The Artist Formerly Known As Prinze
By John Saleeby
September 1, 2001
This picture displays the complex character relationship between Freddie Prinze and Jack Albertson, stars of "Chico and the Man."
When we were little punks in the sixties we used to watch an awful TV show called "The FBI" starring an actor named Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and the big joke was "Well, yeah - But who the hell was Effrem Zimbalist SENIOR!?! Haw haw haw!!!" Just the other night I walked into a room full of people watching Jay Leno interview Freddie Prinze Jr. and during one of the many long, painful pauses between the end of Leno's questions and the eventual arrival of Junior's answer, I asked the group if any of them knew who Freddie Prinze Senior was. Nobody had a clue, although one of them knew something about Effrem Zimbalist Senior.
I found this exceedingly sad, although not quite as sad as the sight of Freddie Junior sitting in a chair struggling to force coherent speech out of the front of his head without giving himself an aneurysm. Leno was waving around the latest issue of Cosmo Junior, Cosmo Virgin, Cosmo Acne, or whatever the hell the teenage version of Cosmopolitan is called (Cosmopoliteen?) in which Junior had been selected in a reader's poll as Boy Of The Year or Cutest Guy EVER!!, I dunno, I can't think about this stuff very long without feeling really creepy and auditioning to play piano for John Cougar. Leno was in a froth over this and his discussion with Knucklehead, Jr. , which lay somewhere below the dialogue between an Irishman muttering to a lump of corned beef he's found on the floor, went basically like this -
LENO: Lookit what they picked as your best feature! Look!
JUNIOR: I dunno, I dunno . . .
LENO: Your BUTT! They picked your BUTT as your best feature! Your BUTT!!!
JUNIOR: I dunno what to say, I dunno what to say . . .
LENO: Your BUTT!!! Your BUTT!!! They like your BUTT!!!
JUNIOR: I dunno what to say. I dunno what to say . . .
And it went on and on like that until Junior suddenly used a word with four syllables and Leno immediately went to a commercial before all the little girls turned into lesbians. Lord, these guys are dumb. DEVO was right, as technology has gone forward man has gone into reverse. What a pathetic change from when Freddie Prinze Senior first appeared on The Tonight Show more than a quarter century ago. This is another thing you kids may not know - In the old days The Tonight Show was actually quite a good TV show that intelligent human beings could watch from beginning to end without wanting to drive to Los Angeles and murder everyone involved. It was hosted by a man named Johnny Carson who had what people in those days called "talent." Carson applied this gift to the now forgotten art of "humor," using it write and deliver intricately crafted verbal compositions referred to as "jokes" which prompted listeners to emit a spontaneous sound known as "laughter." Eh, I'm wasting my time with this - soon as you read the name "Carson" you mongoloids started thinking I was talking about that guy Carson Daly on MTV and began panting for a little juicy Tara Reid gossip. Anyway, anyway, anyway… unlike Leno who would tell you Gary Condit was a really funny guy if the bastard was about to come out and tell five minutes worth of Connie Chung jokes, Johnny Carson only told you someone was funny if they were really really, really funny. And when Freddie Prinze Senior appeared on The Tonight Show in 1973 at the age of nineteen, he was so funny that he became the most popular stand up comic in America overnight. BOOM!!! Millions of people who were in bed at the time woke up the next morning wearing Freddie Prinze Fan Club Pajamas.
Freddie Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel on June 22, 1954 and grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Washington Heights!?! Hey, I used to live in Washington Heights! Really middle class, square kinda place, mostly Hispanic and Jewish which is apt because Freddie was Puerto Rican and Hungarian Jewish. Everybody assumed I was Irish because I was white and drunk. (I was known as "That Fucked Up White Guy Who Hangs Out In Comedy Clubs With Niggers And Queers." - You see, after what eventually happened to Freddie, people in Washington Heights don't have a real high opinion of the kinda people who frequent comedy clubs and CHEERS TO THEM!) A bright, creative lad, Freddie became King Of The Block by designing and building his very own Ham Radio. Hey, when I was that age I couldn't make a ham sandwich, but lemme tell ya . . . Determined to make it in show biz, Freddie got a flunkie job at The Improv comedy club, eventually spending so much time there he dropped out of high school to work on his act full time. The Improv!?! Hey, I used to perform at The Improv! (I was known as "That Fucked Up White Guy Who Should Just Go The Hell Back Up To Washington Heights.")
The stand up comedy scene in those days wasn't at all like it is today. Nowadays the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that seventy eight percent of the population is working on a stand up act, but when Freddie Prinze was starting out, the only stand up comics in New York were Jay Leno, David Brenner, and Richard Lewis. Now stop writing Dick Cheney Heart Attack Jokes long enough to think about that - When Freddie Prinze began doing stand up the only competition was Jay Leno, David Brenner, and Richard Lewis? Shit, no wonder he made it so fast!! Those guys have got a lot of nerve still showing their faces in public after getting their butts so decisively thrashed by some dumb ass teen age high school drop out! Oh man! Whoooo! Ouch!
