Wednesday, December 09, 2009

1990 Flashback: Mondo Softball

The video promo above ran on local television in 1990. The voice heard is that of Gayle Carson (now Hudert). She was my girlfriend at the time. The article below, by Paul Woody, which appeared in Richmond's then-afternoon daily's sports section, was about the cable TV show being promoted in the 30-second spot.

Among other things, Mondo Softball was a spoof of ESPN's SportsCenter. My on-camera sidekick was Paul Joyce. I produced the show and hosted it in-character as Mutt De Ville. It was a viewer call-in program that lasted for one softball season, then it moved to radio. Unfortunately, the video highlights segment -- including the blooper of the week -- shot by cameraman Fritz Truffaut, didn't go over as well on radio.

by Paul Woody (Richmond News Leader, July 5, 1990)
Years ago when Terry Rea was manager of the now defunct Biograph Theatre, he organized a softball team for the Fan League.

But this wasn't just any team. This team had two illegal French aliens.

"One spoke no English at all," Rea said. "Neither had ever seen a baseball game. But they went out to a yard sale, found some funky `50s uniforms and they were a laugh riot."

The Biograph team also had a life-size, cardboard figure of Mr. Natural, a comic-book character created by R. Crumb of Zap Comics. Rea and his teammates took Mr. Natural to every game. They would carry him onto the field and chant to him.

"Some thought it was funny," Rea said. "Some thought we were mocking them. Some thought we were mocking the game."

All Rea was trying to do was enjoy a little softball and make the team and the league, "a rolling comedy show," he said. "I'm not sure everybody on the team was 100 percent behind me on that."

Rea began playing softball in 1976, but now, at the age of 42, he's in semi-retirement. "I try in the offseason to lower my expectations, but I'm losing my game faster than I can lower my expectations," Rea said.

Rea, however, is hardly done with softball. In fact, he may be contributing more to the game than he ever did as a player. Rea, a freelance graphic artist by trade, is the originator, host and creative force behind "Mondo Softball," a weekly, one-hour talk and call-in show seen Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock on BLAB-TV (Continental Ch. 7, Storer Ch. 8).

Mondo is Italian for "world." Rea took it from the drive-in movies of his youth that were all the rage.

"There were a bunch of `Mondo' films," Rea said. "Then, you started to see it thrown in front of almost anything to give it a bizarre connotation. People just know it has some sort of bizarre edge to it. "And, of course, I'm using that."

Rea isn't the host of "Mondo Softball."

The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in Slant, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits.

DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of Slant, "and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers," Rea said.. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it," Rea said. "I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.

"When I decided to do a show and it was a sports show, it seemed like a good idea to use Mutt. That led to the idea that Mutt should become a character and the time I was on camera should be a performance. Mutt is a device to make me feel at ease on stage."

"Mondo Softball" is not like any other show you'll see on BLAB. It's a one-hour play, softball as kitsch. It's part news -- standings, results and tournament highlights provided by Paul Joyce, the `field' reporter and a veteran local player -- part conversation with a guest, questions from callers and wisecracks, subtle humor and outright gags whenever possible. It's clever, and it's as entertaining as a show on recreational softball can be.

Rea said he has borrowed from shows he's seen. From the "Tonight Show," Rea took the idea that Johnny Carson is at his best and funniest when things go wrong.

"Part of live TV is that there are a lot of glitches," Rea said. "I've tried to incorporate the production values of an old `50s sci-fi movie and try to go with whatever goes wrong."

Each week, there is a great uproar over the magic word. If a caller says the word, he or she receives a $20 gift certificate from a local restaurant. The magic word is straight out of "You Bet Your Life" with the late Groucho Marx. In that show, it was called the secret word.

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best," Rea said.

Part of the attraction of "Mondo Softball" is that you can never be sure what will happen next.

"I think some people watch shows on BLAB just to see if the set will fall over," Rea said.

Rea brings a unique element of surprise to the screen. He isn't afraid to take a chance or play a little joke. When he was manager of the Biograph, a repertory theatre located near Virginia Commonwealth University, Rea once offered free admission to "The Devil and Miss Jones."

The line for the show, which most believed to be a well-known X-rated movie, stretched around the 800 block of West Grace Street. But the X-rated movie was "The Devil in Miss Jones." "The Devil and Miss Jones" was a 1941 comedy.

"Most people thought it was funny," Rea said. "But you always have some who get mad about something like that."

"Mondo Softball" has something of the same problem. Hard-core softball players don't always appreciate Rea's attempts at humor.

"I've heard some don't like Mutt's approach," Rea said. "But that's the reason Paul is there. Overall, though, the reaction I get is that they (the hardcore players) like Mutt."

BLAB-TV likes Mutt so much that another show already is in the works. "Mondo Pops," covering everything from sports to who knows what will premier this fall.

It should be an interesting experience. Who knows, maybe even Mr. Natural will make an appearance.

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