What is Mondo? To answer that question, which has no easy answer as you will see, here is Mr Mike (Michael O'Donoghue) whose brainchild this production is. Surrounded by rabbits and toting a gun, he welcomes you and introduces a number of clips from around the world, starting with one from Amsterdam. It involves an instructor who teaches cats how to swim, which basically has him picking up the moggy, offering some words of encouragement, and throwing them into a pool where they paddle to the side. And so it goes on...
Michael O'Donoghue was a singular talent in American humour of the seventies, having written for both National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live, indeed being the first performer to ever appear on that long-running comedy show. So when he came to making his own television special in 1979, the network executives must have expected something along those lines, a spot of late night laughs made by many of the SNL crew and featuring some of their famous faces from in front of the camera as well. Alas, it did not turn out the way they wanted.
In fact, they decided there was no way they were going to broadcast the Mondo Video, as it was far too out there for national T.V., so New Line came to the rescue and released it as a midnight movie, much as they had done with the likes of Pink Flamingos. It attracted cult attention, but there were also stories of unsatisfied audiences hearing about the cast and wishing to see something far more conventional: there was even a story about an angry mob beating up a ticket seller when they demanded their money back. You can kind of see their point, as most of it is simply funny peculiar instead of funny ha ha.
There's a steely quality to O'Donoghue's comedy that dares you not to be offended, and that's what is predominantly the mood of this special. Yet this is tempered with a genuinely surrealist nature, which might not be laugh out loud hilarious, not usually on the evidence of this at any rate, but guarantees that what's coming up next is not in any way predictable. So Dan Aykroyd, the second most prominent performer here, leads the Church of Jack Lord, which by substituting the Hawaii 5-0 star's name for, well, the Lord in his sermons creates a bizarre spoof on religion.
But no more than that, as O'Donoghue's skits don't seem to have any method in their madness apart from shocking middle America and appealing to those on his wavelength who like to see them shocked. You get the impression that he would be just as happy making someone uncomfortable as making them laugh, maybe more so, and there's nothing cuddly about the jokes here. Aykroyd shows off his webbed toes and asks you to remember them next time you see him (and you will), top secret footage of a laser beam-firing bra weapon is shown, clips of Sid Vicious and Klaus Nomi are run, and a tribe of "Indians" is shown to be obsessed with packages filled with discarded modern ephemera dropped by parachute. You pretty much stop laughing long before the end, but as a tribute to the man behind them, you do keep watching all the same. Music by Paul Shaffer.