May 10, 2005

The secret history of Mah-na Mah-na

The first time I saw my friend the ungodly talented Andrew Chaikin perform, he was a special guest of Toxic Audio, performing after their show as a sort of nightcap. Toxic Audio is a highly accomplished a cappella group that performs comedy in a somewhat shticky '70s-variety-show way that usually grates on me, but that they managed to make entirely charming.

I was brought onstage during the show as an audience dupe for one of the skits, in which I was given a stack of cue cards to hold up for the ostensible aid of one of the singers. The gag was that the song was "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?", and all the cue cards said the exact same thing. So the fellow sang one line, looked at me expectantly, and then I dropped the first card on the stage so he could read the next card. When all the cards were on the ground, he and another member of the group panickedly ran up on stage and made a big show of getting the cards in the right order and handing them back to me. One of the cards was upside down, and I think this was usually the source of a comedy bit as the singer stopped, unable to read the card until it was righted, and waited for the audience member to notice what the problem was and fix it. I was too fast for him, though. Really, if I hadn't felt like it would be rude to horn in on their practiced comedy bit, I would have dug out a pen and hastily written "No one will be watching us" on the back of one of the cue cards, because they cut that line out of the song for simplicity...which threw me slightly at the end of the bit when they grabbed the cue cards and had me sing the song instead, because I reeeally reeeeeeally wanted to sing that line instead of another repeat of "Why don't we do it in the road". But apparently I acquitted myself well, singing-wise, because in the intermission between acts, I had a lot of people ask me if I was a ringer. Fun.

Anyway, the main reason I bring up Toxic Audio is because one of the songs they performed was "Mah-na Mah-na", and they performed it in the traditional fashion, as pioneered by the Muppets, with the "Mah-na Mah-na" singer chafing at his constraint of being forced to sing the same nonsense word over and over again in the same rhythm, and cutting loose periodically into wayward solos which are then brought down to earth by the disapproval of his fellow singers (as can be seen in this Muppet Show excerpt). It was competently done by Toxic Audio, but was, I thought, one of the weakest parts of the show, since it was essentially a wholesale lifting of a previously existing bit.

But where did the song come from before it became part of the collective memory of every child of my generation? Now it can be told.

(Via Dual Excess.)

Posted by Francis at 12:53 PM | TrackBack

I saw Toxic Audio a few years ago. The a capella combo that night nobody really got was called Double Dong. It's worth a listen just as an academic exercise.

Posted by: bpd at May 10, 2005 02:59 PM

And of course, this is all topical because of the Dr Pepper commercial that's been airing recently.

Pretty girl and Mr. Perfect are on a date. Mr. Perfect is expositing how perfect he is, but Pretty Girl isn't listening because oooooh, shiny Dr Pepper and "Mah-na Mah-na" is playing in her head. Perfect song choice, if you ask me oh my god I have no life help me.

Posted by: Darren at May 10, 2005 11:21 PM

Oh, this is very useful (which may just prove I'm a freak). When I got the Sesame Street boxed set I noticed that Mah Na Mah Na was credited to this weird Italian guy I didn't know.

Now I know.

Another fine public service of Heaneyland!

Posted by: Columbine at May 11, 2005 09:40 AM

Forgot to mention: As a kid, I heard the song used on Benny Hill reruns on television. But because I am dumb, I didn't work out the chronology before seeing the song credit and realize that therefore it must have had an existence before Jim Henson. After all, I saw the Muppets do it LONG before I saw it on Benny Hill ....

Posted by: Columbine at May 11, 2005 09:46 AM

Here is the original Mah Na Mah Na:

Posted by: hugefan at October 17, 2006 08:08 AM
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