David Hart: L.A. Public Access TV Legend
David Nkrumah Liebe Hart is a local legend. A former actor in the 70’s (and who wasn’t) since 1988, as the mastermind and puppeteer behind the Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show, a weekly L.A.-based public access show, David has promoted Christian Science doctrine with a special aim at our young people. With puppets and song and puppets singing songs. No doubt most of you have surfed across one of the over 12,000 shows he has produced on the odd lazy Saturday morning. Perhaps it was Chip The Black Boy (his primary puppet and star of the show) that grabbed your attention. Or maybe it was the psychedelic shifting greenscreen backgrounds that did it. Better yet, maybe it was the message contained in the Bible readings that hooked you. The luckier among you might have had an audience with David in person, while he’s working a puppet and a boom box, performing songs from the show for donations outside the Hollywood Bowl. The luckiest among you might have even been on the set of JCSBLS and taken the guest office chair amidst the plastic trees and puppets and aided David on his mission to spread Christian Science one half-hour at a time. And to keep kids off drugs. Crack, heroin, cocaine, speed, psychotropics, the weed.
Losanjealous’ own Ryan was a recent guest of David’s. Below he describes how his life is better for it.
Q: So how did you meet David Hart? What were the circumstances that led to your appearance on the JCSBLS?
A: I’d seen Dave Hart for years outside the bowl. When I discovered that a movie titled ’Public Access Hollywood’ featured the maestro himself and was playing at the Valley Film Festival, I knew I had to see it. I met Dave right after the screening. I bought one of his CDs and he promptly told me he needed me to host his show the following Thursday. He then began to explain that UFOs were entwined in official church business. I wasn’t too sure what to make of that, but as for the hosting request I really couldn’t turn him down. It genuinely seemed to come from a higher source. It could not have been coincidence.
Q: Were you nervous going in? I mean, besides his legend, David preaches a mean gospel. Did you feel up to the task of being his co-pilot? What is your understanding of Christian Science?
A: I have nerves of steel, my friend. I was ready for this. From what I understand, Christian Scientists don’t take drugs. At all. And if there’s one recurring theme of Dave Hart’s show (UFOs aside), it’s the anti-drug bit that’s hammered religiously every week. “Crack, heroin, Marijuana, Pills, Cocaine, Uppers, Downers, all of that…Stay off it.” You hear the same words every episode. That confuses me, because if he preached true Christian Scientist philosophy I might expect him to tell kids to say no to Children’s Chewable Aspirin(TM)… Dimetapp… Triaminic (do they still make that or am I dating myself?)…Flintstone Vitamins… then again, that’s just my understanding. I could be way off base.
I did read someplace that Dave had his arm twisted by the Christian Science church to change the name of his show, in order to not (misleadingly) appear to be directly affiliated with the church. Thusly you get the lengthy show title you have today.
Q: Did you get a sense of the preparation that David puts into each half-hour? And what is with the huge sheet of paper with the readings that is passed around the set? Doesn’t he have access to a photocopier? Small things like that reveal a lot about a person, I think. What do you think?
A: In my case, the huge sheet of paper that housed my script was a wall calendar. Nothing could better illustrate the auteur process at work. The man gets inspired for an upcoming segment…BAM! Out of the blue. Such is his inspiration that he can’t hold it in. He grabs a pen and grasps the nearest writable object to put down those words, those infinite words that might otherwise float out of reach, up to the puppet-laden stratosphere. If that nearest object be a grease-splotched calendar on the Comcast studio wall, who am I to tell him no? Dave, tear that calendar down. By all means use it to write the words that I will soon utter on tape to be preserved for all of eternity. The right words are captured, collected and furiously scribbled on a grease-stained wall calendar, and that’s the bottom line. That to me says inspiration. That to me says auteur.
