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Some Kind of Fun

Isaac Grambo brings talk show persona back to life


When Isaac Grambo, artist and creator of the now-defunct television show The Grambo Report, found himself questioning the social value of art, he did what any artist wandering through the wilderness of art's utility might do. He started a local TV talk show.

As a part of his joint exhibition with artist Zach Jones at the Visual Arts Collective, Grambo will also host the first episode of Super Happy Fun Hour. It's a show in the vein of Late Night with Conan O'Brien or The Late Show with David Letterman that features locals, from politicians to songwriters to artists. As for its connection to Grambo's and Jones' exhibition of visual work, it's tenuous at best.

As the opening date for the exhibition neared, VAC's owners Sam Stimpert and Anneliessa Balk Stimpert got together with Grambo to figure out how to turn the exhibition into a more formal event. Balk Stimpert had pushed the idea of doing a local talk show for years. Finished with his high-concept, satirical TV news show, The Grambo Report, Grambo was ready to take on another project. Super Happy Fun Hour was born.

Grambo: Talk show hosts never die ... they just reload. - PHOTO BY JOYCE ALEXANDER

And the name? That's all Grambo.

"That specific name has a bit of history for me," said Grambo, sitting in a downtown coffee shop. While in college at Eastern Washington University, he lived with eight people in a house built for three. Called the Rock House, it was a place notorious for its parties.

"One time, people were bored, so we had this one-hour party—a break from studying or whatever—and called it Super Happy Fun Hour. Every Thursday we did this. We crammed a three-hour party into one hour. There was dancing and jumping and fighting ... whatever we could think of," Grambo said. "I thought, what a goofy name that is. It sounds like a Japanese game show,"

Today, Grambo is the portrait of a hip undertaker: black zip-up jacket over a black sweater and black collared shirt, accessorized by a gleaming, black-faced watch. "I always wear black," he said. Balk Stimpert described Grambo as having a "stony facade," and while that's true, he's also animated and speaks with good-willed sincerity. He could easily be likened to, well, a talk show host.

Grambo, though, is still an artist, one who seems to be struggling with the question that many artists who stay the course are forced to confront: why bother?

The paintings for the upcoming exhibition—stark acrylic-on-canvas portraits of nameless people, rendered in blocks of black and white—comprise his first major body of work since he completed his Master of Fine Arts at Boise State, where he now teaches.

"I think this is kind of a reaction against myself," he said, picking at the cookie in front of him. "As a student, I made work that was very socially conscious. Like TV news. I'm concerned about TV news, and I'm going to mock it. My hope at the time was that through satire, people would think differently about watching TV news and question it.

"Ultimately, people laughed. But as far as making that critical leap ... it's unclear. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't."

And that left Grambo, a self-described "change the world" artist, wondering if artists had any chance of doing so.

"If we're so concerned about changing the world, we would start organizations. As an artist, you go in and hang a painting—apparently Muhammad Ali over here ..." he said, pointing at a bright portrait of the braggadocio champ. "And you say, 'I'm saying something about the Black man in society.'

"No. You painted it because it looks cool. That's why we make paintings."

This acceptance of aesthetic over message seems likely to translate from The Grambo Report to Super Happy Fun Hour. Grambo will trade in the caricature he played in The Report for a more even-toned moderator—more Jon Stewart than Stephen Colbert. Not to say that he'll miss any opportunity to skew thought.

"Using this format of a late-night talk show, you have built-in stuff for comedy," he said, "and there can be satire in that."

If he's uncomfortable talking about a show that is, up to this point, little more than a flutter of an idea, he doesn't show it, though he does admit that the finished product has a chance to be wildly different than the format and tone he envisions now. Such is the alchemy of live audiences and unscripted conversations, two elements that will be different from The Grambo Report. His experience, he said, is that things change, sometimes drastically once the project moves from concept to camera.

The first episode will be recorded at VAC in front of an audience on the exhibition's opening night, Friday, Dec. 12. It's set to air on Treasure Valley Community Television on Channel 11, which was also home to The Grambo Report. The show will feature two guests per episode and one local band. Jones' band, Le Fleur, is set to play the debut.

Since Grambo is both TV host and one of the featured artists of the exhibition, the idea is to have Grambo interview Jones, then flip it and have Jones interview Grambo. But if this is indeed the plan, Jones, who works in a frosty garage-turned-studio without heat, perhaps hasn't been fully briefed. When I mentioned the idea of interview swapping, it seemed like the first time he'd heard of it.

Surrounded by pieces for the rapidly upcoming show—small tiles showing construction cranes set against clear skies—his long face, framed by a red beard, breaks into an easy smile. "It will be interesting to see what happens," he said. "Who knows?"

As of now, almost everything is in flux. Balk Stimpert said that the first show is essentially a pilot.

"We'll see how this one goes and how receptive people are," she said. "If people are supportive and enthusiastic about it, then I'll consider doing it monthly."

A show each month means booking at least 24 guests a year, not to mention finding locals to play a song or two each episode. Can Boise support a long-running show with a format that hinges on finding interesting people who can hold an audience's attention?

Grambo, for his part, is a little circumspect.

"Well ... that I don't know," he said. "We know a lot of people through VAC, and those are the people I am comfortable interviewing. But when do you run out of stuff, and when do you start interviewing people who aren't very good?"

Balk Stimpert shares none of his concerns.

"We're talking two guests per show?" she said, holding her hands up in the universal are-you-kidding-me pose. "I can easily think of 300 people I'd love to have on the show. Anybody who's interesting. And there are plenty of interesting people."

Exhibit opens and the pilot episode of Super Happy Fun Hour will be filmed Friday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m., FREE. Visual Arts Collective, 3638 Osage St., Garden City, 208-424-8297,