The term “industrial musicals” might not be familiar, but the concept of a musical that was created to be performed at a company sales meeting or industry conference is instantly understandable in the age of late-stage capitalism. Comedy writer Steve Young (Late Night With David Letterman, Late Show With David Letterman, The Simpsons) is an expert on industrial musicals, having co-written the book Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals and being featured in the industrial musicals documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway.
Steve has a collection of over 200 industrial musical records that were given out as souvenirs for conference or meeting attendees and never intended for public consumption. In addition to the records, Steve also has uncovered films of some industrial musicals and will be screening them at The Cooperage on Thursday, August 31 as part of his live show “The Weird and Wonderful World of Industrial Musicals.” Ahead of the show next Thursday, we caught up with Steve Young to get an idea of what we can expect to see and hear.
Milwaukee Record: For the live show that you’re doing in Milwaukee, I can’t imagine how hard it was to track down the industrial musical films that you’ll be showing. How did you discover so many of these films?
Steve Young: It’s a long, slow process of first meeting all the people who had worked on these shows. That was a layer of detective work. “Alright this Hank Beebe guy, this composer from Diesel Dazzle. I wonder if I can find him” After a while I find him, I’m on the phone with him, he’s confused and then he starts to go “oh this is cool that somebody cares,” then he goes in his basement and comes up with an armload of tapes of films. And that’s how you get going with some of this.
The Bathrooms Are Coming, the American Standard musical, this is the only known print in the world and it’s not even a complete print for a wonderful reason I’ll tell you about during the show. That came from the basement of Pat, one of the cast members.
Sometimes film collectors. I just happened to know a guy at the Letterman show, Rick Scheckman, when he heard I was interested in this stuff he went to his back room and looked on the oddball shelf and said “You mean stuff like this?” and I went “Oh my God, the Purina Dog Chow musical!”
Yes, so you get these lucky connections just because people start to hear of what you’re doing and they say “oh I might have something like that” and luck just keeps following. Some of it was eBay also. I mean a huge part of my collection of vinyl records but also some of the films came from just plugging away putting certain terms into the eBay search box and once in a blue moon, you hit pay dirt.
MR: This is really a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity to see these films. They’re never going to be put out on disc or anything like that right?
SY: All the stuff that is in my collection or is loaned to me by other collectors is not really findable on the internet and I know that shocks people. One time I said to somebody “Yeah, I have this Hamm’s Beer sales meeting film that was animated by Hanna-Barbera” And somebody came back on an internet comment and said “That can’t be true. I just looked and it’s not on YouTube.” I said “Well, you’re right. No, it is not on YouTube. And yet it’s real and I have it.” There’s an assumption now that everything is just always available. But I’m keeping these things pretty close to the vest.
MR: Now I remember you doing kind of a mini-tour back in late 2015, but this is your first time really doing the show since the documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway came out, right?
SY: I was starting up again in late 2019 and early 2020 and then of course everything shut down. But in the interim, I definitely have found some terrific new things and friends have guided me towards some new finds. So it is similar to the show from the 2015 and 2016 realm. And we’re always going to have The Bathrooms Are Coming and Got To Investigate Silicones and Purina Dog Chow, I doubt those will ever be bumped out of the lineup. But there’s a bunch of new items, too.
MR: Is this your first time ever visiting Milwaukee?
SY: Yes, it is and I’m looking forward to it. I know that there’s a statue of Fonzie, I’m looking forward to seeing that. Is it the Bronze Fonz? Am I getting it right?
MR: You got it right, that’s the Bronze Fonz.
SY: Yeah, I will go up and reverently touch Bronze Fonz for good luck. Is there a worn, shiny spot on him somewhere that people touch?
MR: You know they retouch him every couple of years or whatever, so some of that wear and tear goes away.
SY: Terrific. Yeah, I did do a show in Madison in 2015, so I was close. But this is the first time entering into the city limits so yeah, I’m looking forward to that.
Tickets for Steve Young’s “The Weird And Wonderful World Of Industrial Musicals” show at The Cooperage on Thursday, August 31 are currently on-sale and can be purchased HERE. You can listen to a longer version of this interview on the “Host And Guest” podcast.