The Chicken Little Comedy Show
Broadcast by KEMO-TV San Francisco 1972
Stuart Birnbaum, who had directed “The Chicken Little Story” starring Matt Neuman, as his graduation project at USC Film School in 1971, met Elisa Leonelli in Italy, where he was assistant director to Federico Fellini during the shooting of “Roma”, and invited her to visit the United States. The couple traveled from New York to Los Angeles, then to San Francisco, where they met up with Matt. In March 1972 Elisa became the hostess of the California Italian-American TV Program at KEMO-TV, and discovered that the station manager, Bob Carr, with his Retina Circus partners, Clark Higgins and Andy Neddermeyer, was looking for alternative programming. He approved a comedy sketch about a wrestling match, with Elisa and Stuart as the fighters and Matt as the referee, then asked the trio to produce a one-hour show: “The Chicken Little Comedy Hour” (with musical segments), which later was tightened into a half-hour. Stuart and Matt wrote the sketches, with John Lewis, Larry Arnstein, David Hurwitz, Nick Kazan; the writers/comedians also acted in it, with Elisa often playing the girl roles, and other friends pitching in: David Jacobson, Charlotte Minor, Terri Teague, Chuck Stepner, Peter Takeuchi, Grace Koheler, etc. Stuart directed, Neil Montone filmed the location segments with his 16mm Arriflex camera, Elisa managed the production and the still photography.
Stuart Birnbaum: “The Chicken Little Comedy Show” aired live on KEMO-TV in San Francisco in 1972 launching the careers of a cadre of young schicticians including Stuart Birnbaum, Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci), Matt Neuman, Larry Arnstein, David Hurwitz (“Not Necessarily The News”). Ably supported by a talented team dedicated to putting on a weekly show with no budget Chicken Little included Elisa Leonelli, David Jacobson and Neil Montone. The show was smart and silly and the times were “heady” – to say the least!
A sketch about the Cuban Revolution: John Lewis, Stuart Birnbaum, Neil Montone, David Hurwitz, David Jacobson.
After a successful run on the air, from May to December 1972, at KEMO-TV in San Francisco, “The Chicken Little Comedy Show” was edited into 3 compilations of the best sketches, distributed to college campuses all over the United States by VTN, the Videotape Network. A press kit was created to accompany the videos (cover art by David Sheridan). It said:
“In San Francisco, like a lot of places, there was a segment of the audience who were consistently moving away from television as a source of entertainment. But Chicken Little got them back. The Chicken Little Comedy Show, starring Matt Neuman and Stuart Birnbaum, is a broad and frequently irreverent satire of television by means of the vehicle best suited for the task – television itself. They lampoon and dissect the beast from within. And it works. The Chicken Little Comedy Show is Wednesdays’s highest rated show on UHF in the Bay Area. We’d like you to read what others have said about Chicken Little, it may be just what you’re looking for.”
Oakland Tribune, November 28, 1972 – by Bob Mackenzie
It is said that show-biz kids these days need a place to be lousy. Well, some of them have found it. Ironically enough we have a group of young people locally doing superior satire and spoofing, on anything but talent and a starvation budget. “The Chicken Little Show,” Wednesday nights on Channel 20, so far as a small audience but is picking up most of the strays who venture into UHF territory and find crazy things going on.
S F Sunday Examiner, October 22, 1972 – by James Brachman
Ever heard of the Wide Woild of Spawts? If not, you obviously haven’t been watching “The Chicken Little Comedy Hour,” which takes satirical jabs at various aspects of Americana: movies, television programs, advertisements and other things we all know and love… Nothing is safe from these Chicken Little fiends. Who could imagine world famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau wearing underwater sunglasses with windshield wipers and being surrounded by chanting mermaids? It is the brainchild of 23-year-old Stuart Birnbaum… studied film-making at USC… made “The Chicken Little Story,” a film he calls a “documentary of despair”… centers around a man who wears sandwich sideboards… walks the streets with his apocalyptic message that the end is near – until he finally realizes that it is already here… The routines of the comedy show call for acting and acrobatics, and Birnbaum excels at both… A small group of actors and writers compose the staff. Among them is Nick (son of Elia) Kazan… studied comedy at Swathmore College where he met co-writers Larry Arnstein and John Lewis. “I like the show because I see things there I don’t see anywhere else,” says Kazan. Actor Matt Neuman, a graduate of Occidental College who edited the school humor magazine and did stand up comedy… invested in some video tape equipment, and has personally bankrolled much of the overall production cost of the show. “All the cast members are on the creative end. We are not businessmen. What we are trying to do is feed back to the media its own humor,” Neuman explained… Stuart Birnbaum and staff provide KEMO with their programming in exchange for the use of its television facilities. The Chicken Little crowd hopes the program will eventually become syndicated. When that happens the long hours of hard work will have paid off.
The Night Times. September 6-19, 1972, by Ted Brock
“The Chicken Little Comedy Show” is the centerpiece of a new set of alternative programs currently being aired over KEMO-TV (Channel 20) each weeknight at 10… the man behind KEMO is Leon Crosby, the maverick broadcasting executive who owned KMPX “underground radio”… bought the station… and put it back on the air last February 14, reverting to the foreign language format he had utilized so successfully at KMPX… the real animus behind the “hip” programming is KEMO’s program director, Bob Carr… who came from Seattle… Retina Circus, a communal group which now handles the station’s art and special effects work. “The Chicken Little Comedy Show” is essentially a fast-moving blend of bizarre comedy routines which satirize their own medium. During the show’s first week, Chicken Little (Matt Neuman) would open his show by complaining to a dormant television set, only to be challenged by The Fool (played by the show’s producer, Stuart Birnbaum) who would magically appear on the screen through the miracle of Chroma-key. After climbing into the console, Chicken Little would re-emerge in the guise of a TV personality – anyone from talk-show host Johnny Joey to Walter Cronkite. Neuman and Birnbaum are the major schtick-men, supported by a cast of dozens. The show writers include John Lewis, David Hurwitz, Larry Arnstein and Nick Kazan.
And these were the 8×10 photos chosen to illustrate the show:
Elisa Leonelli, Matt Neuman, Stuart Birnbaum as Juan Valdez, David Hurwitz in “Ski Report”, Stuart Birnbaum, Matt Neuman and Elisa Leonelli in “Rancho Atlantis”