Why you should care
Because the world could use a little distraction.
Exchanging awkward glances, we hum the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on our plastic instruments, trying our best to stay serious. But the absurd buzzing sound, clumsily whirling its way around this small warehouse building, is too much to handle — and we break out in childish laughter. That’s the simple beauty of the kazoo: It’s ridiculous, yet somehow endearing.
Here, in a nondescript office park off a verdant, but humdrum stretch of road that weaves through South Carolina’s low country, sits the source of endless musical amusement. Kazoobie Kazoos, America’s only manufacturer of plastic kazoos, pumps out around 5,000 of the beloved instruments per day, exporting simple, buzzy joy throughout the world.
Employees dutifully snap kazoos together under a banner proclaiming “We keep the world humming!”
A tour of the Kazoobie headquarters in Beaufort is about as charmingly peculiar as the product it makes. For $5, visitors — we were the only two that day — are given a video presentation on the 160-year history of the instrument and shown around the facility, where a line of employees dutifully snaps kazoos together under a banner proclaiming “We keep the world humming!” Then it’s time to assemble your own and give it a test run.
But despite the playfulness, Kazoobie is still a functioning business. On the wall inside one of the warehouse offices hangs a map studded with thumbtacks on nearly every continent, marking the far-flung places where the kazoos are shipped. Inside the gift shop you’ll find comical kazoo add-ons such as bugle bells, which turn an otherwise ordinary instrument into a “Kazoogle.” In several glass cases nearby, the “Kazoo Musuem” displays an array of industry artifacts.
So what makes their product the best, I ask our tour guide, Kami Woodruff, presumably out of the countless Asian-made knockoffs out there? “Because we’re American,” the self-described kazoo-maker (she also works as an assembler) proclaims with a hearty laugh. It’s a joke, but only sort of. Forgoing glues and other chemicals, Kazoobie’s kazoos are made of medical-grade plastic, designed to withstand the ham-handed handling of a rowdy child — or even the washing machine, for those who’ve taken their playing to the next level.
There’s a simple pleasure behind the general challenge of keeping a business humming — no pun intended — says CEO Stephen Murray. “I tell people that we produce a small musical instrument called the kazoo. But I summarize it by saying I really sell fun for a living.” International sales account for one-third of Kazoobie’s business, and the company ships to more than 30 countries, including Tanzania and Peru.
Perhaps kazoo diplomacy is the best way to go. These days, adds Murray, amid a seemingly endless flood of negative news, the world could use a little distraction. “I think we ought to not take ourselves so seriously, and be a little silly,” he says. “I think the kazoo is a good way to do that.”