Enter Poorman

Life's a (bikini) beach for KDOC's returning late-night host

Bikini Beach program engineer Martin Wright thinks the Poorman doesn't actually set out to push boundaries; it simply doesn't occur to him they're there. "You will see stuff on his shows where people get perturbed with him and go, 'Just get out of here!' or, 'Hey, you screwed up this thing I was doing!' He's like, 'I did?'"

In 1994, the Poorman infamously appeared live on KDOC wearing nothing but a baseball cap over his crotch as part of a sweeps-week stunt. He swears he had no idea it would get him fired until right after he did it. "I just thought it would be a really awesome thing," he claims. "It made the news; I was getting nationally noticed. Now, I look back on it, and I think I was really stupid. The nice thing about Bikini Beach is that it's an edited show." Many of the same employees who worked at KDOC then are still there, but the Poorman says they stuck up for him—"They all like me; they just know I was a little bit reckless back then"—and encouraged new manager Ellis to give him another shot, which Ellis was happy to do.

Wright used to get perturbed with the Poorman's constant tardiness and distracted qualities, but he now takes them sarcastically in stride. The Poorman is "somewhat oblivious to what's going on around him a lot of the time," Wright says. "But it's weird: In a lot of ways, he's a real smart guy. He has fairly creative ideas, but with some things, the wires hook up, and with some things, they don't. That's how he works; that's just who he is." He describes the Poorman as "like Hansel and Gretel, but he leaves a trail of shit everywhere he goes. He brings tapes in, and I open them, and sand falls out, and I'm like, 'You know, these tapes are supposed to play in these video decks; they don't need to be on the beach.'"

The Poorman. Photo by Jack Gould.
The Poorman. Photo by Jack Gould.

The Poorman decided to try his hand at TV after a 1998 radio show called Anti-Radio, on which he played songs by unsigned SoCal bands, failed to take off. His initial concept was called World Premiere Television and consisted of unaired pilots and public-access shows—but he found that test audiences only cared about the show IDs, during which sexy bikini girls would coo, "You're watching World Premiere Television." That became the entire show.

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"Fairy Tales" doesn't seem like the scariest concept for a Halloween maze, but given Wright's Hansel-and-Gretel comparison, perhaps it's appropriate that this Knott's horror attraction is the first one entered by the Poorman and his crew, who might arguably be described as the trail he leaves behind him. Cheesy wooden blacklight sets are inhabited by painted performers dressed as pigs, witches and fairies, all of whom have been cast for their ability to jump out suddenly and bang on the walls. The "Sleeping Beauty" here is a corpse on a bed that occasionally jumps to life and starts shaking. Sensing an opportunity, the Poorman immediately lies down on the bed beside the body, gesturing to bikini babe Micklow that she do the same. This is too much for our Knott's liaison: "Keep it family-friendly!" she admonishes.

With the maze done, it's time for the ladies to get in vampire gear, and with Girl No. 6 having finally arrived, everyone gets taken to makeup. The girls get cloaks and vampire face paint, while the Poorman gets a goofy-looking top hat for his role as "Poor Helsing." Most of the crew grab some cheap eats and free soda from the employee cafeteria, which tonight looks like something out of Star Wars, as we casually dine among zombie cowboys, aliens, mythological beasts, and one ornery dude in a red wig and a yellow shirt who takes it personally when asked if he's supposed to be an evil Ronald McDonald.

A couple of hours later, we're backstage at a Western-themed arena, wondering if the show will even go on because of the light rain. Some of the girls pass the time by texting, while others have fun with a nearby punching bag. The Poorman, meanwhile, is testing out some fake drool, as he licks a prop chain saw for the cameras.

A few days prior to the Knott's event, the Poorman had said we could expect "a bikini contest where they're gonna all be vampiresses, and then each time a girl's eliminated, I'm gonna blow her away with a prop shotgun onstage, but she'll go up in a cloud of smoke and blood—and then the winner is going to be blowing me away—so it's a pretty cool choreographed routine." With minutes to show time, there are a couple of problems. One, there won't be any smoke or blood. And two, the routine has not been choreographed in the least. But as the rain eases up, we get word that, yes, the show will happen. Time to go into the audience and see how it plays.

The Poorman mentioned an audience of thousands during the audition process; it's unlikely this outdoor venue could hold 1,000 if it were full, which it isn't. Despite the weather, a decent-sized crowd funnels in, many of them clearly longtime fans of the Poorman.

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