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Video Buddies Comedy

The crazed brainchild of the over-fertilized mind of John Simmons Gross National Product first came to life as a group named “Video Buddies” back in 1979. The name seemed appropriate for a generation weaned on television, using video-oriented concepts and imagery. The group put together a show of sketch-based ensemble comedy and began playing small stages and rock clubs in the Washington area. If the ultimate goal is laughter, the biggest sin is predictability and Video Buddies comedy was dedicated to bringing a little levity to a city of full of deep issues and shallow answers. The Washington Post commented on seeing Video Buddies that their show “hit between the eyes, sometimes with a sledgehammer, but is charming in its own fashion, imagery being delivered at a lightning pace.”

DC Space and Columbia Station were frequently home to their shows in the early days as the group developed a cult following. In those days the “Buddies” often opened for rock acts like Root Boy Slim and the Original Fetish, who joined forces at times with the Buddies in “The Warsaw Pack”, a band allegedly visiting the U.S. from behind the Iron Curtain. The lead and rhythm accordion section actually convinced the punk crowd that the Pack was for real. The Unicorn Times commented about Washington’s “most original comedy ensemble. When the lights came up for the second set the ‘Buddies’ were no where to be found but instead a ‘new wave’ band decked out in a truly revolting combination of Slavic fold and eighties punk regalia, the Pak delivered what can only be described as ersatz rock from the Eastern Bloc.”

The Buddies’ darkest day occurred when they foolishly agreed to open for the legendary punk band, The Bad Brains, at the University of Maryland, only to be greeted by a roomful of drunken frat boys hurling plastic cups full of beer. But the Video Buddies comedy careers’ peaked a year later in their triumphant return to the U of M as the opening act for the famous recording comedy artists, Firesign Theater. The Diamondback, the University paper said, “Even more theatrical than the Firesign Theater, the Buddies pulled off a number of brilliant sketches.”

During the Buddies reign of terror they presented hundreds of shows, some of which even had names: “A Bonzo Christmas Carol” (see news clipping the Washington Post Style section Theater Notes), “Bureaucrats Over Washington”, “2711: The Final Food Chain”, “Alex in Washington” (a take on Alice in Wonderland), “Theater of the No”, “Beyond Funny”, “Tourist Trap”, “1983 and Counting” and “Gross National Product” about which Lloyd Grove of the Washington Post wrote, “they always bring along some unexpected pleasure.”

A few old flyers and reviews have been preserved for posterity in the Video Buddies Vault (coming soon).

As the group began to gain notice, the personnel of the troupe changed to professional actors and the name was changed to Gross National Product to reflect our increasingly political themes. And the rest, as they say, is history!

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