Coyle & Sharpe: Audio Visionaries

Coyle & Sharpe
Audio Visionaries
Thirsty Ear

THE COMIC WHOSE shtick is to trick unsuspecting participants on tape spikes his career with a planned obsolescence. Once your patsies know you, the gig's pretty much up. And in our media-saturated society, where farmers discuss Nielsen points and toddlers debate the merits of different Hollywood agencies, it becomes ever harder to stump some chump with the tape rolling.

That wasn't the case in 1963, however, when Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe roamed the streets of San Francisco with big microphones and even bigger "put-ons," duping truly innocent bystanders who had never seen David Letterman, never mind Tom Green. When Coyle and Sharpe approached a man about morphing with them to create a three-part being, it took a few minutes before they finally let him in on the joke. Listening to some of the duo's street pranks may support many a youngster's suspicions that, yes, people did have fewer brain cells way back when. But remember, these suit-clad deceit artists predated The Daily Show.

Audio Visionaries is the second CD collection of pranks the pair first recorded for a San Francisco radio station. Some of the routines seem a bit tame for contemporary ears ("Ashtray on Nose" comes to mind), but most draw laughs, with the duo's deadpans running circles around their hapless prey. The best, funniest, and saddest skit is "Maniacs in Living Hell," recently selected for a Whitney Museum sound exhibit. The team approaches a man with a job offer. Coyle's character operates a flame-filled pit--a simulation of Hell, where spectators pay to throw objects and gawk. He needs a laborer to live in the pit, fending off maniacs and eating bat meat. There is a two percent survival rate. "Yeah, I'd like to try it," says the applicant, who is black. The implicit punch line to this superlative bit would be delivered by Richard Pryor a full decade later: "Nothing can scare a nigger after 400 years of this shit!" That line's absence from Audio Visionaries reflects less upon the limitations of Coyle and Sharpe than those of the era they subverted so well.

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