Almost a half-century ago, comedian Ernie Kovacs died in an auto crash, one that was said to have been caused by him trying to drive while lighting one of his signature cigars. At the time, he was just 42 and married to beautiful singer/actress Edie Adams, and was finding some success as a busy character actor in movies like Strangers When We Meet and North To Alaska.
But he was also continuing to make occasional appearances on TV, the medium that had provided him with the opportunity to reach stardom. His unusual, cutting-edge style of humor that was often based on satirical skits was much appreciated by his fans at the time, and he was an inspiration for many later performers like Chevy Chase and David Letterman.
One of the skits that showed up from time to time on his TV show involved three people wearing topcoats, derby hats — and gorilla masks. It wasn’t a spectacular, wham-bam performance by today’s standards, but when the Nairobi Trio did its thing it was a small simple masterpiece in terms of comedic timing, pacing, and payoff.
Modeled after a music box or perhaps one of those life-size European mechanical clocks, it featured the three participants moving in syncopation to a light classical piece called “Solfeggio.” Kovacs usually was in the center (complete with a cigar in his mouth) and Edie filled the seat on the right. The character on the left was usually a guest star, and could have been anyone from Frank Sinatra to Jack Lemmon. You can see one of the performances in the video below.
And if you just like the music, here’s the same song as performed by the moog specialists, Hot Butter.
Hot Butter – “Song Of The Nairobi Trio (Solfeggio)”
2 thoughts on “Nairobi Trio Gave A Classic Performance”
Thank you thank you!!! My father used to laugh himself nearly to death whenever Kovacs did this on his show–it was almost as funny to watch him as it was to watch the Trio itself! I watched a few videos of Ernie Kovacs’s skits not too long ago and in the cold light of adulthood found many of them to to be “experimental” to the point of self-indulgence, and alas not very funny. But that was the tightrope of weekly live TV and we’re better for having been able to enjoy Ernie Kovacs even for the short time that we could. If he’s remembered for nothing more than the Nairobi Trio, that’s not a bad legacy.
Your impression of many of his old videos is similar to mine — they were pretty uneven. That might have been a clue as to why his TV shows were never highly rated. His edginess and unpredictability appealed to other comics — including some who came later — but his stuff often missed the mark with most of the audience.
BTW, did anyone notice that the middle gorilla (Kovacs) in the video starts with a baton and later it’s a banana, which eventually breaks?