An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.
If you could take Weird Al Yankovic, Moon Unit Zappa, Tenacious D and Anna Faris and mix them all up in some kind of giant Cuisinart you'd probably have... well, a horrible bloody mess. And you'd be arrested. Please don't try to do this. But if you could take the essence of these celebrities and form them into a unified whole, then you'd have Julie Brown.
Brown was a star during the heyday of music videos and milked more out of her 15 minutes of fame than many an aspiring factory girl. She left her mark on the vivid kaleidoscope of the 80s (and early 90s) by mining many talents --- writing, singing, clowning and performing --- while creating numerous novelty songs like "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" and "I like 'em Big and Stupid" and contributing to films like "Earth Girls Are Easy" and "Shakes the Clown."
Brown's spoof songs and music videos are a revealing window into the strange era that was the 1980s. To understand any decade's oeuvre one should go to the source: the movies, the music, and the art it produced. But I would argue it's equally important to study the products satirizing those same works. You can learn just as just as much about the fifties from a classic Mad Magazine as you can by watching "All about Eve." (Perhaps more!) Julie Brown's videos offer the same kind of insight into a decade. Her song "I like 'em Big and Stupid" thoroughly lampoons the worship of artifice over substance that defined the dance music scene in the mid-80s. That theme continued in "Trapped in the Body of a White Girl," a pitch perfect recreation of music performed by dance divas of the era like Stacey Q. or Lisa Lisa, but sung with a smirk. And while the video for "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" harks back to the fifties, its main target is that quintessence of 80s self-absorption: preening, brainless valley girls.
I need to pause and give props to MTV here. In the 80s, before the dawn of the Internet, any kind of popular art that didn't water itself down to mass appeal had a difficult time gaining mass exposure. Edgy standup comedians could only hope that they got picked up by Saturday Night Live, otherwise they'd find themselves sinking into the depths of lowest common denominator sitcoms. Provocative filmmakers had to struggle to find spots in fringe film festivals (like Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted animation program.) Independent music had a healthy network of supportive fans, but little promise of any big payout. MTV, at least in the eighties, offered a beacon of hope and gave airtime to audacious animation and comedy as well as providing aplatform for musical humorists such as Mojo Nixon, The Dead Milkmen and Julie Brown.
It should be made clear that while Brown was mocking the mainstream, there was little about her work that was really subversive, at least in the sense that someone like George Carlin was subversive. She didn't seem particularly interested in knocking down the powers that be, just pecking at their knees. (Note: I'm not criticizing her for this; in fact, her stance is one I generally take --- I'm hardly a cultural anarchist.) Additionally a lot of her comedy was fairly cornball. But in her best moments she delivered some laugh out loud lyrics. Consider...
"Smart guys are nowhere, they make demands, give me a moron with talented hands" from "I like 'em big and stupid."
Or, "I can't spell VW, but I've got a Porsche" from "I'm a Blonde."
If one engages in deep study of Brown's work --- say, by wasting an entire morning watching her videos on youtube --- one starts to notice an inherent contradiction. Her main theme is the smart and funny girl's frustration with vacuous bimbos and a society that seems to worship them. And while Brown delivers her comedy with a smile, you can't help but sense that beneath the surface there's a genuine rage against attractive but empty twits like Madonna or the stereotypical valley girl. But there's no getting around the fact that Brown in the 1980s was quite gorgeous. When you watch her "Cause I'm a Blonde" video, wherein Brown jiggles around a beach in an Annette Funicello bathing suit, part of you is sagely nodding in agreement with her condemnation of society's infatuation with empty sexuality, but the rest of you is checking out her rack.
Of course, what Brown was fundamentally struggling against was society's inability to reconcile looks and comedy. There's been no limit on glamour dolls in the history of entertainment, and no limit on unattractive comedians both male (Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield) and female (Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers.) The presumption, not entirely inaccurate, is that the beautiful live blessed lives that protect them from the crushing disappointments that empower funny people to create their best material. Lucille Ball was probably the first female comedian to put a serious dent in that presumption, armed with the breadth of her comedy talent. Eddie Murphy, in his "Raw" period, was the most successful at combining cocky sexual confidence with humor; he was simultaneously funny and sexy. Lesser-known comic personalities have also wrestled with this dichotomy. (Elvira comes to mind, and of course, Julie Brown.)
The success of Brown's videos earned her her own MTV show called "Just Say Julie." Her rising visibility resulted in her first starring movie role in "Earth Girls Are Easy," a film Brown both wrote and produced. How does one describe "Earth Girls Are Easy"? It's especially difficult having never seen it. It featured Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis and, from what I can gather, was a sci-fi comedy in the vein of "Weird Science" or "Spaceballs." Let's just skip this and roll up to a Julie Brown movie I have seen.
"Shakes the Clown," (1992) written by, directed by and starring Bobcat Goldthwait, was a satirical attack on everything good and decent about society. Bobcat's Shakes is an alcoholic, borderline psychotic struggling to survive in the vicious underbelly of clown subculture. Adam Sandler and Tom Kenny (the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants) have supporting roles as fellow dysfunctional clowns. Julie Brown dives into the role she was born to play: "Clown Judy," a daffy waitress at a local clown bar and Shakes' romantic interest. "Shakes the Clown" is one of those love it or hate it affairs --- some people can't stand it (elitist douches) but I would place it in my list of top five movies ever made, somewhere after "Repo Man."
As the eighties have faded in the rearview mirror of time, so too has Brown faded from our awareness. However, she's had a career of consistent employment as a movie and television entertainer and is still tremendously active today. She appeared in both the movie and TV versions of "Clueless," and has had supporting roles in TV shows like "6 Feet Under," "CSI" and "Paradise Falls." If you're like any decent American and spend most of your life in front of the boob tube, chances are you've seen her at some point this year.
While Brown's novelty music videos no longer get played on MTV (I'm not sure they play music videos at all anymore) her snarky critique of vapid entertainment divas continues and can be found all over youtube. With hit or miss success, she's aimed her guns at celebrities like Paula Abdul, Sharon Stone, and the gift that keeps on giving: Sarah Palin. Like a lot of stars from the recent past, Brown has managed to bypass the entertainment industry and use the Internet to keep her art alive.
What do you think America? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at firstname.lastname@example.org
View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement of sex with pandas!
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