Why you should care

Because your college projects sometimes matter. (Not always.)

Not that long ago, I was trying to find some videos a comedian friend of mine had posted online. Never did find them, but in my search I came across a link to a stand-up comic calling himself Idiot Gallant. Curious, I decided to take a look.

Turns out Idiot Gallant is really Toronto-based Todd Graham, who in many ways breaks the mold of what we’ve come to expect from contemporary stand-ups. While the median age of most comedians today seems to hover around 27, Graham is about 50, having launched a stand-up career only a few years ago. His act itself is likewise a throwback to the 1980s, when comedians like Robin Williams, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay, Emo Phillips and so many others used delivery style to create a singular and immediately recognizable onstage persona. Graham’s delivery is low-key and hesitant, punctuated by a slight stammer and extremely long, drunken pauses, all of which make the eventual punch lines that much more unexpected.

“My … my wife sometimes tells me I can be annoying … So I t-told her, ‘Hey … why, ah … why don’t you try looking in a mirror? … Because then you could see … ah … just how annoying I can be … behind you.’” It’s no surprise Graham cites Steven Wright as an early influence, though he also cites Jack Handy, Gilbert Gottfried, Tom Waits and Raymond Carver. It’s an eclectic list, but seeing him perform it makes sense. Graham in fact may be one of my favorite new stand-ups, but it’s only half the story.

Apocalypse Pooh would become a kind of hipster touchstone, regarded as one of the earliest modern examples of a mashup.

He grew up in provincial Peterborough, Ontario, reading Mad, National Lampoon and Heavy Metal. In the mid-1980s, already a little cockeyed, he enrolled at the Ontario College of Art and Design with hopes of becoming an illustrator, though he soon gravitated toward film.

With a project due for one of his film classes in 1987, Graham ran with an inspired whim and laid a few audio clips from Apocalypse Now over video from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh. Now, in the late ’60s the Situationists were making detournement films in which they redubbed genre movies with political slogans, and in What’s Up, Tiger Lily? Woody Allen redubbed a Japanese spy movie for comic effect. In the early ’80s people like Craig Baldwin and Negativland were making sound and video collages with found footage and recordings as a way of critiquing the culture. Although it was just done for yuks, what made Graham’s Apocalypse Pooh different was that he used two pre-existing sources in collision to create something new. The result was an unexpected wonderment. As incongruous as those two sources were, they worked frighteningly well together, not unlike listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

Little did Graham realize that in the years to come Apocalypse Pooh would go on to become a hugely popular pirated video among underground collectors, make its way onto so many anthologies of weird shorts and be cited by the likes of cartoonist Dan Clowes and analyzed in serious film journals. He also couldn’t have realized that almost 30 years later, Apocalypse Pooh would become a kind of hipster touchstone, regarded as one of the earliest modern examples of a mashup, a film that would inspire a whole generation of culture jammers.

As Apocalypse Pooh was quietly percolating its way through assorted subcultures, Graham was continuing to work on new films in the same style, including Peanuts/Blue Velvet and Babar/Elephant Man mashups. He later moved on to comic live-action shorts, though often involving cartoon elements. More recently he’s been working on a trio of foreign-film parodies, beginning with the German Good Grief, Cancer Boy! But here’s the pisser. For as deep and profound an influence as that goofy little class project has had on the culture, and for as much money as some people have made aping what Graham did three decades ago, his early and justifiable fears of a copyright-infringement suit prompted him to leave his name off the film.

Which somehow might help explain why he decided to become a stand-up comedian in his 40s.

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