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Reviewed by Will Harris
arning: The film you are about to see is shocking and repugnant beyond belief. It contains scenes of disturbing sexual practices and mindless violence. If older people with heart conditions are watching, or persons under psychiatric care, make them sit close so they won’t miss anything. Do not allow children of an impressionable age to leave the room. If they are sleeping, wake them up. Slap them. Give them hot coffee.”
- The opening screen crawl from “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video”
The comedy of Michael O’Donoghue is neither for the faint of heart nor the easily offended, but trying to determine the demographic that would appreciate his legendary TV special, “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video,” is a task of herculean proportions.
Mr. Mike was a persona created by O’Donoghue as a way to bring his dark comedic sensibilities to television without having to worry about someone else delivering the dialogue he’d written. Listening to Mr. Mike tell his Least-Loved Bedtime Stories on “Saturday Night Live,” including such cheery tales as “The Little Engine That Died,” was always a surefire way to make middle America start to cringe, so it was somewhat surprising when NBC decided to sign O’Donoghue to make a series of Mr. Mike specials to run as new content on the Saturday nights when “SNL” wasn’t putting on a new live show. It is somewhat less shocking, however, to learn that the network watched the first of these specials and promptly refused to air it. Suffice it to say that no further specials were forthcoming, but in an attempt to rescue his work, O’Donoghue did manage to wrangle a theatrical showing of “Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video,” and eventually saw it released to cable television and onto home video as well.
If you’ve never seen “Mondo Video,” here’s your first word of warning: don’t be swayed by the names of all the “SNL” stars in the credits. The amount of time that Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner appear onscreen almost certainly does not total up to 30 seconds (and a similar caveat can be offered up for the other immediately-recognizable actresses cited above), and Bill Murray only pops up to provide brief sound bites within some sporadically-placed interview segments. Ultimately, only Dan Aykroyd makes more than a fleeting appearance, turning up both as himself (proclaiming that he is a genetic mutant and providing it by showing off his webbed toes) and as the man behind the Mainland Church of the Perfect Wave, where the parishioners worship at the altar of a portrait of Jack Lord.
No, this is very much a spotlight for O’Donoghue: if he’s not the star of a particular sequence, then you can sure as hell tell that he either wrote it himself or at least had a hand in selecting the footage. Unfortunately, however, you can also tell that he directed it. There are countless occasions where a humorous concept goes on for far longer than necessary, most notably during the Royal Feline Swimming Academy bit; it is, in typical Mr. Mike fashion, both hilarious and disconcerting, but the “okay, we get the joke” light goes on long before it ends. The decision to feature musical performances by Klaus Nomi and Sid Vicious is, in and of itself, a testament to how little O’Donoghue was concerned about commercial success; unfortunately, Vicious’s performance of “My Way” has been excised due to a refusal by the song’s writers to allow its inclusion, but you can find it within “The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle” if you’ve never seen it before.
“Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video” should be no one’s first experience with Michael O’Donoghue. If your curiosity is piqued by reading this review, then your next stop should be to the bookstore, to order a copy of Dennis Perrin's book "Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue.” From there, rent the first three seasons of “Saturday Night Live” and enjoy his sketches about Claudine Longet, the Manson girls, and plunging steel needles into the eyes of Mike Douglas, and then move onto “Mondo Video.” Mind you, even at that point, you still might still find it to be excruciating viewing, but you can’t say that it doesn’t provide you with a look into the abyss that was O’Donoghue’s psyche.
Special Features: It’s arguable that the bonus materials on this set have more long-term value than the main programming does. Mitch Glazer, the co-writer of the special and a longtime O’Donoghue collaborator (the two of them also brought us “Scrooged”), offers up an audio commentary track which, while occasionally punctuated with lengthy pauses, offers considerable insight into the experience of putting together this strange program. Also included is a trio of “Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Tales” and, most poignantly, Bill Murray’s on-air eulogy to O’Donoghue on “Saturday Night Live.” Actually, it’s not very poignant at all – indeed, Murray suggests that his old “SNL” cohort is in Hell – but oddly enough, it’s exactly the sort of farewell O’Donoghue would have wanted.