Almost twenty years ago, a young man walked into my father’s Main Street business. His name was David Bonner, and he was going door to door, business to business, selling audio cassettes of his comedy routine. He told my dad that he was going to be the next Eddie Murphy, so Dad, always willing to help up-and-comers, paid David the $10 he was asking for the cassette.
I found the cassette, called THE BIG CUP and credited to a “Maddog Bonner,” lying on Mom and Dad’s kitchen counter a few days later. I asked Dad what it was, and he told me the story outlined above. He asked me if I wanted it, and I told him that I’d listen to it, but that I didn’t want to take it from him. He told me that he really didn’t mind, as he planned to never listen to it again. I asked him why, and he said that I should just listen to it and let him know what I thought. So I listened to it, and I thought that it was the most god-awfully unfunny “comedy” album that I’d ever heard. I threw it into a box and forgot about it.
A few years later I found it, and I listened to it again, wondering if it was still as unfunny as I remembered it being. Yup, it was. I played it for my youngest brother, who absolutely hated it. So, it went back into the box from whence it came.
I found the tape again three years ago. I forced my mom, my brother, and his fiancee to listen to it. They made it to the end of the first side before they rebelled and forced me to turn it off. They still hated it (or in the case of my brother’s fiancee, hated it for the first time), but my reaction was different this time. I actually appreciated it on an entirely previously-undiscovered level. It was so incredibly unfunny that it wrapped around the continuum, becoming funny in the process. I started mentioning it to co-workers, and they were intrigued enough to want to hear it. So I converted the tape to .wav files and burned four copies onto CD.
I passed out three (keeping one for myself) and waited for my co-workers’ comments. They all agreed with me that Mr. Bonner was decidedly unfunny, and yet we couldn’t stop talking about him. In fact, one of my co-workers started coming up with new routines that Maddog could use, if he were ever to record another “comedy” album.
If Maddog’s comedy springs from his life experiences (as it most certainly seems to), Mr. Bonner has led a very, very uneventful life indeed. It’s as if Billy, the tyke from “The Family Circus” comic panel, has decided to do stand-up based upon his rather limited worldview.
Just so that you can decide for yourself, here’s a transcription of the last cut on Maddog’s cassette, a little something he calls “Stickman’s First Funeral” (Stickman is the family nickname for Maddog’s brother, Randy). Please note that any time I’ve used an ellipsis (…), it merely means that there’s a pause in Maddog’s delivery; I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve omitted even one word of Mr. Bonner’s unique comedic offering:
You know, about a year ago, I was living with my brother Stickman and his wife Michelle. My dad had left New Hope and was pastoring a church at Stone Memorial in Tuscaloosa, and Stickman was elected to be the interim pastor there at New Hope Baptist—it was a great honor, and he enjoyed it. But living with my brother Stickman was…had some funny moments. I remember I had my own bedroom in the back of that house, and him and his wife had a bedroom, and it was in front of the house.
Well, I remember one morning—remember it well—Randy, Stickman, being a young…young preacher and just starting out in the ministry—this is before he went to Seminary—he was inexperienced in a lot of things. But I remember one morning ‘bout 5:30, he come into my room and shook my door, knocked the door down just about it, shook me, and he said, “David… Maddog…Maddog….” I said “What?” He said “Man, you ain’t gone believe it, you ain’t gone believe it!”
I said, “What, Stickman? Have you got a church? Have you got a full-time church? Have you got…what have you got, son, did somebody give you some money? What’s goin’ on? Have you got a wedding? Did somebody get saved? What’s goin’ on, son?”
He said, “You ain’t gone believe it, you ain’t g…”—and he was excited. I’d never seen him excited as much before…you know, just a few times, but he was excited. I said, “What’s…what is it?” He said, “Maddog, I got my first funeral!”
I said, “Well, congratulations!” I’d never seen a boy fired up about a funeral! I didn’t know what to say to him. I just said, ”Son, ‘at’ll be the first of many funerals you’ll have in your lifetime,” and he went on and preached a great funeral, and he was excited about it.
So there you have it—the inimitable comedy stylings of David “Maddog” Bonner. And yes, that’s the end of the “joke.” Kinda makes Andy Griffith seem edgy, doesn’t he?
What’s really funny about the cassette is that, while it strives very hard to make you believe that it was recorded in front of a live audience that was apparently having the time of its collective lives, a somewhat close listen reveals that the entire thing was done in a studio, with Maddog’s mike on slight reverb and the audience guffaws coming from what was probably a vinyl LP. Yet, instead of being infuriating, it comes across as rather endearing in a low-rent kind of way…and I guess that sums up the magic of Maddog Bonner.
A web search has turned up a few places that Maddog has been in the last few years:
According to an on-site report from an event called “Holy Smoke” in Americus, Georgia (which, as far as I can ascertain, is a sort of Southern Baptist barbecue contest), the following occurred in March of 2006, whilst folks were getting their ribs on: “The entertainment started at noon and continued until 6 p.m. There was a variety of great music, drama and comedy going on every hour beginning with Deena Grimsley and Friends, William Herndon, David “Mad Dog” Bonner, Southern Glory, Forgiven, and Jeff Henry and Living Water.”
In 2007, a band called “Woods” listed Maddog Bonner’s “The Big Cup” as one of the albums they listened to in their van as they went on a tour of the East Coast. Also heard in the van on that tour: Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and Jandek’s “Rocks Crumble.”
On July 12, 2008, a note appeared in the Tuscaloosa News that said, and I quote, “New Haven Baptist Church…will have James David ‘Maddog’ Bonner, Southern humorist with a live recording of his new CD ‘Southland’ at 7 tonight.”
A quick search of Amazon.com didn’t turn up a CD called “Southland,” but it DID uncover a listing for a cassette from one Mad-Dog Bonner (note the odd hyphenation) called “Just Starting Out on the Road,” which has all the same tracks as “The Big Cup,” but in a different order. Unfortunately, it’s not currently available.
So, Maddog vanishes again into the mists of time.