Allan Sherman. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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How Will You Celebrate Allan Sherman Day?

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel inaugurates a day honoring the parody king

Stephanie Butnick
August 30, 2013
Allan Sherman. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Allan Sherman enthusiast Mark Cohen tipped us off to the greatest Chicago holiday you’ve never heard of: Allan Sherman Day. That’s right, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a proclamation designating tomorrow, August 31, Allan Sherman Day. Some highlights:

WHEREAS, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” was released 50 years ago this summer to instant acclaim and success; and

WHEREAS, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” went on to become a worldwide hit on several continents and remains one of the most popular and well-known songs of all time; and

WHEREAS, in the week ending August 31, 1963, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” made Allan Sherman’s My Sun, The Nut comedy album the best-selling album in the United States and this year makes the 50th anniversary:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, hereby proclaim August 31, 2013 to be ALLAN SHERMAN DAY in Chicago in recognition of Allan Sherman’s achievements, and encourage all Chicagoans to share in the spirit of joy and laughter.

You hear that, Chicago? You better freaking laugh tomorrow. Sherman himself would likely appreciate the stiff formality of Emanuel’s city-wide incitement to laughter.

The late comedian has been having quite the year. Cohen’s new book, Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman, which came out in May, explores Sherman’s work and legacy, and his influence on today’s comedians. Josh Lambert reviewed the biography in April, calling it “exhaustively definitive, offering enough detail to satisfy even the most annoyingly punctilious comedy nerd.”

Cohen also offers up every street address at which Sherman or his parents ever lived, and how much each house cost, by way of telling the tale of a broken, bizarre family. Sherman’s parents moved back and forth across the country; after they split up, Sherman’s mother hooked up with a con artist while his obese father did something even more self-punishing. On Aug. 27, 1949, he embarked on a 100-day fast in a tiny custom-built house hoisted atop a 20-foot metal pole in Tarrant City, Ala. This was national news of the wacky variety, until the stunt killed him.

Sherman had good reasons to be cynical about familial relationships and the promise of adulthood. But there can be upsides to having lunatic parents: While pawned off for months at a time on his grandparents in Chicago, Sherman learned Yiddish expressions and the behavioral patterns of immigrant Jews and their communities, and he drew from that well when he sat down to put together a quick album of public-domain song parodies in the summer of 1962. By then, Sherman was a veteran TV hack; he had produced game shows and award shows and buddied up with celebrities including Jack Benny, Harpo Marx, and Steve Allen while entertaining friends privately with his parodies. On Aug. 6, 1962, he gathered an audience, served them drinks, turned the microphones on, and started doing his shtick.

Music writer Jesse Green revisited the Sherman songbook back in 2006, upon the release of a new six-disc box set from Rhino Records, and wondered just how Sherman’s overtly Jewish ouevre become so popular during the summer of 1963. “He might as well have been wearing a huge yarmulke,” Green said. But that was the key to Sherman’s success: “He was offering an absolutely perfectly focused snapshot of what it meant to assimilate.”

Happy Allan Sherman Day, Chicago. Here’s “Seventy-Six Sol Cohens” to start the celebration:

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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