Back in 2013, Teno and I got to spend Halloween morning baking BurgerTime-inspired whoopie pies on You & Me This Morning – which was cool, but not as cool as meeting Svengoolie on set. We stayed in touch, and reunited this week on the set of his iconic show.
For any squares reading this, Svengoolie is late-night a horror/sci-fi movie host (think Elvira or Vampiria, but you know, a dude). The character originated with Jerry G. Bishop in 1970, and was taken on by Rich Koz when the show was resurrected in 1979. Rich still plays Svengoolie to this day and he was kind enough to invite me to the studio earlier this week. I not only got to see what goes on behind the scenes, but I also earned a coveted role as chicken thrower, along with my friend Megan.
Here are some of the most interesting things I learned on set:
1. Svengoolie is Efficient AF
Filmed on a cozy, elaborately-decorated set, the show has a small-but-mighty crew consisting of Rich Koz, director Chris M. Faulkner, executive producer Jim Roche and a small handful of engineers who are technically employed by WCIU/MeTV, the station that airs the show.
In the few hours I was on set, they knocked out opens, closes, commercial breaks and even sponsored segments for three episodes. To put this into perspective, I once worked for a cosmetics brand that filmed three YouTube eyeshadow tutorials – it took two full days and a crew of 15 people, multiple stylists, and several of us from the brand. If I ever need an eyeshadow tutorial filmed in the future, I’m going to hire the Sven crew.
2. There is an Art to Throwing Chickens
If you’ve seen the show, you know there are two key times when the rubber chickens go flying – at the end of the opening monologue, when Sven delivers a groan-inducing dad joke or pun, and then again at the end as he walks from the door back to his coffin. What you may not have thought about, though, was that someone needs to throw those chickens.
Typically, a station staffer is responsible for this role, and the show’s FAQ clearly states that they do not accept chicken-throwers off the street. So when Sven asked if I’d want to come take on this honorable role, I literally took the day off work to do so.
Megan and I sat on small mats between the coffin and one of the show’s three cameras. The trick, as explained to us by Jim, was to throw ’em high, get some arch in the toss, and try not to hit Sven in the face or knock any shit off the tables or shelves. It took us a couple of takes to get it right, but pretty soon we were throwing chickens through the air like pros. There are about 20 chickens, in varying sizes and shapes, many of which were gifts (with messages scrawled on them in black maker). Once you throw all 20, which happens fast, you kind of crawl around, grabbing whichever ones you can reach, to keep the air full of chickens until the scene ends. Also, some of them make noises. More on that later.
3. The Sven Crew Are the Right Kind of Nerds
Sven’s pun-filled commentary about the films shows a breadth of knowledge about the films, their actors and directors and the genres themselves, that I’d always assumed was partially in thanks to researchers and/or writers working on the show. Upon meeting the crew, and talking to them off-camera about the films, I realized these guys are the researchers and writers.
Sven and Jim in particular are wildly knowledgeable about horror, sci-fi and slapstick, and as a woman who is also a fan of these genres I often find myself either being ignored, or being mansplained to, by male “experts.” This could not be further from the experience I had on set with these guys. Megan and I were included in every conversation and every joke, and if we weren’t familiar with a certain film or actor, we got a quick education without even the smallest inkling of a patronizing tone. If you’re a dude reading this, you’ll probably never get it so just move on – but I know all the women reading this are smiling. For a show that’s been on since the 70s, this was a pleasant surprise and made me an even bigger fan.
4. Sven is So Hot Right Now
In addition to executive producing, Jim Roche is responsible for booking Sven’s appearances, and travels with him to conventions and signings. I don’t want to put a label on it, but I was picking up some best friend vibes that made me happy.
It was amazing to hear that after all this time, the calendar is more packed than ever. (Check out the appearances section of Sven’s site to see if he’s coming to a town hear you.) After meeting these guys and seeing how much they still love putting on this show, I really encourage you to support their live appearances, and buy some merch while you’re at it!
5. I Love Puns and Dad Jokes, But Not as Much as Megan Does
And now, please allow me to tell you about what a joy it was to bring Megan with me to throw chickens for Svengoolie. First of all, I asked Megan because she’s a dear friend, and incredible artist whose work dabbles in the kitch and creepy.
Sven usually did 1-2 walkthroughs of a scene, then filmed three takes before moving on to the next one. (Seriously, so efficient.) This meant that we heard every joke at least five times in a row. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say there was a Doritos joke that made Megan laugh all five times. It was at that moment I knew I’d made the right choice about who to bring with me.
Half way through the day, when we’d already become certified professional chicken throwers, something happened. One of the chickens that makes noise, made a noise. A long noise. A loud noise. I believe this particular chicken was on the bottom of the pile, and the weight of the other chickens set off the squeaker in a haunting, low, drawn-out squawk. Megan noticed first and her eyes went wide, then welled with tears because in addition to being loud and inappropriate, the noise was hilarious. All four of our hands started flopping around in the pile, trying to find the offending chicken, while also trying to keep the other 19 chickens in the air, flying toward the coffin. Finally, Megan grabbed it, and flung it toward Svengoolie. As it traveled through the air, the squawk only grew louder, and lower, and it continued for 2-3 seconds after it bounced off the coffin and hit the ground again.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my grown-ass friend Megan cried over the hilarity of an ill-timed chicken noise. Tears streamed down her face for several minutes after the rest of the crew had moved on. Hours later, in a Lyft riding away from the station, she started to laugh uncontrollably once more. And even the next day, she texted me about the noise. It was a glorious moment that I will never forget.
Witness My Professional Chicken-Throwing Skills
Want to see my artful tosses in action? Hope to hear the wayward squawk? The episodes Megan and I helped out with will be airing in April – check your local listings!