento Show means to him personally and professionally. In addition to inspiring his music with Throwing Toasters, Baciocco credits Dr. Demento with launching his podcasting career.
Going on a radio adventure with Dr. Floyd
The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd began as an internet radio show. Centered around the adventures of “the most brilliant scientist in the world” and his young assistant, as they attempt to recover a stolen time and space travel device. It’s hilarious and fun, featuring numerous guest appearances from Dr. Demento show alumni and more. The show is still being produced. Inspired by an idea he and a friend Doug Price, the titular Dr. Floyd on the podcast, originally developed as a video series in the years before YouTube and readily available video editing tools, the series was shelved until Grant had the idea to make it into an old time radio show.
As a massive fan of advertising/comedy legend Stan Freberg, a comedian he learned about via Dr. Demento, Baciocco molded the podcast version of the show around Freberg’s style. In October 2004 he read about podcasting and decided it would be the perfect way to present a show like Dr. Floyd to the world. The freedom and control inherent in running a podcast appealed to him:
I just love how the only real investment is time. And no one is telling you what you can and can’t do. It’s just your show. Putting together a show like Dr. Floyd takes a lot of time. It’s not difficult, but you just have to be willing to spend that time recording, editing and tweaking the episodes. We had a mantra though, we always kept moving forward. We figured you could spend years working on one episode or storyline to get it perfect, or you could just work on making the next episode better and in that same amount of time you could have 52 episodes!
Listenership was small at first, but eventually, the podcast grew into something much bigger:
The highlights of producing the show include being the first podcast to record live at ComicCon, getting letters from people all over the world who enjoyed the show and, of course, working with so many amazing celebrities who agreed to do voices. Writing for and hearing June Foray and Stan Freberg deliver lines I wrote was just unbelievable.
Since 2004, Baciocco has done a podcast in one form or another and was inducted into the Academy of Podcasters’ Podcast Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“I’d always been a puppetry fan but it was when I was doing a podcast for The Jim Henson Company that one of the other puppeteers, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, suggested I start training with the Jim Henson Company to become a puppeteer. It’s like having a dream I didn’t even know I had come true. I’ve been so lucky to work with Henson and other projects too. I am the lead puppeteer for Crow on the new revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I performed the Can of Vegetable in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. I’ve been really lucky and I’m having a blast.”
— Grant on how podcasting turned into him becoming a professional puppeteer. Not only is he the lead puppeteer for Crow, he also helped write some of season 11 of MST3K.
In the not too distant future …
As the lead puppeteer for Crow T. Robot, Grant brings him to life on screen. Grant controls the body, head and eyes, while his assistant, Carla Rudy, assists with his hands. Comedian Hampton Yount provides the voice (the third person to do so in the history of the series—the original Crow was voiced by our favorite mad scientist Trace Beaulieu, the second by Rifftrax mainstay Bill Corbett). Per Grant, they function as team to make Crow really work on screen. He believes they work so well together that they’ve been able to make Crow do a great deal more than he did in the original series.
MST3K has always been an important show in Grant’s life. In an interview with Tedium, we asked him what his favorite puppet related shows were (or those that inspired him) and MST3K was chief among them:
Folks don’t really consider it a puppet show because the puppets are so different from Muppets, but it is. The Muppet Show, of course but more recently I’ve grown fond of Jim Henson’s show Sam & Friends. It was his first show and it was really like a big playground where he could try a lot of things. I’m inspired by that freedom.
Growing up in San Francisco, I was also heavily influenced by two local shows, Charley & Humphrey and Buster and Me. They were small shows but I watched them religiously. I was lucky to get to meet Robin Goodrow who created Buster & Me. She came to see a performance of The Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up Uncensored and it was such a thrill for me to meet with her after the show and say, “You are responsible for all this. You got me into puppets!”
In addition to Crow, Grant was given creative license to do the voice and character of M. Waverly—whom we may see in future seasons.
The year Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later was released. During the series, Grant puppeteers the can of vegetables. As part of that experience, he spent the day on set with Christopher Meloni, Chris Pine and Jason Schwartzman. He cites working with director David Wain as the highlight of that experience and would love to do a fully realized, puppet-related film with him someday.
Under the Puppet: What Grant’s up to nowadays
In addition to his recent work on MST3K, Grant was involved with the new Happytime Murders film. The R-rated puppet murder mystery, out later this month, features Grant working as a sort of “puppet extra.” He doesn’t play any of the primary roles in the film, but does much of the background work and assisted where he could on the set. The most memorable part of the experience? Working with master puppeteers like Kevin Clash (Elmo, Master Splinter), Drew Massey and many others.
Never content to settle into a groove, Grant is always learning more about his craft and teaching others about it. Combining two of his passions, he created a podcast for learning puppeteering, called Under the Puppet. It releases once a month and features a deep dive into the craft. Grant doesn’t typically build his own puppets, but he can point aspiring puppet builders in the right direction, to Puppet Garage—the puppet workshop who created many of the moving parts, scenery and puppets for MST3K.
The best places to check out his work are to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 and see Happytime Murders when it comes out. He also has two YouTube channels that release constant puppet-related content—Uncle Interloper (for kids) and Toiley T. Paper (for adults). He’s even working on a Toiley T. Paper script—“in case any executives want to take a look.”
Much of Grant’s career is connected in an interesting way. His love for The Dr. Demento Show inspired him to become a musical comedian.
Musical comedy inspired Dr. Floyd, which in turn got him into podcasting and it was from a podcast that he launched a successful career in puppetry.
The puppetry holds a prominent spot in pop culture, and it all happened because of The Dr. Demento Show. And at the end of the day, that’s what being a fan of the show is all about. Though my creative endeavors and career trajectory differ from those of Grant Baciocco, I still see him as a kindred spirit among major fans of the show and perhaps he may inspire some to take a divergent creative path of their own.