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Before American Idol came along, people relied on cable access television for their fix of second hand embarassment. With the only barrier for entry being an inexplicable belief that you deserved to be on TV, the no-budget broadcasting platforms drew a flood of some of the most bat-shit insane characters ever seen outside the gates of an asylum. Here are seven of the most terrifying, surreal and all together hilarious moments ever broadcast on cable access TV.

Sondra Prill - Nasty Boys

The Story: Take a minute to decide whether you feel like laughing or crying, then hit play. Back in the mid-80s, Sondra Prill thought she was going to be the biggest thing to ever come out of Tampa, Florida. It might have actually happened if it hadn't been for one minor detail: she didn't have a lick of talent. None. When you watch clips from her short-lived show (which was creatively titled "My Show"), it's hard to tell if she's actually serious. Watch a handful of her other videos on YouTube and you might start to think that it was all an elaborate joke, that Sondra Prill was just some bizarre performance art piece or something. Take this as either proof that she was for real, or proof that she took the joke way too far: In 1992, Sondra rented out a 900-seat Tampa amphitheater to put on something called "A Musical Fantasy" as a Hurricane Andrew fundraiser. She charged up to $50 a ticket-the same theater hosted acts like Al Green and Patti LaBelle around that time for a maximum ticket price of $25. Amazingly, she managed to sell 41 tickets to the show. Which might mean that she did end up being the biggest act to ever come out of Tampa, Florida.

Why It Rules: While the borrowed fur (and the borrowed footage from another music video) help bring this clip to the brink of awesomeness, it's Sondra's complete dearth of talent that really gives it that extra push. Each awkward pelvic thrust, each attempt at a sexy come-hither look (which all come out looking more like demonic possession) put yet another nail into the no-talent coffin. Every time she screams "NASTY!" try to remember that she actually thought she was going to be a star. Every time she bugs her eyes out all crazy, try to remember that she probably thought it looked sexy. Remember this all, then listen to her lovely singing voice and die a little inside. As an added bonus, the dancer at 1:33 looks a lot like Val Kilmer in Real Genius, so it's got that going for it, too.

See Also:
Sondra Prill - "Pump Up The Jam"
Sondra Prill - "Addicted To Love"

Rogue Helicopter Pilot

The Story: In 2002, George Shinn, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, told the City of Charlotte that he would leave town and take his basketball team with him if they didn't build a new sports arena. The city turned down his proposal, so Shinn - who was wrapped up in several other scandals at that time as well - made good on his promise and moved his team to New Orleans. Although it's not totally clear when exactly this next part happened, it was somewhere around then that George Shinn, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, befriended some sort of "rogue helicopter pilot" who proceeded to fly his vehicle 25 to 30 feet above a local citizen named David Thompson's roof line. Thompson spotted them "between the magnolia tree and the property line," where they hovered for approximately two minutes before "bailing out." In this video, Thompson asks the local authorities for what any sensible person would want: Justice. Unfortunately, his request is denied because he is completely fucking insane and none of it actually happened.

Why It Rules: This video provides a unique window into the mind of a complete lunatic. It's easy to forget that the mentally ill, despite spending most of their time kneading raw ground beef and drawing up intricate blueprints for machines that will never work, may actually own televisions and absorb fragments of pop culture. Okay, so David Thompson admittedly mucks up a few facts (like that whole thing about the existence of a "rogue helicopter pilot"), but you've gotta give him credit for name-dropping John Walsh. So what if he thinks he's actually IN the FBI? As an added bonus, you get to hear him call someone a "chameleon, lemon-headed, coward, terrorist pussy," and you know what? That's special. If only there was footage available of the last time he came to speak at the community forum. You know - about "the bundling." Whatever the hell that is.

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Goth Public Access

The Story: Back in 1988, five kids held this one really scrawny introvert named Saul down on the locker room floor and put their balls on his face. That's ten balls, total. Brutal. Everyone at his school started calling him "Ballface" and it really hurt his feelings. He begged his parents to move so he could go to a new junior high and start over, but his dad had a pretty good job and they had a mortgage so, you know, no dice. They promised him things would get better in high school. Then he got really into "dark" music and started cutting himself. When people started asking him why his arm was all bandaged up he would hiss at them, shield his face from the sun and run away, even though they were in the hallway at school and there was no sunlight to speak of. Then he decided to make a public access television show. Then someone put it on the internet and now we all get to laugh at him.

