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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #253: Stanley Spadowski

"I'm thinkin' of something orange. Something orange. Give up? It's an orange."

Sure, Cosmo Kramer is a comedic icon. But the same year Seinfeld hit the small screen, actor Michael Richards appeared on the big screen alongside Weird Al Yankovic in the underappreciated cult classic UHF. Richards' simpleton janitor Stanley Spadowski has many of the hallmarks of early Kramer: spastic, socially awkward, vaguely unstable, the lanky arms and legs of a badly-shaven orangutan. In the film, Spadowski is wrongly fired from a custodial gig at the legit TV station down the road and is given a job by Yankovic's character, the Mitty-esque George Newman.

(A lengthy aside - Yankovic's Newman isn't much of a character in UHF, a sort of straight man used as a blank canvas to paint over with the satirical silliness of the film. But I'll take a moment here to salute Weird Al for his long and fruitful career as the unquestioned king of pop music parodies. He's a talented and versatile musician, but it's his genius for applying ludicrous new lyrics to the often self-important work of big-time artists that many fans appreciate the most. There are too many favorites to start listing them here - Amish Paradise, Fat, his perfect Star Wars version of American Pie - but suffice it to say the dude is beloved for a reason.)

Back to Spadowski. His moment comes when Newman walks off the set of his struggling children's show in disgust, and the heretofore-unremarkable janitor steps into the spotlight. The man-child's hidden showman (and latent psychopath) emerge, and his capering antics instantly resonate with the young audience. A star is born ("you get to drink from the fire hose!") and that success gives Newman the inspiration to apply his vivid imagination free rein at the lowly UHF station. There's some funny stuff in there, but none wackier - or more darkly disturbing - than Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse.

Yankovic wrote the part expressly for Richards, basing the Spadowski character on Richards' standup act and Christopher Lloyd's character from the sitcom Taxi. If you're looking for the murky origins of Cosmo Kramer, you can find the primordial ooze down at Spatula City. I mean, UHF.

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