To say that speaking with David Liebe Hart is a unique experience would be an incredible understatement. His website describes him as an “actor/musician/painter/alien abductee.” Those credentials aside, following Hart’s career, and inspirations, can be an odd albeit enjoyable ride.
Originally appearing in bit parts on ’70s sitcoms (such as Good Times and Chico and the Man), Hart eventually produced the Los Angeles public access show, The Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Program. For 14 years, Hart and his ventriloquist’s dummies sang hymns, welcomed guests to the show, and delivered the gospel to kids. Inevitably, the program garnered a cult following; watching segments of the show on YouTube, it’s easy to see why. Sermonizing puppets, unpredictable, old-school video effects, and a soundtrack of jarring musical interludes that seem almost randomly thrown together are also hypnotically watchable.
Eventually, Hart became a regular on the brilliantly subversive comedy program, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! which introduced Hart to a greater (and possibly his target) audience. During this same era, Hart also made the rounds on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Performed as a duet with one of his puppets, Hart’s song ideas invariably touch on religion, his ongoing search for a girlfriend, and his relationship with the alien race of the Korendians, beings that continually aid and assist humankind. At his show Sept. 16 at Underbelly, Hart and his musical cohort Jonah Mociun will perform old faves and new hits, along with (possibly) comedy and (absolutely) puppets.
Hart is routinely labeled as an Outsider Artist and, more than once, his mental health has been in question. I actually had a fair amount of trepidation about, not speaking with, but rather “interviewing” Hart, since I didn’t want to the let the story somehow degrade into exploitation. Knowing that my motivations were non-malicious and, as with any artist, willing to let the conversation dictate our direction and end destination, I rang Hart. I will acknowledge that our talk did not lend itself to a linear conversation.
As his press contact explained via email that Hart could be “somewhat difficult to get ahold of,” I decided to simply “cold call” the intergalactic puppeteer in lieu of trying to schedule an interview time. Over the course of our conversation, we talked about the apparent spiritual ubiquity of Christian Science, his otherworldly connections, and Betty White.
Hey, David, my name is Dan Brown and I’m a writer for Folio Weekly, the altweekly here in Jacksonville, Florida. I was wondering if I could talk to you about your upcoming gig here in town?
Sure. I’m in Miami right now on tour; sure you can interview me now.
Great, man! Thanks.
Yeah, you know my actual mentor who helped me out with acting lessons passed on and she was the last survivor of The Honeymooners— Shelia MacRae.
Yes. She was a Christian Scientist, like me, and she died last year in the senior citizen actors’ home in New Jersey [Ed.: Hart is referring to The Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood] and she outlived her daughter, Meredith MacRae, who played on Petticoat Junction and My Three Sons. Sheila was married to Gordon MacRae, who did South Pacific, and she married Jackie Gleason; that was his last wife. The weird situation is that I was taken to see The Honeymooners when my grandparents retired in Miami, Florida way back in the ’70s, before I went into the Navy. They wouldn’t let me into The Jackie Gleason Theater, where they used to film The Jackie Gleason Show. They told me, “You have to have an appointment only.” And you know the sad situation is, the episodes that they filmed at the theater, they didn’t have any of those in the library; they don’t even have the black-and-white ones that they did in New York. And the ones done in color were much better. They were funnier and since Jackie Gleason was a songwriter like me, and a musician like me, he wrote a lot of the music for the shows that were done from 1964 to 1974. He was a very talented guy. He was even part German and Irish like me. He was my favorite comedian.
So it sounds like Jackie Gleason was like a kindred spirit for you. I mean, you also write songs, you do comedy, and puppet shows, among other things.
I do all of those things and I do have a lot in common with Jackie Gleason and I was really sorry to see him pass on. And then another thing, another role model to me was Frank Fontaine, who played on the original The Jackie Gleason Show. He did the Malt-O-Meal commercials and he was another role model to me. When I was a kid, I got to meet him in person. He died early but he was a very talented comedian and musician.
Speaking of comedy and music, when you perform here at Underbelly, what will you be doing?
Well, what I’m going to be doing is, I’m going to do a little bit of comedy. I used to do standup comedy with Robin Williams back in the day, before he made it big on Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, and doing movies, him and I were roommates at The St. Moritz Hotel across from Channel 5. And we performed at The Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory together.
So you’ll do comedy along with music and work with puppets?