Immediately following his debut on The Tonight Show Freddie went prime time with "Chico And The Man" in which he co starred with Jack Albertson. "Chico And The Man" was a huge hit but I don't remember watching it very much. This was the early seventies, and all us really cool people were too busy listening to Big Star, The Velvet Underground, and The Broken Arms to watch some silly TV show. (What!? You never heard of The Broken Arms!? You square!?!) But it didn't last very long. Freddie was a big drug user ( Lenny Bruce was his idol - When are we finally gonna quit teaching children to worship that piece of shit? When are - Oooohh! I gotta go - Keith Richards is on TV! My man! ) and it wasn't long before he was a total mess, his wife dumped him (See, it fell apart so fast I didn't even have time to tell you he got married and had a baby son), he was arrested for driving drunk, and - in a grim foreshadowing of the fate which was soon to befall him - he performed at Jimmy Carter's Inaugural Ball. Freddie spent his final days bombed out of his skull watching The Zapruder Film over and over again (Hey, I do that to bring myself OUT of a depression!) and, after a long binge of qualudes and coke while under the worried eye of fellow comic, Alan Bursky, Freddie shot himself in the head on January 29, 1977 at age 22. Speaking as a former stand up comic, allow me to share my insider's perspective of this tragedy with youse rubes - The Real Reason Freddie shot himself was having Alan Bursky around. You have to be or have been a stand up comic to know this, but Alan Bursky is The Biggest Asshole In The World. Ask any stand up comic you happen to see , "Who's the biggest asshole?" and they'll tell you "Alan Bursky!" ( If they're funny they'll do a little trick with the syllables to make "Alan Bursky" sound like "Chicken Of The Sea." ) Don't get me started on the details, you don't wanna know - Just take my word on it, if you had Alan Bursky hanging around with you in your house all the time you'd be taking tons of drugs and then blowing your brains out, too. He's an ASSHOLE!!
The obvious facts are that Freddie was far too talented and intelligent for a piece of crap show like "Chico And The Man" and too young and inexperienced to be in Hollywood. He should have been left to develop on the lower rung of the comedy business - High School. Anybody who would allow a teenage boy to drop out of high school to hang around in comedy clubs all night should be locked up in prison. No, even worse than prison, they should be locked up in a comedy club. No, I don't have a chip on my shoulder about comedy clubs!! Leave me alone!! Don't bother me until it's time for me to go on!!! WHAT DO YOU MEAN JON STEWART JUST CAME IN AND YOU'RE PUTTING HIM ON BEFORE ME!!!!! AAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!! GODDAMMIT!!! SHIT!!! AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!
But if Freddie Prinze Senior was too smart and talented for Hollywood you sure can't say the same thing about Freddie Prinze Junior! Is he worried that squeezing out two or three lumps of ca ca like "Head Over Heels" or "She's All That" a year will hurt his career in the long run? Hell, no - You might as well have asked Eddie Murphy if anybody really wanted to see him in "48 Hours II" or "Beverly Hills Cop III". If it wasn't for Hollywood this dope would be working in the Drive Thru Window at Wendy's. The only plausible explanation for this young man's career is that Hollywood felt so guilty over what happened to his dad twenty four years ago everyone agreed to do everything they could to help his poor little sonny boy lead a happy life without him. Hey, that might explain why a useless sack of shit like Jim Belushi has a new sit com on ABC with a cute babe like Courtney Thorne Smith!
Now - Maybe I'm getting a little nasty here, but Freddie Junior is so lame an actor he may just be even worse than ANDREW MCCARTHY! Mon Dieu! Yes, an actor so completely forgettable that no matter how often the local Fox affiliate reruns "The Joy Luck Club" I am always genuinely surprised to see that he is in it, ("Hey, Andrew McCarthy! What are you doing with all these Chinese people? Raising funds for Al Gore? Haw haw haw!!") Andrew McCarthy was a member of the eighties Brat Pack, most of whom were killed in a tragic fire at Judd Nelson's house in 1985. Well, almost. I got lost and burned down a record producer's house by mistake. I've always held that McCarthy was the most horrible actor I have ever seen, but now that Freddie Prinze Junior is here I'd be more than happy to see my man Andrew as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee William's "Streetcar Named Desire" with Rosie O'Donnell as Stella and Louie Anderson as Blanche DuBois. He is so dead on his ass we should call him Frederick Karl Pruetzel Junior. My Fellow Americans - Our Course Of Action Is Clear . . . . This is a job for Alan Bursky Junior!
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org