Things that Exist: ‘Who’s Johnny’ from Short Circuit
I had to stop and retrace the steps that led me here. I think it started when I fell into a YouTube suggestions hole. It started with Johnny Carson.
Well, it actually started with Eddie Murphy.
I saw a clickbait head line about what David Spade said that kept Eddie Murphy away from Saturday Night Live for many years. I couldn't resist, and clicked it. It led, eventually, to an SNL clip where Spade makes fun of Murphy. It was as underwhelming as I figured it'd be.
But, in YouTube's 'watch next' menu was Murphy's first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
I watched it, and remembered I'd watched it before, probably after a slimier click adventure. Then I embarked on a Johnny Carson clip-stravaganza. I saw Drew Carey, Joey Lawrence, and Jack Webb. I tried to figure out how people in the 70's dressed like that. And I saw a whole bunch of Ed McMahon.
Seeing Ed, of course got me thinking about the Weird Al song "Here's Johnny." It's on his 1986 album Polka Party. It was the first song on side two of the cassette I had growing up. Luckily, like any good Close Personal Friend of Al, I of course have his discography on my phone, just for emergencies like this.
After having His Weirdness' tribute to the first second banana on repeat for a while - probably longer than a normal human brain can stand - I remembered that Al's song was a parody of the song "Who's Johnny." That song by El DeBarge was from the 1986 movie Short Circuit. A movie about a robot named Number 5, AKA, Johnny 5, who comes alive.
Well, as soon as that thought was in my head, you know what came next, right? Correct! Back to YouTube.
I hadn't seen this video since it was a hit on MTV for a few months in 1986. It was one of those songs that burns bright but fast. As big as it was at the time, it disappeared just as quickly.
In the video El, the star of Short Circuit Ally Sheedy and a cardboard cutout of Steve Gutenberg appear to be on trial. The prosecutor is demanding to know who is Johnny. Or who Johnny is, I guess, the other way feels clunky.
Anyways, eventually the whole courtroom is demanding the answer to the titular question. But, El is playing coy. Is Johnny a person, a robot, an imaginary friend created in response to childhood trauma of having to move to the other end of town and having to change schools and not having any friends in the neighborhood? No, just me then? OK.
Then the lawyer pulls out her secret weapon, a VHS copy of the movie. She shows the court clips of the film in a manner that is in no way designed to promote the movie by showcasing it's futuristic robotics and cutting edge humor.
So, it looks like the court is asking about Johnny 5 the robot. But, if they have a copy of the move and are presenting it as evidence, you could reasonably assume that they've watched it. Wouldn't that mean they would know who Johnny is? Thus rendering the question of who is johnny moot. And why aks DeBarge? He's not even in the movie.
Sheedy takes the stand and there's a robot hand (unintentional rhyme). Everybody falls in love with her, of course. Then this happens.
Look, I don't know what or why that was.
Eventually the rhythm of the night infects the courtroom, and nobody can hold back. They all must dance! Johnny 5 demands it. And look! That lawyer lady is cool, because she let her hair down. And there's firemen, because why not?
The the judge's books explode, the dancing continues and Alley and El escape. Presumably to cash their check for a day's work.
So, that's how I ended up here. From Spade to Eddy to Carson to Al and finally to El DeBarge.