Do you ever turn on a kids' television show, sit and sigh though 10,000 fart jokes, and think to yourself, "It didn't used to be like this....who started it anyway?"
There is an answer for this question; we know exactly who did. (And no, it wasn't John K. (That's what he WANTS you to think.)) The first recorded instance of bathroom humor in a children's television show occurred on April 7, 1979, during the original season of a little Canadian show called You Can't Do That On Television.
Episode 9, "Executive Washrooms," never aired on Nickelodeon, nor did any other Season 1 show, due to the fact that portions were broadcast live. Consequently much of this season is lost forever, and this particular episode only survives because someone taped it when it was on. I first saw it on a website called Barth's Burgery about ten years ago, which had every Nick episode available for free download, albeit in early-century foggy 240p quality. (I thought for certain Barth's Burgery would be gone, but after checking just now, it is apparently still up and completely unchanged as of this writing.)
YCDTOTV gets flak for not holding up very well due to all the corny jokes, but you have to understand, this mostly ran during the Eighties where kid shows were as sanitized and bland as they had ever been. When compared next to Care Bears or The Smurfs, this show was incredibly edgy. The name was "You Can't Do That On Television" and they really weren't kidding -- it had content you couldn't see anywhere else. NOWHERE else. Slime, diarrhea, skits about firing squads, pokes at authority, fourth-wall breaking...this kind of irreverence just didn't happen on the networks yet. (Plus, those pre-emption cards were a brilliant idea worthy of SNL.) As a result, YCDTOTV became the coolest show on the playground and its success influenced the still-young Nickelodeon channel permanently.
The Season One intro was different from the others and prominently featured the Canadian Parliament building. It was the same theme song, though.
As we fade in we find out the CJOH studio in Toronto has two lavatory facilities: the swanky Executive Washroom for the president, Mr. Dime, and the smelly disgusting Staff Privvy for everyone else. Mr. Dime is furious because he knows other people have been using his bathroom. (He entered with a clean pressed suit and exited covered in green slime -- I'd rather not know what the kids did in there.) He calls the janitor and orders that the lock be changed.
The children walk on set to find a complete mess. The studio heads threw a party the previous night and left their waste all over the stage: caviar, champagne, $20 bills.
Jim Stechyson sees the caviar, says aloud "MMM, STRAWBERRY JAM!" and starts chowing down. Christine "Moose" McGlade informs him what it really is, but that just makes him happier: "That stuff is ten bucks a gram!"
"You know what it's made
of, don't you?"
"At ten bucks a gram who cares?"
"It's fish eggs. You know, frog spawn?"
Jim immediately races off to the Privvy to vomit.
Meanwhile, the janitor finishes installing a new lock on the Executive Washroom, and hoggishly takes all the toilet paper with him to blow his nose. It isn't long before Mr. Dime comes rampaging through the hall, having eaten a dozen bran muffins. He's in for a rude surprise.
While Mr. Dime is stuck inside the Executive Washroom howling in rage, no one is around to stop the kids from playing around with the light controls, causing a fuse to be blown right before the first commercial break. When the show returns the producer, Ross, comes in while the kids are gathering up the $20 bills strewn around the studio. Some of them have never seen a $20 bill before and are unsure if they're real; Moose assures them they are. (Inflation hasn't been kind to this episode. Just add another eighty bucks onto every price you read.)
Ross, however, insists that what they have is just fake prop money and, therefore, property of the studio. He orders the kids to give all the money to him, despite Christine's protests, and then eagerly stuffs it into his pocket.
Sarah West comes onstage and
asks Moose what she's thinking about.
"You know, Sarah, Mike Patton hasn't been slimed, pied, or put in a dress in any of the shows he's been in." Back in the original days YCDTOTV's arsenal of humilations was much larger.
"I think it's time he had something done to him. The writers won't write it in; he's a wrestler and they're all scared of him." Makes perfect sense.
Meanwhile, Jim is having a similar conversation with Mike. It turns out Sarah hasn't been humiliated on the show yet either, and it's time she was. Both parties conspire to make some mischief.
Now this is really different: the 1979 version of YCDTOTV had.....disco numbers. The next few minutes are devoted to a guest kid strutting Travolta-style to "Le Freak." Kids could also call in and win prizes during this time, according to the text scroll that appeared.
There was no specific segment for opposites sketches yet, but two appear after this: a dungeon sketch where the kid wants to be chained up forever, and a classroom sketch where the teacher encourages chewing gum.
Moose and Sarah are plotting the details of their prank on Mike. That's when Iain Fingler walks by, and they decide to test it on him. It's your standard little-kid trick ("Do you want a present? Okay, TAKE THIS!") but Iain falls for it completely. Then he walks by Jim and Mike, who need a test dummy for their prank on Sarah, and he falls for it AGAIN. This is sad.
