10 Questions for Svengoolie:
An Interview with Rich Koz
10 Questions for Svengoolie An Interview with Rich Koz By Mike White. Cashiers du Cinemart: What’s your background? Rich Koz: I grew up in the northwest ’burbs of Chicago where I first got into broadcasting at my high school radio station...
Cashiers du Cinemart:What’s your background?
Rich Koz: I grew up in the northwest ’burbs of Chicago where I first got into broadcasting at my high school radio station. When I got into college I would write material (unsolicited) and send it to Jerry Bishop, the original Svengoolie. He eventually hired me on to do writing and voice-over work on his show and-when “Svengoolie” was cancelled in ’73I went on to be his second banana for his radio show.
CdC: What did you want to be when you grew up?
RK: Originally, a cartoonistalong the way, such odd sidetrack ideas (all very short-lived) as joining the FBI or being an astronaut!
CdC: How did you become the “Son of Svengoolie”?
RK: In the late ’70s, Jerry moved out to the West Coast. He gave me his blessing to carry on “the Svengoolie name” and in mid-’79 I managed to get “Son of Svengoolie” on the air. I’m always amazed to get feedback from people who saw me on the various Field stations back in the 80s. I was doing the show from the Chicago station, and we ran on the four other Field stations. Most felt the show was “forced” on them, and didn’t promote it, rarely giving me any feedback on it. Only now, years later, I run into people who said “So this is where you came after (Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, etc.)! Everybody used to watch!” I never knew there were fans out in the other cities! I ran until January of ’86 in Chicago (when the show was deemed “not suitable” for the station because it was about to join the prestigious Fox network!). I went back to that station from ’89-’93.
CdC: I remember you as being the Son of Svengooliehow’d you get the full “Svengoolie” title?
RK: When I joined up with WCIU in ’95 Jerry declared that I was “all grown up” and graciously bequeathed to me the “Svengoolie” name! I’ve been using the name and have been on “The U” ever since!
CdC: What does it mean to be Svengoolie?
RK: Actually, it means a lot-not just to me, but, to the viewers. After I was fired by Channel 32 in ’86, for the next nine years at least, at least once a week somebody would recognize me on the street and ask, “When are you going to do “Son of Svengoolie” again?” If it meant that much to people, then, obviously, when Channel 26 asked me to do it again, I felt like there was still a public demand for the character, and how could I refuse that? It means a lot that I’ve become a Chicago TV icon and that the popularity of Sven has crossed generations. For some I symbolize a little of what’s left of the old “Chicago school” of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants TV from the ’40s/50s. That, and the paycheck...
CdC: Who are your biggest influences?
RK: Wow! My influences include mentors like Jerry G. Bishop (the original Sven), Dick Orkin (a radio and advertising genius who created the “ChickenMan” and “ToothFairy” syndicated radio features and whom I also had the great opportunity to work with). Then, a lot of old TV and movie comedians; Groucho, Jack Benny, Gleason. Then, side influences of comic books, other radio guys I listened to growing up.
CdC: What have been your favorite movies to host?
RK: It was always fun to do the old Universal Classics, the American-International flicks, and Godzilla-type movies.
CdC: How about your least?
RK: Not all, but some of the Vincent Price Poe films. I love Vinnie but I remember the network giving me almost two months in a row of his films and it became physically wearing on me. The absolute worst was a coming-of-age film called Kenny and Co. It’s about some crappy pre-teens but the dolt program director at the time thought was a slasher film. I still have nightmares.
CdC: What was the effect on you when “Mystery Science Theater 3000” took off?
RK: Well, at first, I had no idea because it wasn’t on my cable system. I remember a guy I worked with saying, “You have to see this, it’s your show.” I replied, “Oh, it’s my kind of show?” And he said, “No, I mean it’s your show! It’s a little too similar to Sven!” Personally, it really didn’t bother me much. What did bother me was when I went back on in Chicago in ’95 and people who never saw my stuff wrote angry letters about how I was ripping off MST3K!!! The story I usually relate is how, on my very first show in ’79, the movie we were running was short so the crew grabbed the next week’s movie and rolled about ten minutes of it, with me (who had not even seen any of it) super-imposed in the lower corner making wise cracks! (Sound familiar?) Personally, I never felt they were “ripping me off.” They did a great show and, I felt good when about nine months ago, the Chicago Tribune did an interview with the guys and they mentioned Svengoolie as an influence (a couple of them grew up around here). I’m not sure if they meant Jerry (the Original Sven) or me, but, it was nice to finally see it in print. People who had been at various conventions would tell me that the MST3K guys would talk about Son of Svengoolie, but this was the first concrete verification I ever saw.
CdC:What question have you always wanted to be asked?
RK: Easy: “Is that your final answer?”
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