Though he was once a Detroit TV personality, I have only the faintest childhood memory of Soupy Sales and his pies-in-the-face. Fortunately, TIME’s Richard Corliss has applied his encyclopedic pop-culture knowledge to an appreciation of the kids’ funnyman of early TV.
It strikes me that Soupy was once an example of what used to be the most common thing on TV—a grown man being silly for kids—and is now a fading memory. Pee-Wee Herman may have been the last major example of this as a big phenomenon, even though children’s TV has only grown since then.
You still have the spirit of a Soupy or a Pee Wee on TV, but even in (to take a personal favorite) Yo Gabba Gabba!, the human, DJ Lance Rock, is more a chaperone; it’s the costumed characters who get to be wackiest. Or, on Blue’s Clues, Steve (and then Joe) have much more responsible roles walking the kids through stories and lessons.
Partly, I suspect, this is a business consideration: it’s easier to license Dora than a middle-aged man in a sweater. But maybe I’m forgetting someone. Is there an heir to Soupy Sales (or Pee-Wee Herman) on TV today?