It was like a secret society growing up in NY/NJ mid to late 70's; either you knew who Uncle Floyd was or you didn't.
Coming in like a snowy, UHF blast of bizarro sketch-comedy, celebrity impressions, oddball puppetry, punk rock musical guests and Stride-piano, "The Uncle Floyd Show" circa 1977 sneakily beamed its way into thousands of rabbit-eared TVs (and the hearts of their mostly pubescent/teen owners) all across the tri-state area virtually undetected by the Ford-era mainstream. To my young, untrained eye this beautiful, low budget, Vaudevillian freak-show might as well have been broadcasting directly from outer-space. It was like nothing I'd ever seen on TV before. Little did I know this strange world was, in reality, not very far, emanating form a broken down New Jersey television studio, two rivers across from where I watched cross-legged every afternoon in my Queens bedroom. And speaking to me from the center of this insane, fuzzy universe? A man in a plaid jacket and a funny hat known simply as "Uncle Floyd" Vivino.
Vivino, the friendly host, comedic straight-man, piano virtuoso and creator of this home-spun, television circus served as our daily ring-master of sorts, inviting us to join his weirdo parade each and every weekday afternoon. I, of course, was very eager to comply. With its off-camera laughter, its unstable cast, its failed, disintegrating sketches, it's cutting-edge musical guests (The Ramones appeared several times) and Floyd's episode-closing, Ragtime serenades, "The Uncle Floyd Show" was just what the doctor ordered for every local, TV addicted misfit.
Uncle Floyd, indeed, wasn't for everybody; you had to be that special kind of person - a seeker, someone who's sensibilities deviated from the mainstream, VHF path of Brady Bunch re-runs, urging them to comb the interference-laden frequencies of the UHF band in search of something different. In between the static and ghosting the initiated found their "different" in "The Uncle Floyd Show".
And as history has since proved, it wasn't all suburban freaks and geeks watching either; A missive penned by none other than David Bowie testifies to that end (courtesy of davidbowie.com) -
"Back in the late '70s, everyone that I knew would rush home at a certain point in the afternoon to catch the Uncle Floyd show. He was on UHF Channel 68 and the show looked like it was done out of his living room in New Jersey. All his pals were involved and it was a hoot. It had that Soupy Sales kind of appeal and though ostensibly aimed at kids, I knew so many people of my age who just wouldn't miss it. We would be on the floor it was so funny. Two of the regulars on the show were Oogie and Bones Boy, ridiculous puppets made out of ping-pong balls or some such. I just loved that show."
Apparently Bowie had learned of Floyd from another fellow musician and loyal Uncle Floyd viewer by the name of John Lennon. Pretty awesome, no?
These days in an era where left-of-center, late night television is pretty common place (if not cliche) and the Uncle Floyd Show is but a heady, childhood memory for me and my aging misfit compatriots, I can't help but wonder if folks like Letterman, O'Brien, etc don't owe at least a small debt of gratitude to the "irreverent late-afternoon TV before irreverent late-night TV" of "The Uncle Floyd Show".
In the immortal words of Bones Boy - "Hey, Dave...snap it, pal !"
A clip of Uncle Floyd at the piano in 2009 -