The Simpsons and The Tube Bar Tapes

The day after Thanksgiving, FX channel puts on a 13-day marathon of “The Simpsons,” the animated satire that is set to become America’s longest-running television series, defeating “Gunsmoke”‘s 25 year run, unless it is cancelled. Confession, I haven’t watched it regularly in well over a decade; I watched the John Waters episode, and a few scattered here and there, but the last one I remember watching was the “soul mate” episode with Johnny Cash, where Homer eats the Guatemalan Insanity peppers and hallucinates. I’m not sure what changed, but I just lost interest, the show seemed less subversive. They had won. The show had broken a lot of barriers and was accused of making us more crass and vulgar when often, it was one of the more realistic portrayals of family life on the boob tube.

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Bart got his start on the Tracey Ullman Show, and took over the nation with his battle cry of “Cowabunga,” “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?” and of course, “Eat My Shorts.” It all seems so silly now, but it was a breakthrough at the time. One of Bart’s favorite pastimes was prank calling the bartender at his father’s gin mill, Moe’s, and tormenting its owner, Moe Szyslak. “I’d like to speak to Al.” “Al who?” “Al Coholic.”

Well, that gag had its origin in New Jersey. Matt Groening was a fan of “The Tube Bar Tapes,” a series of prank calls made to The Tube Bar in Jersey City, a dive in Journal Square run by a retired heavyweight boxer named Louis “Red” Deutsch. Red had a voice like Tom Waits in a cement mixer, and whether punchy or rummy, he fell for some of the oldest prank calls in the book. And when he realized he was being pranked, his colorful rejoinders, ranging from profanity to poetics such as “I’ll cut open yer belly and show ya the black stuff inside” made for entertainment in the early ’80s, when “the Red tapes” made the rounds among sports journalists and then the larger world. Once they hit the Internet in the early ’90s they became known as The Bum Bar Bastards, and went on to inspire The Jerky Boys, who were more of a performance comedy team. (The Jerky Boys Movie is more entertaining than it has any right to be, maybe due to cameos from Tom Jones singing Lenny Kravitz, and Alan Arkin playing a cranky mobster.)

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Red Deutsch with Rocky Marciano. Photo credit Jon Rowe

We listened to the Red Tapes in high school, when parody songs only heard on Dr. Demento were passed around on mix tapes and treasured for those long cruising drives around at night when you had nothing to do. My friends and I wanted to visit The Tube Bar, but Old Red died in 1986, before we could legally enter. Here’s a picture of the Tube Bar:

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If you want to listen to the infamous “Red Tapes,” they are now on YouTube. Be warned, Red and the pranksters are pretty foul-mouthed fellows.