Thursday, December 19, 2013
Larry Lujack died yesterday. He was only 73. I know all of Chicago and many in the Midwest are grieving today. I sure am.
What made Larry so special? At a time when thousands of disc jockeys all sounded the same, he had a very distinctive cadence and delivery. Jocks back then all tended to be very up and excited with smiles in their voices. They were Club Med social directors on speed.
But not Uncle Lar. He was caustic. He was sarcastic. And what struck me the most was he was honest. If he hated a record he told you. If he thought a certain station promotion was bullshit he told you. This was in stark contrast to all the other deejays who cheerfully drank the Kool-Aid, toted the company line, and even pretended to like “The Night Chicago Died.”
Another thing: Jocks talked fast on those Top 40 days, often like machine guns. (Think Scorsese but double it.) Larry Lujack talked slow. He would take pauses (unheard of in radio where the First Commandment is no dead air). He would command your attention.
A lot of the schtick that Howard Stern was doing in 1987, Larry Lujack was doing in 1967. David Letterman grew up in Indiana listening to Lujack and you can clearly hear Uncle Lar’s influence on Letterman’s persona.
Some of his regular features were “Animal Stories,” the “Clunk Letter of the Day,” and “Cheap, Trashy Showbiz Reports. ” He wrote and performed all of his bits by himself.
I’m always telling my USC students that great comedy comes from creating great characters. You don’t have to write “jokes” to be funny. You just need a funny attitude. Larry Lujack portrayed this larger-than-life image (he called himself “superjock”) all tongue-in-cheek and got laughs just from his sarcastic tone. He didn’t have to tell “jokes;” he just said all the things you wish you could say.” Ironically, I think his act would be even more popular today. He was doing “irony” long before Letterman, Stewart, Colbert, Conan, and every on-air host on E!
I always envied the folks in Chicago who had Uncle Lar in their lives every day. I just had the tapes. But they were a master class in comedy. There have been a lot of celebrity passings this week but none has hit me as hard at Larry Lujack’s. This truly is the night Chicago died.
Here's a sample of Larry Lujack. Not the best but it's what YouTube had.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM