Sketch comedy was a big deal in the 70’s. Shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “SCTV” made sketch shows a staple of late night TV. Naturally, several sketch comedy movies followed. “Ketucky Fried Movie” is a notable example, but today’s film is an obscure sketch film that parodies TV programs and a lot of commercials. It’s 1977’s “American Raspberry.”
The film, sometimes known as “Prime Time,” has the premise that some unseen troublemakers have taken over the TV airwaves, broadcasting outrageous shows and commercials. Much of the humor is dated, to say the least. For example, one segment leads us to believe it is a hunting program. Then the title is announced, “The Charles Whitman Invitational.” Depending on when you were born, you may or may not know what happens next. Charles Whitman was the college student who shot several people from a campus tower in Texas. It’s been parodied in everything from “The Simpsons” to Ron Howard’s film “Parenthood.” So, while today’s audiences might recognize the scenario, the name Charles Whitman might not be familiar to them. Many of the other segments are riffs on commercials that were well-known in the late 70’s. “How do you spell relief,” “Is it live or is it Memorex,” Sears Die-Hard batteries are among the parodies you will recognize if you lived through the 70’s, but youngsters will be lost.
Most of the segments are pretty short, but there are a handful of longer sketches. One is a “Charlie’s Angels” parody called “Manny’s Nymphs,” which features a cast of all plus sized actors. Another longer segment which pops up several times throughout the film is the “Sexual Deviation Telethon.” Murphy Dunne plays the host in this truly tasteless bit where donations to the telethon are measured by way of a giant phalus. Other notable names who would probably prefer that you didn’t recognize them in this film include Harry Shearer and Harris Yulin.
The film also features a few musical segments. One parodies a popular song of the era called “If I were a Carpenter,” having it sung by Mary and Joseph (who was a carpenter, of course) of the Bible. Again, audiences of today probably won’t recognize the song being parodied. The other song, I do admit to laughing at a bit. It’s Kinky Friedman singing his song “Old Ben Lucas.” It’s about boogers and stuff (“Old Ben Lucas had a lot of mucus”). What can I say, I’m a man…we think boogers are funny.
Occasionally the film cuts to scenes of the President of the United States (George Furth) as he and his advisors try to get to the bottom of this crisis with the airwaves. Why exactly the filmmakers felt the need for these scenes is unclear. They do nothing for the film.
To be honest, most of the film falls flat. What passes for comedy seems to primarily be a bunch of half-baked ideas, many barely long enough to sustain a 30 second parody of a commercial. The filmmakers did try to hit on some hot button issues, though. One sequence has a news reporter interviewing a couple who have just succeeded in getting the supreme court to legalize abortion up to the 5th year of life. Yep…that’s the kind of stuff we’re dealing with here. The primary motivation seems to have been to shock people rather than make them laugh. That’s never a good formula.
Really, much of this film is just in such poor taste. I understand that comic sensibilities change, but I have to wonder if some of this material was ever funny.