Why It Rules: If you tried to market this video under the title "Understanding Your Goth," you could make millions of dollars selling it to confused and desperate parents around the country. You wouldn't even need extra features - the DVD could be two minutes long. Why would it sell? Because it teaches you everything you need to know about goth teenagers: A: They are awkward wretches. B: They're friends with fat chicks. C: They're gonna be really embarrassed in a few years. Pay close attention to the first two seconds of the video. Did you see that? Wait, no - rewind it. Did you see it that time? What the hell was that? Some kind of goth ballerina move there? The icing on the cake would be his friend's excruciating pause/paws pun at 1:25, but goths hate cake, right? What would be a better phrase there? The maggot on the corpse? The blood on the ankh? Oh, wait - goths hate phrases, too. I'm going to go light some candles and blow my brains out with a shotgun. How's that?

Speak Out With Ken Sander

The Story: The year was 1990. The question on everyone's mind: Should New Yorkers be allowed to carry handguns? A public access talk show host named Kenneth Sander took it upon himself to ask the public what they thought about this controversial issue, and the public responded with an empathic "Fuck your mother, you motherfucking cock fucker."

Why It Rules: Calling someone a "fag" or a "cockhead" isn't funny in and of itself (okay, maybe "cockhead" is), but it's a different story when it happens 20 times in 5 minutes. Say what you will about the chump of a host, but the guy takes more abuse than a newly-imprisoned dance therapist and responds with little more than a wink to his cameraman. Watch his face as he listens carefully to the callers diatribes, as he considers the subtleties of each point they make. He furrows his brow, he says "that's a good point," and then he gets called a "cockhead." Awesome. Sure he's a douchebag, but you have to admire his tenacity. If you don't admire his tenacity, he's got pretty cool hair, too. Admire that instead.

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The Spirit Of Truth

The Story: God created man. Then man created television. Then man created crack cocaine. All four of these things collided when this guy walked down to his local public access station, grabbed the receptionist by the hair and said "Are ya laughin', beeyotch?" The receptionist responded by giving him keys to the studio so she could get back to her crossword puzzle. The rest is history.

Why It Rules: Because after you count all the things that rule in this video - the suit, the insane haircut, the Parliament Funkadelic playing, the bizarre camera work, the completely inappropriate backdrop and, most importantly, the drug-fueled, incomprehensible blasphemy - there just isn't anything left that DOESN'T rule. It rules by the process of elimination. On its own any single one of these things would be amazing, but put them together and pepper it with lines like "I come in the name of Jesus... repeat after me, bitch!" and you've got something completely different. Something so awesome that it melts your face off.

Let's Paint, Exercise & Blend Drinks TV!

The Story: John Kilduff is an MFA candidate at UCLA. He also hosts a show called Let's Paint and Exercise TV where he does just that and usually quite a bit more. In the 50 or so episodes available on YouTube, Kilduff has made gingerbread houses out of sushi, played chess, dressed a guy up like a chicken, eaten pie. all while painting, running on a treadmill, and taking calls from the public. In this particular episode, he paints, exercises, and - you guessed it - blends drinks. Awesome.

Why It Rules: With his bald, sweaty dome and rumpled, paint-splattered suit, John Kilduff is a fucking mess. Most of his callers hate him (why are so many gangbangers watching public access anyway?) and his paintings don't come out particularly well, but throughout it all Kilduff remains remarkably upbeat. Whatever-how well do you think YOU could paint while running on a treadmill? You can say a lot of things about John Kilduff, but he genuinely seems to love what he's doing. Even if it's... you know... kind of deranged.

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The Merrill Howard Kalin Show

The Story: What would you do if you worked at a public access television station and a mentally retarded person walked in and said he wanted to do a cooking show? Would you let him do it? Would you help him out with it? Would you say no, fearing that he would be ridiculed? You know what? It doesn't matter, because someone in Palatine, Illinois said "whatever" and now Merrill is a television and internet sensation, worshipped by literally tens of people around the world. The Merrill Howard Kalin show will teach you how to make salad, jello molds, chicken, and stuffing. It was also teach you how to fuck up every single one of those dishes, how to get salmonella, and how to do impersonations of everyone from Raquel Welch to Porky Pig... poorly.

Why It Rules: This video is the holy grail brain bomb of public access television. So much so that you need to watch it all in complete silence, possibly more than once, to really pick up on every subtle and bizarre nuance. It could use a commentary track, really. Every dish he tries to make is a disaster, every prep technique he uses is either wrong or flat-out dangerous, and then, just when the ship really starts sinking, he starts in with the impersonations. You can rationalize laughing at this video by saying you're laughing WITH him, but remember: no matter how you justify it, if you laugh at this video you are going to hell.

Ross Wolinsky writes occasionally at Hypocritical Mass, but usually he just lazily posts links to stupid shit he finds on the internet.
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