"No one is to be using the
Executive Washroom except the EXECUTIVE! The last time I went in
there, someone had taken all the toilet tissue! It cost me over
three hundred dollars! .........Never mind HOW!"
This was the moment that made parents snap. It hadn't been that long since Archie Bunker flushed a toilet on TV for the first time, and he never wiped his butt with currency. CJOH was drowning in complaints the following day.
The locker routine would become a mainstay on YCDTOTV, and the most obvious swipe from Laugh-In the show had. There's no variation; it's just groaner jokes told from lockers instead of doors. The only difference is that here, most of the gags make no sense.
"Hey Iain! Did you know
that when Ross was a teenager in high school, he was a solo
"What's a solo wrestler?"
"That's when you wrestle with yourself. He got kicked out though. They caught him cheating."
Well, it can't be what it sounds like -- the episode wasn't THAT controversial. But if it isn't, then what does it mean?
Still unaware his financial loss was the janitor's doing, Mr. Dime has ordered that the Executive Washroom be shackled with an extra lock. It works about as well as you'd expect with this dumb janitor. Jim comes by and tries to open the Washroom with a key, but the janitor stops him and says, "No, ya need an EXTRA key now! Like this one! THERE ya go!"
"You might be asking yourself....how can the studio afford such great prizes? And the answer is, we can't! We're broke! That's why we rely on kind-hearted merchants to give them to us..."
Moose was very much the Annette of YCDTOTV and the closest thing to a main character the show had. Most of the cast rotated as they grew into high school, but Moose was kept on as long as possible, well after puberty. This contest is being announced live and she handles it as naturally as if it were taped.
After Moose answers a phone call
from the winner, Sarah appears: "And now, Billy Joel!"
No, it's a music video. This is another element that didn't survive past Season One.
Before the video, a dungeon sketch appears where Moose walks by Jim with a copy of the episode script and keeps laughing because of something that happens "on page 41." During the music video, a message appears that says "PAGE 41 IS COMING." After the video, during a short bit with Sarah, the message "STAY TUNED FOR PAGE 41" appears, followed by another dungeon sketch where Jim is wallpapered. Say what you will about the bad jokes, but I'll tell you what keeps YCDTOTV appealing.....these guys knew how to have fun.
Jim got a ton of goodies by going to the store and cashing in some of that "pretend money." Sarah scolds him, saying counterfeiting can get you in a lot of trouble. "Really? They seemed to think it was real...." ....and then it dawns on everyone. "WE'VE BEEN HAAAAD," they yell in unison.
This is followed by a large section of disco dances, interviews, contests and music videos that is mostly skippable. This episode was 51 minutes long; something had to give.
The last interview is with Jim Unger, creator of the single-panel comic strip "Herman." If you follow cartoonists like I do, it's a pretty interesting piece of lost history. He was familiar with the show, as he kept looking up throughout the interview to make sure he wasn't about to get slimed.
It's been a long time since this subplot was last discussed, but Sarah and Moose are still plotting to get Mike. They have a new idea, but need a guinea pig to test it out. Guess who shows up at that moment?
"Hey Iain....what's the
capital of Canada?"
It's an easy question since they all live there. "Ottowa."
"How many members of Parliament are there?"
"And how many goldfish do they own?"
"I don't know..."
And you'll never guess what happens after that. Iain runs into Jim and Mike, who naturally want to test their new plan to get Sarah. Sure enough, they start asking the same questions, and THIS time, he's not sticking around. He tries to make a run for it, but Mike, Jim and Sarah grab him. "COME ON, TAKE YOUR SLIME LIKE A MAN! HOW MANY GOLDFISH ARE IN OTTOWA??"
Iain screams "I DON'T KNOW" and then splits -- and the slime meant for him lands on Mike and Sarah. They've finally gotten it!
Moose introduces one last contest, for a ship model kit. She does this by tilting the box with her knees in front of the camera and groaning "Whoooaaaa, feeling sick? Realistic model, isn't it?"
The winning caller is on the
other line. Moose asks her who won Best Picture in the 1978
"That's absolutely right!"
"You win this model, but don't sit with it on your knees!"
"Because you'll get sick!"
I wouldn't know how to respond either.
For a good chunk of this episode's second half, Mr. Dime has been trying to get inside his double-locked Executive Washroom. Within the last moment he finally succeeds, but as he's taking care of business, the janitor comes by again and re-locks the door. "That was a close one, yup!" The credits roll with Mr. Dime trapped inside and banging angrily.
There was a definite sentiment that CJOH had crossed a line by throwing crude potty humor into a children's program. In fact, cast member Elizabeth Mitchell got in trouble with her parents even though she hadn't been in the episode at all. Like most controversies, though, the hand-wringers eventually went away and YCDTOTV was allowed to do its own thing, blazing the trail for future flatulence to come. So the next time you're cringing at a Nickelodeon cartoon about a living diaper named Pooperman who uses his Power Poots to battle evil living toilets, think about how this all might never have happened, and....
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