There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of this unusual piece of pop culture trivia, but for an entire generation of Jerseyites and New Yorkers, he was a beloved television icon.
In 1974, Floyd Vivino was an out-of-work circus entertainer when he landed a job on United Artists Columbia Cable of New Jersey, a network with a somewhat small audience and an even smaller budget. Vivino jumped into his new job with relish and created a character for a new program called The Uncle Floyd Show.
Much like Soupy Sales had done with his own somewhat subversive children’s show in the ‘50s, The Uncle Floyd Show could be interpreted as either a kid’s program or a parody of one. He did what he could with his miniscule budget and filled air with puppet shows, musical acts, and chatter with crew members. A talented musician himself, Vivino often played a piano when he wasn’t trading gags about New Jersey’s air pollution with Oogie, a snarky ventriloquist’s dummy.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s because The Uncle Floyd Show would go on to influence everyone from Pee-Wee Herman and Craig Ferguson to David Letterman and Howard Stern, all of whom would later use similar gags in their own programs. The show jumped over to network WBTB-TV later that same year as it steadily attracted more and more viewers.
In the early ‘80s, the show was popular enough to go into syndication. It was snatched up by stations broadcasting in Boston, Philadelphia and as far away as Chicago, many of whom aired it late at night to attract college-age viewers. With a bigger audience and a slightly bigger budget, Vivino was able to attract musical acts like the Ramones, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Tork, and Bon Jovi. The Ramones were such big fans of the show that they mentioned it in their song “It’s Not My Place (In the Nine to Five World)” and their lead singer, Joey Ramone, often wore an Uncle Floyd button during concerts. David Bowie’s 2002 song “Slipping Away” is about Floyd.—he became a fan after being introduced to it by John Lennon.
By the time The Uncle Floyd Show ended its 18-year run in 1992, it had entertained thousands, spawned a comedy album, and earned its host roles in films and TV shows like Good Morning, Vietnam and Law & Order. Reruns continued to air into the late ‘90s. In the years since the show went off the air, Vivino has continued to do crazy stuff like set world records. He currently holds the one for “Longest Nonstop Piano Playing.” He managed to tickle the ivories for 24 hours and 15 minutes back in 1999 in order to raise money for a sick child. These days, he hosts an online radio show.