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Monday, November 15, 2004

FAREWELL TO A ONE-MAN GROUP THINKER 

The name Laird Brooks Schmidt hadn't crossed my mind for years until I read in the Strib yesterday that he died on Veterans Day at age 80 after battling Parkinson's disease for 15 years.

Since no one else but my mother seems to recall him, here's a refresher--or a belated introduction, as the case may be:
He was best-known for a six-month stint as the midnight-to-6 a.m. host for KSTP, Channel 5, in 1978-79. One television critic called him "a freestyle Delphic oracle."

KSTP was the first local TV station to operate for 24 hours, and Schmidt was its first late-night host. In between late-night movies he would sit in front of the camera wearing a heavy winter coat, flanked by a toy gopher and a collection of plants. He would hold up signs with long words on them and offer irreverent comments about the movies, life, human behavior and intellect.

He found that an amazing number of people were awake at that time, said Beverly Schmidt. They included musicians, health care workers, insomniacs and, starting about 4 a.m., farmers getting up for work.

"He had a wonderful array of people who liked him," she said.

But not enough. He lost the job when a late-night viewer called Stanley S. Hubbard, then head of KSTP, at 1 a.m. to complain. Hubbard switched on the TV to see Schmidt delivering his usual discourse. He was fired.
What I was doing up between midnight and 6:00 when I was 12 I'm not sure (I suppose I should ask my mom about that). And I could have sworn that his show aired for a lot longer than six months. But in my (admittedly highly idiosyncratic) memory his flaky schtick was of a piece with the much more well known stuff that I was watching contemporaneously, like Monty Python reruns on public television, the old half-hour pre-NBC syndicated SCTV shows, and early Letterman (anyone remember his ill-fated morning gig?).

The obituary also reveals that in some of his other lives he served in the military, worked as a schoolteacher, and did stand-up comedy. And I think it's safe to extrapolate from all this that if he'd been a generation younger, he'd have had a blog. R.I.P., Mr. Schmidt.

15 Comments:

I saw the name Laird on the internet and it reminded me of Laird Brooks Schmidt. I remember him from KSTP and the bizarre things he did to keep us interested while playing terrible movies all night. the movies could barely be called talkies. I would turn it on just to see if that strange guy was still on. And he was!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:42 AM  

This is Laird's youngest granddaughter.
I forgot the year he died, so I googled his name, && found a blog about him.
It touches me that people cared enough to take the time and make a blog.

R.I.P. Laird Brooks Schmidt A.K.A. Pooh-Pooh

By Blogger Lexxi, at 6:12 PM  

Laird was an active public access television producer at ETC33. You can see some of his show's at: http://etc33.org/Channel_12.html

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:27 AM  

Thank you so much for sharing this information about public access shows at ETC33. It is wonderful that we can see Laird in his element.
It is amazing how timely some of his insights were.

By Blogger LK, at 10:42 AM  

I knew Laird in Los Angeles in 1967-68. He rented a big house on Cauhenga south of the Hollywood Freeway and ran an ad in the underground rag, The LA Free Press, for 'Laird's Lair," a comedy writer's workshop and club. He had had a brief career as a comic with those crazy word cards. I saw his act at the Troubador once. His best line said that he "started on Johnny Carson and wound up playing in his living room." He was important in my life then . . . I spent some time with him, mostly at his place, but we went out to eat a few times.
Once he came to my Echo Park apartment and I offered to play him a record from my collection on my good stereo. "What music," I asked, "do you like?"
He was stumped. He looked over at some records leaning against a chair and asked for the one facing out.
He didn't believe a person younger than thirty-five could write a worthwhile novel. I liked him very much and the crowd of talent hoping to catch on in the business.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:02 AM  

I was in Mr. Schmidt's English class back in 1967. I thought it was so cool to have a teacher that ran a night club (Laird's Lair). He taught me the meaning of the word " haphazard"

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:23 PM  

I was also a student of Laird Schmidt. I forget the year, it was in Junior High, so it must have been somewhere between 1965 and 1968. I rmemeber that he was bitter about his runaway son.

He seemed like he was out of place in both the era and the situation. He was not someone who seemed like he was happy to be a school teacher in the mid '60's. I liked him for that.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:58 PM  

When Laird lived in Los Angeles, he became a dear friend of mine. He opened his club "Laird's Lair," and asked me (as a comedian) to perform there...which I did. And often. Laird and I would spend hours and hours talking about life, comedy and more life. When he moved to Minnesota, I missed him a great deal. We really had a deep friendship that was cut short by his move. Before he left, he was kind enough to write a critique on my approach to comedy. He was amazingly accurate about my approach to humor and understood my "style" of comedy. It was the most flattering critique I had ever had... and Laird meant every word.
After his move to Minnesota we stayed in touch for a while, but time made us drift apart. But I never forgot him at all. I just found out that he had died and it really hurt. No matter what one thought of Laird, his odd sense of humor, his ribald nature and his insightful comments, he was (at heart) a warm, giving and dear human being. To have been a friend of his was a great honor and he will continue to be missed.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:27 PM  

He was a punk rock icon in Minneapolis in the day. Laird Brooks Schmidt along with Letterman, Dave Moore and Andy Kaufman were the comedians we talked about in the late 70s and early 80s.

I think he was replayed or had another show outside of KSTP for a while after Hubbard fired him. (Hubbard will always suck.) I also heard that he was once on the Hennepin County or Bloomington boards or councils or something. I would love to know more. There is no Wiki page.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:01 AM  

2012....and there is the man I listed as best actor in my senior memories book in high school. I cannot believe I can watch his shitck again. I never forgot that fellow on channel five.

By Blogger unclestupidhead, at 8:42 PM  

I remember him. He was on late night when the other local tv stations were all off the air. We only had channels 2, 4, 5, 9, 11, and if you were lucky to have UHF circle antenna, you would have channel 17! Remember 17? Also, we had an illegal HBO ANTENNA! GOOD OLD DAYS! 1970'S - 80'S! He was around when VHS and Beta-Max were just starting. He was cool.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:17 PM  

I don't know why, but his name popped into my head tonight, so I Googled it. Reading this brought back memories of a great time in my life.

By Blogger bigmak, at 8:29 PM  

I enjoyed watching Laird on KSTP and later on at the 7th Street Entry as the opening act of a rock group (may have been The Replacements, but I'm not sure). He was truly one of a kind. He deserved much more attention / fame than he received.

By Anonymous Anthony Thompson, at 9:37 PM  

I worked with him at Fridley Cablevision in 1983. He was an eclectic pantagrulian discoursive neosurrealist.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:15 AM  

Archival Television Audio, Inc. (www.atvaudio.com) has a rare audio air check (pristine sound) of Laird Brooks Schmidt performing his banter on "The Tonight Show" (April 18, 1962), that night hosted by Joey Bishop, who joins in on the fun along with other guest Mickey Rooney.

By Anonymous Phil Gries, at 1:53 PM  

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