David Liebe Hart is perhaps best known these days for his contributions to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule. With his songwriting, puppetry and wide array of unusual voices, Hart carved a real niche for himself on those already surreal television programs and established a fan base beyond television. Some might assume that Hart was found by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, after the fashion of “Bud” Melman on the Late Show With David Letterman, an eccentric brought in to give the show some flavor. And that might not be too far off the mark. Hart's unique brand of comedy and song bring not merely an "outsider" perspective, but an innocence and a purity to his art, as well as inimitable creativity with an appeal beyond its strangeness. Hart also had something of a long, if not as high-profile, career in showbiz and art long before becoming a star on Adult Swim.
Hart grew up in Park Forest, Illinois, raised as a Christian Scientist. In church, he learned to sing and play music as well as learning music theory. Following a stint in the U.S. Navy, Hart briefly attended Berklee College of Music before he was drawn to the Los Angeles area in 1976. Hart says that Christian Science was in Hollywood then what Scientology is now, and connecting with other followers of Christian Science put him in contact, however informally, with a wide variety of people in the entertainment industry.
“I met Doris Day in the '70s at Beverly Hills Christian Science Church and asked her, 'What would you advise a young actor to become successful with his career as an actor and a musician?'” recalls Hart. “She told me, 'Know your success in action and set goals for yourself. Know that you are loved, cherished, respected and appreciated and that you have a right to be as successful as any actor that walked the stage on a movie or a TV show. Visualize yourself already being there. You are what you think, you are what you believe.'”
Hart got bit parts in the '70s and '80s on television programs like Chico and the Man, Good Times and Wings, but before all of that, he says, he partnered up with one of comedy's genius madmen.
“I used to do standup comedy with Robin Williams,” Hart says. “I met him at the Church of Christ Scientist in Hollywood. He left Christian Science and became Episcopalian. We did comedy at the Comedy Store before he made it big. I'll never forget the day Gary Marshall said he wanted him to be on one Happy Days episode to play 'that Mork the Martian that you play with your sidekick David Liebe Hart.' Gary Marshall asked me to warm up for the shows at Paramount Studios and said he would cast me in a show. I did that from the '70s until '81, but he didn't cast me in anything.”
The Hollywood work started to dry up for Hart, and he found it more difficult to make ends meet working at Ralphs and KFC. He discovered that he could earn much more money as a street performer. The skits and characters that Hart developed, coupled with his Christian Science upbringing, fueled some of the material of his later creative efforts, but also of a public-access program in Los Angeles called Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show. (Hart claims he got funding from actress Meredith McGray from Petticoat Junction, Audrey Reynolds of The Honeymooners and Jim Henson, shortly before his death in 1990, to start the show to spread the lessons of Christian Science.) The show ran from 1994 to 2008 and found national popularity, but it wasn't as financially successful for Hart.
“I wouldn't be successful if it wasn't for the work I got from Absolutely Productions,” says Hart.
For several years now, Hart has been touring his comedy, puppet show and musical act. A few years ago, he came through Denver with an unlikely punk version of the music when he was working with Adam Papagan. But for his current tour, Hart is working with producer Jonah “Th'Mole” Mociun, and the show will be more oriented toward electronic music; it will also include Hart's idiosyncratic standup comedy as well as his puppets. Just don't expect his beloved older material in its original form. “We had to rewrite some of the music I did for Tim and Eric because that was done for hire,” Hart says.
Despite several hardships in life, relationships (personal and professional) gone awry in some way, being taken advantage of, being treated with disrespect by many of the people in Hollywood he met along the way as well as leaders of his own church, Hart is surprisingly philosophical about his lot in life and how he must proceed to make the most of his current cachet, however niche, in entertainment.
“I have to be like Doris Day, and I can't take in the negativity of the people that say I'm worthless,” concludes Hart. “Had I taken in that negativity, I never would have been successful on the Tim and Eric show. Don't take in the hatred of people that don't like you. Don't give up — persevere. Walter Brennan told me in the '70s, 'Follow your dreams and you'll be just as successful as me.'”
David Liebe Hart with Cop Circles, Strange Powers and Werk Out Palace, Friday July 8, 8 p.m. doors, 9 p.m. show, Syntax Physic Opera, 720-8456-7041, $10 adv. / $12 day of show, 21+.