"I don't think these people are crazy. They just have a great desire to get in the public eye, "says Minneapolis producer Bo Kaprall. "Everyone wants to be a star." In the past two years, Kaprall has screened 1,800 public-access shows—nearly 3,000 hours' worth—the "best" of which he excerpts on Access America, his weekly series (Thursdays at 9:30 P.M. ET) on cable's Comedy Central network. "Public access," insists Kaprall, "is totally a mirror image of America. "Actually it looks more like a funhouse mirror, judging by the no-waaaaay-out specimens collected here:
Cable cuisine, Arlington, Mass.
Over a sizzling (and none too sanitary) pan of shrimp scampi, host David Sammarco, 30—better known as Chef Rambo—rates the babe-osity of Married...with Children's teenage metalhead Christina Applegate. Flexing his pecs and sharpening his cleaver, the stocky, long-haired Sammarco (a caterer in his other, daytime, life) says in a Rockyesque accent: "Thumbs up to the daughter." Schwing! Set in the Arlington High School home-economics kitchen, the show mixes macho cuisine (big-time ground pepper) with rambling asides on the battle of the sexes. "Yo, ladies, what's the gig with these guys on 90210?" demands Rambo, cutting up Luke and Jason while chopping "scunions" (scallions). "They have no bodies. A little mousse in their hair and you all go crazy. Please explain." It's not hard to explain Chef Rambo's appeal. "He's not hoity-toity," says his producer, Rob Hawley. "People can identify with him. "Yo, like who doesn't eat out of the frying pan? Or stick their fingers in the tomato sauce? Or chug water out of a gallon jug?"
Larz from Mars, Fairfax County, Va.
Hosted by former cab driver Larry "Larz" LaComa, 30, this talk-variety show features wacky regulars like Frosty the Snowman (he's plastic) and Marge the mannequin (a mere torso) along with stream-of-consciousness banter, jangling acoustic guitar performances and segments such as Let's Bitch About It and Success Through Procrastination. Clad in a '60s tie-dyed shirt (as are Frosty and Marge), LaComa holds court, Carson-style, at a makeshift desk. "Talent is optional. We have no budget, and no matter how bad we are, we can't get canceled," he crows. How bad can they get? Well, how about Larz's current contest for best videotape footage of a nose picker? Party on.
The Aunt Gail Show, New York City
In this soap opera spoof, Barbie dolls, manipulated and voiced by two New York University film school graduates, half-brothers Paul Silverzweig, 21 (left), and Jon Sapinosa, 20, act out the roles of Aunt Gail, a wealthy urbanite, and her freeloading extended family. When the three-season-old serial (actually a show within a show called Mrs. Mouth that's taped, Wayne-style, in Paul's parents' Broomall, Pa., basement) recently asked if Aunt Gail should cut, perm or dye her hair, fans formed a Barbie queue on the call-in lines. Their verdict: Cut it and dye it a bright red.
Sister Paula, Portland, Oreg.
Those lips, those eyes, that bullfrog voice! "I am an open transsexual Christian, preaching the gospel," booms Sister Paula, who, at 53 and 6'1½", is built like a linebacker. "It was in 1950, as a 12-year-old innately effeminate boy [named Larry Nielsen] that I was born again." But it wasn't until four years ago, encouraged by a Pentecostal cable televangelist named Naomi Harvey, that Paula launched her own TV ministry. Some clergymen "have been appalled," admits Harvey, "but after a few listened and talked to Paula, they have been open and accepting." Sister Paula has been quite open with her viewers: "I have my mother's features and my father's fixtures," she quips. Indeed, blessed with a sense of humor as well as a calling to the pulpit, Paula describes herself as "Tammy Faye with a 5 o'clock shadow."
Shirley U. Jest, Santa Monica
"I get my inspiration from my life," says home-maker Shirley Lipner, 36, who stars as boredom-battling housewife Shirley U. Jest. "Like when my child was young, he used to throw his oatmeal. I had always wanted to do a show about Shirley's beauty tips, so I used that." The tossed oatmeal covered her face and doubled as a beauty mask. She has also rollerbladed around in bathrobe and slippers with a baby doll strapped to her side, offering tips on how to look more attractive to your husband ("Wrap a towel around your head and clip an earring to it"). And when she wanted a free sushi meal, Shirley shrewdly got her favorite Japanese chef to go on the show. Shirley, you digest.
Mysteries from beyond the other dominion, Los Angeles
With his thick eyeglasses, scraggly heard and skinny frame, he looks like a perfect parody of the frog-dissecting high school science teacher. In fact Franklin Ruehl, 48, has a Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics from UCLA (and is currently a free-lance writer and lecturer). So why is he at the helm of this show, spilling the secrets of Tyrannosaurus rex, insisting on the existence of extraterrestrials and analyzing the British sci-fi series Doctor Who? Explains Dr. Ruehl: "My ultimate goal is to be rich and famous," Way? Ruehl's favorite on-camera trick: stabbing a straw through a potato. "That's my signature," he says.
Dino & Rocco's Back Alley, Los Angeles
Call them Wayne and Garth's evil twins. With their brain-dead skits, Dino (Dave DiNatale, 31, right) and Rocco (Todd Colby Pliss, 26) have managed to offend nearly every minority. Sometimes they cross the line from tasteless to hateful. "If you didn't bash a gay guy today, do it tomorrow," cracked DiNatale on one episode, after which Century Cable threatened to drop the show; it hasn't, despite pressure from gay activists. DiNatale and Pliss also pretend to comb through celebrities' garbage cans and make their guests sit on a toilet seat. "We're the bad boys of puke access," they boast. As Wayne and Garth might say, it's enough to make you hurl.
MICHAEL A. LIPTON from bureau reports
As Wayne's World continues to party on at the box office (grossing more than $46 million in its first three weeks), the public-access TV shows so lovingly spoofed by spaced-out teen host Wayne Campbell and his nerdy sidekick Garth Algar (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, above) are alive and, well, weirdly thriving on hundreds of local cable outlets around the country. Some of these programs are crude Wayne wannabes; others look uncannily like clones—right down to the suburban plywood basements in which they are taped. Though nearly all operate on sub-basement budgets, they are sustained by the sheer manic enthusiasm of their hosts: UFO fanatics, country and western buffs, aspiring stand-up comics and down-and-dirty talk show hosts.