Tune In Tonight: "Show Off! How to Be Cool at Parties"
Though it doesn’t stop anybody from throwing them, if you ask the internet nobody likes going to parties. They’re uniformly an anxiety inducing ordeal during which everyone desperately eyes the door and waits for the first opportunity to escape, even though party planning, party music, and party food are among the most frequently searched terms on Google. Much like how nobody admits to being a bully when they were young, somebody’s bullshitting somewhere, but that’s neither here nor there.
If the idea of attending a party really does make you nervous, and you believe that simply being yourself will result in blank stares and someone muttering that they need to go check the dip before wandering away, then I suggest taking a Xanax before you leave your house. If you prefer to live a chemical-free lifestyle, then I suggest watching 1986’s Show Off! How to Be Cool at Parties, which will not help you learn to enjoy parties, but rather ensure that you won’t have to worry about ever going to another party again.
Though it’s an instructional video made for teenagers, no teenagers appear in it, save for Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who probably was cool, but became less so after hosting this program. Rather, a bunch of adult third-tier comedians and magicians run the audience through the kind of tricks a kid has probably already learned while killing time in afterschool detention, and yet presented here as dazzling sleight of hand and slapstick comedy that will have the other partygoers shrieking in delight and begging for more.
Some of the stunts that the hosts ensure will result in homecoming king crowns and clumsy, half-drunk on Zima handys in someone’s basement include:
lip-syncing while standing on your head
that thing where it looks like you’re walking down invisible stairs
tangling your fingers together and then—get this—untangling them
playing an invisible piano
throwing an invisible ball in the air
playing music with your nose
a series of magic tricks so simple you’d have to be at the annual holiday party for the American Foundation for the Blind to impress anyone
If none of that works, why not try some casual racism by putting a t-shirt on your head so that you look like an Arabian sheik, or pretend to be a levitating swami while talking in a hilarious “middle eastern” accent? Forget about being invited to a party, you are the party!
If you don’t have the decency to leave a party quietly, well, there’s stunts for that too, including pretending to walk into the front door, pretending the door is locked, and pretending there’s a rabid dog outside the door. As you can see, many of these tricks involve the classical art of mime, and if there’s one thing that most parties lack, besides an acceptable selection of beer, it’s mime. But what they also lack is prop comedy, so there are a few tricks that require you to have a wig, funny glasses, and/or stage makeup on hand. Do you want to be the kind of person who shows up to a party carrying a briefcase full of wigs, like you’re auditioning for Star Search? Of course you do—it’s how to be cool. If I just spent a little time learning how to play “Aloha Oe” with my nose, I almost certainly would have been much more popular as a teenager.
Thankfully the program is barely a half hour long, because any longer than that and you’d be reaching near toxic levels of coolness. The tricks are mostly taught by a bunch of middle-aged dads who are incredibly pleased with themselves, plus voice actor Fred Newman, famous mostly for being able to make a lot of weird noises with his mouth, even releasing an instructional record called MouthSounds. Are middle-aged dads the best source of knowledge on how to be cool at parties? Apparently!
It’s almost twenty minutes in before we finally get to a trick that might actually impress people, and that is juggling. Compared to everything that’s come before, even just throwing a bunch of scarves around looks like someone playing a Stradivarius in a room full of people on kazoos. Of course, it means you’d have to come to the party equipped with juggling scarves, but you could probably throw those in with your wigs and swami turban.
In an era when entertaining people at a party probably meant reading out of a copy of Truly Tasteless Jokes stolen from your parents’ bookcase, Show Off’s dedication to good clean fun (even though some of the gestures Fred Newman makes while pretending to sound like a bicycle horn are questionable) is understandable. Nevertheless, even just watching these tricks performed on video causes the same kind of cringing secondhand embarrassment as when someone tries to be clever during a live podcast Q&A. Adults at least know to politely nod in appreciation when a party guest decides to aggressively be the center of attention, but teenagers aren’t often known for their tact in addressing people who are making asses out of themselves. If you were a gullible parent who believed high school parties were a hotbed of casual sex and Satanic worship, a copy of Show Off was the perfect gift for your child. Nothing short of a visible herpes sore would have been more effective at killing their social life.