"Ask Dr. Science. Remember he knows more than you do."
September 20, 2013 1:01 PM   Subscribe

The comedy troupe Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre started in 1975 when five University of Iowa graduate students hoped to score some free beer. You may have heard Ask Dr. Science (Wikipedia) sketches on All Things Considered. Ask Dr. Science first ran in 1982 (or maybe on New Year's Day 1981) as a project of Duck's Breath members Dan Coffey and Merle Kessler on KQED.

The group had a 1987 show at Dance Theater Workshop in New York. An idea that stemmed from their earlier work was the movie Zadar! Cow From Hell (Wikipedia, IMDB) The film premiered at the United States Film Festival in Utah in January 1989, and then grossed over $25,000 in two nights in 1989.

The members went their separate ways in 1990. Despite the split, the Ask Dr. Science sketches continued, with over 2000 bits produced. The group got together to perform in July 2000 in San Francisco, focusing on ensemble pieces. A 25th reunion of the Ducks took place around the year 2000 and then a 30th reunion ensued in July 2004, which was recorded for a DVD. The group also performed in Sacramento in 2007.

Member Bill Allard has posted five hours of DBMT sketches under the heading "Behind the Comedy" on PRX.org -- “You’ll experience scorpions, gangsters, and naked people suing each other..” But will they get it in Des Moines? A YouTube playlist of Duck's Breath sketches is available, as is one of the 1987 Fox television program Dr. Science.

Merle Kessler has frequently appeared as Ian Shoales, a "parody of a critic ", holding forth on topics like television newsmagazines and popular music. Shoales had occasional appearances on ABC's Nightline and a regular online column in the mid-1990s. Kessler was hit by a hit and run driver in Oakland. Member Leon Martell continues to work as a playwright, with works including a play about Merriweather Lewis's death. He has acted in a number of movies, too. Jim Turner, who has appeared as Zippy the Pinhead, often played Randee of the Redwoods, nominated on MTV as a 1988 Presidential candidate, with support from Run DMC and They Might Be Giants: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4. Other recurring, perhaps more prominent, roles he's had include a supporting character on HBO's "Arli$$" and a voice on Nickelodeon's "Rugrats".

Official updates are occasionally posted on the Facebook page for the group.
posted by knile (15 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Used to LOVE listening to these things on my commute into San Francisco back in the day!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:10 PM on September 20, 2013

Dr. Science answered one of my questions back in '96 (could not find it in the archive). I asked, "Why do bologna slices curl into a cup when fried?" He said something about some relationship to some Italian cup fruit or something. Anyway, my cup ran-ith over with pride.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 1:28 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there a DBMT card in Apple's HyperCard program?
posted by tommasz at 1:28 PM on September 20, 2013

Did I see these guys live once? Maybe? I definitely heard a bunch of their stuff back in the 80's.

And wasn't there some DBMT spin-off recurring minisketch on MTV for a while?
posted by rmd1023 at 1:46 PM on September 20, 2013

He has a master's degree!

"In science!"
posted by grubi at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

And wasn't there some DBMT spin-off recurring minisketch on MTV for a while?
One of the links is to an MTV bit of Randee of the Redwoods. I found a bunch of other youtube videos that are purportedly MTV/Randee things but didn't want to go overboard with them.
posted by knile at 1:52 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

DBMT was prominently credited on the classic Nickelodeon show Out Of Control. That was the first place I heard about them.
posted by JHarris at 1:52 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rodo the Monster! He's from outer space!
Flying to destroy us - destroy the human race!
Rodo the Monster, from real far away!
posted by moonmilk at 2:40 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Aha! I hadn't followed all the links because I was at a not-very-audio-enabled device. But now I'm home and can dive into all the DBMT goodness!
posted by rmd1023 at 3:16 PM on September 20, 2013

moonmilk, that's worthy of a FPP right there.
posted by JHarris at 3:53 PM on September 20, 2013


Seriously, I have had to repeatedly convince myself for DECADES that I did not simply auditory-hallucinate this series. I know I have some cassettes of them around someplace, but I have probably 1000 cassettes which are poorly labeled and a life, so I haven't found them yet.

Seriously, this is the best news! Thanks SO VERY MUCH for posting!
posted by hippybear at 6:29 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah I saw Duck's Breath many times at Gabe's back in the 70s. And how could I forget the classic routines like More Than A Box. In the 30th anniversary show, they do an update of the old Art History Lecture. plus "Learn to Draw with John Gnagy. Oh I remember that original show. I'll have to keep watching for other classics like "Bishop Rick's Sex Talk," I remember a demonstration of condoms, one guy stretches saran wrap over his head while another guy beats him on the head with a badminton racquet. Or the barbershop quartet version of "I Want To Be Sedated." Some material seems to be fragmentary, like their famous "Cliff's Notes Hamlet," which seems to exist only as a videotape scrolling down the script. That sketch inspired whole troupes of imitators who do nothing but condensed Shakespeare as comedy. And I know there's a 30 minute comedy show from Public Television around 1980, I recall a sketch of golfing through the Whiteway Grocery Store.

And I recall the Ian Sholes column in the SF Chronicle, I remember one joke that I clipped and finally rediscovered in my files, I quoted it previously on MeFi.

I know Dan but I haven't seen him around in a couple of years, last I heard, he was traveling around South America. It looks like his Dr. Science website got reworked, maybe some of the older material was lost. I can't find my favorite question, 'If computers have so much memory, why does everyone stick Post-it note reminders on the screen?"
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:35 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Boy, it was the high point of the day when I came across these on the radio way back in the previous Century!

I think we need an up-to-date version. After all, Science continues to baffle!
posted by CrowGoat at 10:21 PM on September 20, 2013

Ah, so, the 5 hours of DBMT isn't actually posted online for me to listen to. It's posted online for me to BUY to listen to... Okay, I'll have to think about that.
posted by hippybear at 11:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Aw, my dad and I used to listen to these during our morning commute. When I got my master's degree (in SCIENCE!) he sent me the compilation CD.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:59 AM on September 21, 2013

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