Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 31 2019
He’s been branded a menace to the morals of impressionable youth; a living standard-bearer for an all-but-forgotten style of humor and song, and a colorful cultural ambassador for Jersey pride — a human equivalent of pork roll (that’s a compliment) in a porkpie hat, and a LOUD jacket that would give pause even to the late great Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson.
No less a showman/fan than David Bowie (who saluted him in the song “Slip Away“) praised him as “one of the Last Entertainers” — and, in a career that’s taken him from the brink of nationwide stardom to the spaghetti dinner at your local firehouse (and all points between), Floyd Vivino has staked a claim to that mantle like almost no other performer alive.
“Comedy can heal or destroy,” says the veteran vaudevillian best known as Uncle Floyd. “It’s the most delicate form of entertainment, because unlike a music act you have to give the comedian your full attention, instead of hitting the dance floor.”
“You really need to look at the performer.”
For just about half a century now, Vivino has “made ya look” — and not only via those signature mega-decibel duds.
“I have very few checked blazers left…and forget finding porkpie hats anymore,” he says. “They’re in disrepair, but I manage to keep ‘em together, as long as you don’t look too closely.”
More than that, Floyd Vivino has made you listen, through a mastery of early 20th century popular piano styles and an encyclopedic knowledge of joke-book chestnuts, vintage novelty ditties, Italian favorites, singing-cowboy standards, and other Hit Parade paraphernalia from the era of sheet music and wax 78s.
To an entire mildly misguided generation of Garden State boomers, however, the man at the piano will forever be the host of The Uncle Floyd Show, the cheerfully anarchic, low/no budget “children’s program” that aired in various broadcast forums and formats from the mid 1970s to some time in the late 90s.
A throwback to the earliest pioneer days of television in terms of production values — and, for a demographic that grew up on the likes of Soupy Sales, Chuck McCann and Sandy Becker, a cherished echo of the “local kiddie host” era — the show was a madcap minestrone in which Floyd and his stock company of regulars (including Scott Gordon, Looney Skip Rooney, Mugsy and Netto) bulldozed their way through a very loose collection of puppet segments (featuring Oogie, Bones Boy and Mr. Tony), old-school songs, character skits (Eddie Slobbo, Cowboy Charlie and Joe Frankfutter, to name but a few), and viewer-generated “pictures on the wall.”
Somewhere along the line, the Floyd show got noticed and embraced by a burgeoning scene of punk/ new wave artists who jockeyed for exposure within the claustrophobic confines of the modest suburban studio. Lip-sync guests ranged from breakout acts like the Ramones, and NJ-based favorites like The Misfits, Smithereens, and Shrapnel — to downtown NYC avant garde percussionists, and even the occasional visitor from across the pond.
More legendary than lucrative, the TV show inspired Floyd to hit the regional road (with castmates, puppets, and full band featuring brothers Jimmy and Jerry Vivino) for a series of live gigs at nightclubs that included Asbury Park’s much-missed Fast Lane. While that TV heyday is sadly long past, Vivino has remained a frequent returnee to Asbury town — and when the entertainer comes back to the circuit this Friday, February 1, he’ll be taking it topside to the space-age saucer roundhouse of Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.