Ken Shapiro, director, writer, and star of the independent sketch comedy film The Groove Tube, died on Nov. 18 at his home in Los Cruces, N.M. after a battle with cancer. He was 76.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, started appearing in commercials when he was two months old. He became a child star under the name Kenny Sharpe in the days of live television in New York. He appeared often on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater as “The Kid.”
The Groove Tube was probably Shapiro’s crowning achievement. Starring Richard Belzer and Chevy Chase, the absurd film was a benchmark for comedy and Shapiro’s career. Playboy magazine said that the movie was the “most stinging assault on television since it was invented.” Not only did the low-budget film receive an X-rating but it satirized media and counterculture of the early ’70s, eventually paving the way for like-minded films like Tunnel Vision and The Kentucky Fried Movie. On the TV side of things, it set the precedence for sketch comedy shows like SCTV and Saturday Night Live.
The film was originally supposed to air at the Channel One theater in New York, a venue that featured R-rated material, which at the time, was very novel. As a satirical news anchorman, Shapiro’s sign-off, “Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow” was later adopted by Chevy Chase when he became the anchor on SNL‘s “Weekend Update.”
Shapiro also co-wrote and directed Modern Problems for 20th Century Fox in 1981. He reunited with Chase for the film which also starred Dabney Coleman and Patti D’Arbanville. The move followed Chase’s Max Fiedler, a down-on-his-luck air traffic controller who gains telekinetic powers after coming into contact with nuclear waste.
Shapiro is survived by his wife Kelly, step-daughter Danielle-Lampkins; his sister Cookie and brother Stanley. He is also survived by his daughters, Rosy and Emily and his grandchildren Cerulean, Willa, Milo, and Romy.