How David Spade Led Me To A Week-Long El DeBarge Obsession
I just spent most of this week obsessed with the 1986 song "Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge. I can't listen to it or watch the video enough. Which is a feast of 'WHAT?" for the eyes.
It's become an all-consuming earworm that's earned me many confused side glances at stoplights.
I had to stop and retrace the steps that led me to this existence.
It started when I fell into a YouTube hole that started with Johnny Carson, which led to 'Weird Al', and finally to the quest to identify Johnny.
Well, it actually started with Eddie Murphy.
I saw a clickbait headline about what David Spade said that kept Eddie Murphy away from Saturday Night Live for many years. I couldn't resist and clicked it.
That led to a 1995 SNL clip of Spade making fun of Murphy. It was as underwhelming as I figured it'd be.
But then YouTube's suggested I watch Murphy's first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1982.
Murphy is very funny. But, in 2022 his stand-up makes me feel the way I felt trying to explain the first Ace Ventura movie to my son. It's like 70% brilliantly funny, and 30% horrific.
And, of course, I saw a whole bunch of Ed McMahon.
Like any good Close Personal Friend of Al, I have his discography on my phone, just for emergencies like this. So I fired up the song several times.
After listening to Al's tribute to the top-second banana, I remembered that Al's song was a parody of the song "Who's Johnny," by El DeBarge
This is where the Youtube Rabbit Hole got really deep...
I found the song and fired it up. It's an 80s R and B-influenced pop song. It is just fun. My brain couldn't get enough.
As the earworm worked its way into my brain, I remembered the video was one of those that is basically a long commercial for a movie.
This song was from the 1986 movie Short Circuit. A movie about a robot named Number 5, AKA, Johnny 5, who comes alive.
The video is a movie tie-in, and so, so much more. I was off on a journey of self-discovery and bewilderment.
I hadn't seen this video since it was a hit on MTV for a few months in 1986. It was one of those songs that burned bright and fast. As big as it was at the time, it disappeared just as quickly.
El, the star of Short Circuit Ally Sheedy, and a cardboard cutout of Steve Gutenberg appear to be on trial. Accused of knowing who Johnny is.
You can tell she is a serious 80s lawyer because she is wearing glasses and has her hair pulled back. The international signal for 'no-nonsense.'
Then, the whole courtroom is demanding the answer to the titular question.
But, El is playing coy, and Johnny 5's robot hand is playing pranks. He takes the lawyer's glasses and the judge's gavel, replacing them with the seeds of future hilarity.
Is Johnny a person, a robot, a puppet? The answer continues to elude the court.
Then the lawyer pulls out her secret weapon, a VHS copy of the movie Short Circuit!
Dun, Dun, Dunnnnnnnnn
She shows the court clips of the film, showcasing its futuristic robotics, cutting-edge humor, and problematic casting choices.
The movie scenes don't advance the case, but they do an OK job of promoting the movie.
Sheedy takes the stand and there's a robot hand (unintentional rhyme).
Everybody falls in love with her, because of course they do. It's Ally Sheedy.
Then this happens:
Look, I don't know what or why that happened. I mean I know Johnny 5 replaced her glasses as a prank. But...but...but? Did someone switch the channel to The Electric Company?
Maybe it was a sort of placeholder, and nobody came back later to insert the real joke?
Eventually, the rhythm of the night infects the courtroom, and they all must dance!
Johnny 5 demands it.
And look! That lawyer lady is cool now because she let her hair down. And there are firemen, because why not?
She seems to have forgotten that she's still wearing the glasses and nose. Unless she was going for the crazy hippie with bleached hair look. It was the 80s, so who knows?
Then the judge's gavel explodes, the dancing continues, and Alley and El escape. Presumably to cash their checks.
So, that's how I ended up here. From Spade to Eddy to Carson to Al and finally El DeBarge. It has been a busy week.
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