Beyond the script, the shows are taped live so the majority of the preparation is done in the studio during the twenty minutes preceding the taping. There comes a time in every job where a plateau is reached and the work you crank out becomes a punch in a timecard. The job becomes clockwork. Dave is an industrious man and is definitely at the point where his show has become clockwork not only for himself, but also for all of the employees of the various public access studios he utilizes. They know the drill. He walks in, unloads the puppets, hands the studio engineers various cassettes and CDs, directs the order for that week’s songs, tells them the music credits that should be keyed in for the songs, tells them the name(s) of that week’s hosts (often woefully inaccurately) and then basically gives them free reign to unleash all manner of crazy on the green screen backgrounds, so long as they incorporate multiple cross-fades and regularly display UFOs and crop circles. Here’s something you might not know, though: Dave doesn’t drive. I would go so far as to say that the considerable preparation time invested in plotting the bus lines to and from the studios should count as immense pre-production work on a show-by-show basis. As for post-production work, it’s 5% burn-to-DVD and local cable broadcast time requests, and 95% ride requests. Dave’s industrious side usually kicks into full throttle after the taping. If he’s lucky, he’ll find a bus-free ride with one of the hosts in exchange for lunch.
Q: Obviously, we must talk about the puppets. Jim Henson is a known influence on David. What was your insight into the whole puppet use? Does David use them in an effort to connect to the children? To hide his own face from the camera?
A: The puppets are an odd lot, to say the least. On occasion certain puppets sit there, lifeless and unused, for the duration of the entire episode. I can only attribute the inner workings of an auteur to this logic.
Generally speaking the puppets are filthy. This might not be the right forum for this, but I’d like to voice that I’m starting a fund to either buy David some new puppets for Christmas or, at the least, get the ones he currently uses industrially washed and dried. The public access cameras have no problems picking up the dirty, filmy grime on those things. At some point the innocent child has to ask, “If a filthy giraffe is prompting me to say no to drugs and say yes to UFOs, should I believe him?” This to me is a fixable problem. If Dave truly wants the child to say yes to UFOs, and no to drugs, it must begin with clean puppets.
Beyond that, David does hold genuine talent in the realm of puppetry. I don’t know if it’s formal training, or something that’s ingrained in him.
Q: Like all geniuses, David surely must skirt close to the edge of sanity as a cost for his brilliance. Did you feel any unique mental energy radiating from him?
A: Oh, definitely. It’s tough to put into words, but spend some time with the man and you begin to tap into it almost immediately. One thing you instantly recognize with David is his affinity for women – any women – and his apparent enjoyment in telling everyone how long it’s been since he last had sex. This is pure tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. Let’s regroup offline and I can give you his contact information for follow-ups.
Q: This one might be tough for you to answer, but do you think that David ever stops to survey the “real world” and see where his art might fit in it the larger picture? Does he do it for himself or does he genuinely feel that he is connecting to people? The more cynical among us could well view his efforts as simply too bizarre and, thus, ultimately in vain. What’s your take on that?
A: It’s tough to determine whether David truly feels he’s making a difference or if he’s just going through the motions for lack of knowing what else to do at this point in his career. Certainly his art finds its followers. I’m not convinced that children watching his show grasp the King James passages, the UFO references or, frankly, any of it, but it can’t be any less wholesome than most of the programs children watch these days. Plus, you’re guaranteed that at some point an adult will look right at the camera and tell children to say no to drugs. That can’t be a bad thing. Granted the show comes off as bizarre to some – ok, perhaps all – but in Dave’s defense, he never portrays violence to my knowledge and he tells children to say no to drugs at least once an episode.
Q: Finally, I must ask: How are you changed for having gone through the JCBLS experience? Can you talk about what it has meant to you on various levels (personal, creative, spiritual, etc.)?
A: I spent the majority of a full day with David Hart and it was an incredibly unique experience that I wouldn’t trade for gold. From finding the studio in Inglewood which was quite literally hidden behind a carpet store facade (bad neighborhood), to driving cross-town through Koreatown (my stomping grounds) and ultimately seeing the finished product on videocassette, to agreeing to give the auteur one final free car ride to a church in Hollywood so he could hawk music, I came away from the day feeling drained physically but charged mentally. For one day I shared the city’s experiences with a different person. For one day I saw things through a different lens. For one day I split a 12-inch subway sandwich with a complete stranger in a part of town I have never been to in my life, and damn it, it felt good. Better than good. Damn it, it felt great. I said it.
Creatively I felt no difference whatsoever, but that’s just me. Dirty puppets aren’t my thing, Dad: I’m a musician.