Sunday, December 17, 2023

Stan Freberg's Chun King Chow Mein Hour-1962

THE CHUN KING CHOW MEIN HOUR was an ingenious--if casually racist--1962 television special written by and starring satirist supreme Stan Freberg. The bespectacled Freberg famously transitioned from a radio and record comedian to the king of comedy in advertising. Among his biggest clients was Jeno Palucci, who created Jeno's Pizza Rolls but was better known for his line of Chinese foods--of all things--marketed under the Chun King name.

This TV special was, for all intents and purposes, an hour long commercial for Chun King, something you can't get away with anymore these days. All credit to Stan for utilizing the medium of television in ways only Ernie Kovacs had done before this.

The show, with Donna Freberg as associate producer, boasted of no guest stars and yet featured a comic cameo by Frank Sinatra--the man who had introduced Stan to Donna in the first place.

Also present were such familiar voices and faces as Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh), June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel), Peter Leeds, Paul Frees, Jessie White, Naomi Brossart, Howard McNear, Arte Johnson, and big Mike Mazurki. Stan's puppet pal from the Moon, Orville, is, of course, also present, as is a precocious little Asian girl named Ginny Tiu.

The show's unique production design was by award winning designer Saul Bass, his first work for television.  

There are odd musical numbers, lots of "intellectual humor," an animated sequence based on a cut from one of Freberg's LPs, no opening credits, and closing credits read aloud.

If one has an open mind and can accept the way humor has changed in 60 years, it's hilarious, satirically pointed, endlessly clever, and drolly played by all involved, as seen on the YouTube post that recently went up. 

BUT...just like these articles, and Chun King's other advertising, nearly everything about the show plays off of cultural stereotypes that, while widely accepted when I was growing up, were no less offensive then than they are recognized to be now.

Stan Freberg, though, was a comedic marketing genius!


1 comment:

  1. I remember Jeno from the controversy in Duluth, near where I live. I just read the Wickipedia entry on Chun King, and the "grasshopper" episode.
    Being a big Freberg fan I will have to watch this comedy special!