I will be doing puppets. I will be singing different versions of “Go Into The Light” and different versions of “Father and Son,” because even though I’m an ASCAP songwriter and I wrote the words and music to the songs I performed on the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, I’m not allowed to use them because they’re owned by Warner Bros. So I’ve had to do parallel versions of the songs.
I think Frank Zappa had a similar problem with Warner Bros. in the ’70s, where he had to fight for the rights to some of his music.
Well, I inherited a lot of my puppets from three famous puppeteers. Jim Henson was my Sunday school teacher in the Christian Science church, and so was Burr Tillstrom, who did Kukla, Fran & Ollie, and so was the guy who did The Friendly Giant[Bob Homme]. And I had to rebuild the puppets so their faces and bodies look different, so there wouldn’t be a copyright infringement.
So Jim Henson was like your puppet teacher?
He was my Sunday school teacher in the Christian Science church and he taught me The Beatitudes and Ten Commandments with puppets. You know, back then before Sesame Street, he was on The Jimmy Dean Show and he had his own puppet show called Sam and Friends.
Is it hard to sing with a puppet?
No, it’s like playing piano and singing. Once you practice, it becomes perfect. Practice makes perfect. Also, for mentors I didn’t just have Jim Henson and Burr Tillstrom to encourage me in my career. I also had Doris Day and Jean Stapleton that were mentors to me who taught me to work with affirmations on success and visualize myself already being successful. And they told me that I was success in action and God was my agent.
Well, that seems like it’s happening and you even have a new album, Astronaut. What can you tell me about that?
The CD is about being a vegetarian with “I Eat My Veggies.” I sing about girls that turned me down that I was in love with. One is about an astronaut: “Teleportation Thru Space.” There’s a song about new technology, which was redone over with all new music [“New Technology (New Version)”]. It’s a very good album.
So what …
What inspired me to write the song “New Technology”… I stayed with my cousin Rose MacKinnon. She was a retired Army officer, and she was the secretary at Patterson Air Force Base and she saw a lot of UFO stuff. She a lot of the crash stuff that had come in from Roswell; it was for real. It really happened and the Government got all of its modern technology from space people and didn’t want people to know about it. And she told me that the GPS was, in fact, their engineering technology that they used to travel from one star to another. And she told me it was going to be in all of the civilian cars in the 2000s – she died in 1992. And she told me the military had computers and laptops and cell phones from working with extraterrestrials. And that also the fiber optics that AT&T and Verizon uses and microwave technology is all from the extraterrestrials.
Yeah. It’s almost like Chariots of the Gods? type stuff. Would you mind talking about your own personal experiences with the Korendians?
Well, how it happened was … it’s really sad. They recently put out a book about the Wright Brothers. And the Wright Brothers had an African-American side to the family, just like President Jefferson did and President Grant. And I’m related to both, on my Caucasian side and have a little bit of English and French. I’m related to President Grant, from Ohio from the Wright Brothers. And they were originally in the Presbyterian Church and the Lutheran Church. And my family’s all Christian Science.
So did all of that somehow affect your encountering the Korendians?
My grandmother told me on her deathbed that she was in contact with the Korendians and that I would be their new contact after she died. And she died in 1989. And just four months after she passed on, I met this woman when I was selling my portraits at the La Brea Tar Pits. This beautiful woman who looked like Betty Page and Linda Carter came up to me and told me: “I’m an extraterrestrial. I’m a Korendian. And I know who you are and I know everything about you.” At first I didn’t believe her and I thought that she was someone mentally “off,” but then she said, “I’m going to show you that I’m different than you human kind.” She read my mind when I thought that she was insane and she put that back in my face. Then she said, “I know you still don’t believe me.” She took off her high heels and you know how our big toe is on the side of our feet? Their big toe is in the middle. She was a very attractive woman and she was amazed at how fast I could draw portrait sketches and she told me that her race of people gave my great-grandfather, Orville, and Wilbur Wright the back-engineering technology to make the airplane. They also worked with Einstein and Tesla and gave them back-engineering technology back then.
You’ve got quite a strong following and I routinely see you described as an “Outsider Artist.” Has being labeled like that ever bothered you?
Well, you know, I think I should be used more on TV. I was supposed to be … an East Indian guy [Ed: Presumably Aziz Ansari] got me a cold reading on Parks and Recreation and he was so upset that they gave it to someone else. They said I was less qualified and gave it to this woman … but anyway.