DR. BUNDOLO'S PANDEMONIUM MEDICINE SHOW
As their graduate years in the English Department
at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. came to an end, Jeff Groberman grew wary
about the practical utility of his shift from Geophysics to English Lit. One day, as
the April showers of 1971 pelted Arthur Erickson’s academic quadrangle, Groberman
approached his pal Colin 'D.T.' Yardley with a murky proposition. "You
realize," he began, "that with M.A.’s in English Lit, there are two things
we can do in life. Teach or eventually end up slogging logs in a pulp mill."
"Have you ever listened to the comedy on CBC radio?" asked Jeff.
made an appointment with Frank Stalley, a CBC radio variety program
director, who occupied one of the many CBC radio offices then squirreled
away in the labyrinthine recesses of the Hotel Vancouver. In the
years to come, as Dr. Bundolo went national on CBC radio and then on to
television, its creators would deal with many program directors – none
as supportive and well meaning as Frank Stalley.
In the days leading up to their appointment,
Groberman, Yardley and friend, Tom Poulton, met in Yardley’s apartment at the SFU
student residences and started making comedy. Equipped only with a cheap
audiocassette recorder, with a built-in condenser mike, they read their material onto
In the summer of
1971, Kowalchuk held auditions in the bowels of the CBC studios, then
located in the Hotel Vancouver somewhere between the mezzanine and the
public toilets. Many aspiring actors read their way through
sketches featuring the moralizing nit, Trashman, and his sidekick, Ban
Tobacco, pollution fighters extraordinaire. There were parodies of
Canadian political figures and silliness that involved chickens,
Republicans, morphodites (sic) and greasers all verbally duking it out
in an aural tapestry that scorned such boring nonsense as cause and
effect, logic or beginning, middle and end.
had been comedy drop-in pieces on regional radio before, but for the
most part, they were squeaky clean, middle-of-the-road offerings typical
of the CBC up to the early seventies. And most of those programs
never went anywhere. Kreegah Bundolo Express was different.
It grew organically out of the west coast milieu about the same time a
group called Monty Python’s Flying Circus was fashioning their hugely
successful absurdist vision in Britain and a full two years before the
Royal Canadian Air Farce would take to the airwaves with a show that
closely copied the Bundolo format. Response to the Bundolo
drop-ins grew exponentially. Something began to stir in the
catacomb offices in the Hotel Vancouver; a buzz about this goofy little
comedy thing on the west coast – a buzz heard 3,000 miles away in CBC
head office in Toronto, Ontario.
4, 1972 was a chilly night on the campus of the University of British
Columbia. Don Kowalchuk had rented the Music Building
Recital Hall to launch the first public recording of a new CBC network
remember when Jeff called," said Yardley. "Kowalchuk had told him that
on the strength of numbers, growing listener support and fan mail for
our comedy drop-ins, the CBC was going to give us a shot at doing a
pilot for a full network half hour show, to be produced in front of a
live audience at UBC. A live audience! Yikes. No more hiding
in a studio convincing ourselves we were funny. It was acid test
time. Prove it in front of a live audience."
days before that first taping, Frank Stalley bumped into Groberman in an
elevator at the Hotel Van. "I understand your program is getting off
the ground," he said with a smile. "It’s taxiing down the runway,
F.S.," said Groberman, who always managed to sound like Groucho Marx on
benzedrine when he said such things. Intense, Jewish, black curly
hair and mobile eyebrows, there was something about Jeff that shouted
that Groucho was, in fact, his spiritual forefather.
displaying a prescience remarkable for a producer who had never worked
on anything other than classical music and drama, conceived that the
Bundolo show would work best if it combined three essential elements on
stage – the performers, a live band and an onstage sound effects
technician, a dandy named Lars Eastholme. Nothing canned or
pre-recorded, everything would be seat-of-the-pants live to tape
broadcasting; a show pounded together on the fly and made more
spontaneous and exciting for it – hopefully.
full name for the half hour series was to be Dr. Bundolo’s Pandemonium
Medicine Show. It came about during a marathon session in which
Kowalchuk, Groberman and Yardley tossed around whole lists of possible
titles, finally deciding that if ‘Bundolo’ meant ‘gorilla’ in Swahili,
(It did, didn’t it?), then a gorilla with a Ph.D., i.e., Dr. Bundolo,
captured something of the oxymoronic that would certainly make them
whoop in Red Deer – a then small hamlet south of Edmonton in the
next-door province of Alberta.
show slowly built an audience across Canada in its weekly half hour AM
time slot. A few shows into its run and knowing that
Ted Stidder would be leaving the cast, Kowalchuk and the writers
auditioned for a replacement. They were stunned by the comic
brilliance of a young Vancouver actor named Bill Reiter. A big
jolly bear of a man, often sporting a mountain man beard, born in
Verdun, Quebec, Reiter had grown up in Vancouver's equally tough East
End and brought a street smart irreverence to comedy that was so
in-your-face funny that he quickly became the star as well as the brunt
of most of the humour on the show and gave back as good or better than
he got. But he would be challenged. In 1974, Yardley and
Groberman started bugging Kowalchuk about this guy named Norm Grohmann
who did the weather report on BCTV. Around this same time, Steve
Woodman, while coming home late at night from hosting a Variety Club
Tele-thon, suffered a tragic car accident that effectively ended his
radio career. Grohmann auditioned and won a role in the cast
in a walk.
For the next seven years, Bill Reiter and Norm Grohmann, more than ably assisted by Marla, and with the great X Factor chemistry that Buck added, would be the cast of Dr. Bundolo's Pandemonium Medicine Show, a weekly half hour of comic mayhem and post-Freudian ersatz that would trouble the atmosphere more than the US government's HAARP project in Alaska (Google it). If the scripts were occasionally well written, they were often lifted into the realm of inspired comedy by the scintillating improvisational humour that both Reiter and Grohmann brought to the stage – usually, the stage of the Student Union Building at the University of British Columbia. The SUB theatre often overflowed its 700-seat capacity for Bundolo shows, with standing room and students sitting in the aisles, it was often comic bedlam. Over time, Reiter became the big jolly guy that every loyal student fan had to get a piece of, even to the extreme of bombarding him relentlessly with paper airplanes while he was trying to address the hallowed microphone of the Canadian mother corp. Many of Reiter's impromptu grunts, woofs and groans, kept in the show, are, in fact, his reactions to getting nailed in sensitive body parts with a Boeing Cruizer designed by some UBC engineering student.
1972 to 1981, and for a brief reprise during Expo '86, Dr. Bundolo's
Pandemonium Medicine Show established itself as the wildest, most
spontaneous ensemble radio comedy ever to arise in the Canadian west.
Bundolo was hugely popular during the 1970’s in Canada. In some
respects, it belongs to a well-represented tradition of Canadian
satirical humour that includes Wayne and Shuster, Codco, The Royal
Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Of this family of
shows, Bundolo was perhaps the black sheep; the show least likely to
conform to expectations and most likely to bend the rules into pretzels
and serve them with green beer. There was something decidedly west
coast about Bundolo; something that didn’t always sit well with the
more button-down sensibilities of central Canada. If Berkeley is
to Boston as Vancouver is to Toronto, we are talking cultural
differences of no small magnitude. Bundolo was the wild, unkempt,
dope smoking hippie relative out in Lotus Land. Maybe entertaining
as hell in small doses, but you sure wouldn’t want him hanging around,
sleeping on your sofa or chatting up your sister.