Jerry Springer bestrode the 1990s like a blow-dried colossus. His eponymous TV show was must-see viewing for anyone interested in car-crash viewing. Adult babies, intra-family affairs, people who literally married horses – no subject was off-limits, and if it ended in a mass brawl involving guests and audience members then all the better.
In 1997, Springer turned his attention to a subject that was eternally popular with the perpetually pearl-clutching sections of the mainstream media: shock rock. The line-up of guests included El Duce, hangman-hooded frontman with uber-controversial underground punk provocateurs The Mentors, and a woman named Dominique whose billing as “El Duce groupie” belied her smart view and reasoned view of the subject.
And then there was GWAR, the undoubted highlight of the episode. The crowd (including someone wearing what looks like an Eddie mask) was clearly on their side from the moment main-thing Oderus Urungus led out bandmates Slymenstra Hymen, Beefcake The Mighty and Techno Destructo to take their place in front of the baying mob.
What followed was classic 1990s bear-baiting shock-TV. Jerry’s attempts to goad the band fell flat, partly because he admitted he’d actually joined GWAR onstage the previous night, and partly because they were just too smart to rise to the bait. “How are women viewed in your show?” asks Springer, playing the old metal-is-sexist card. “With the highest regard,” fires back Slymenstra. “I am the Goddess, and every male in the audience looks up to me and worships the ground I walk on.”
But it’s when they wheel out 14-year-old GWAR fan Shaun and his concerned mother Lisa that things really heat up. Lisa hates the fact that her son loves a band who “portray such a negative influence for the youth”, referring to their infamous blood-and-bodily fluid-soaked shows and penchant for onstage insanity involving giant swords and axes.
There’s plenty of heated to-ing and fro-ing between band and aggrieved parent. At one point, Lisa wants to know why GWAR have to be so violent, at which point Oderus mockingly pretends to break down in tears. Another time, she lays into the bad influence the band have on their fans. “In 10 years of GWAR, not one fan has killed himself, killed his mother, killed his friend,” says Beefcake (“We’re begging them to do it,” quips Slymenstra).
Shaun himself, sporting a side-cut and gothy lipstick, seems like a smart kid. When a self-consciously het-up Springer asks him why he likes GWAR, his answer is pretty on the money. “Because you’re creative and you stand for freedom of expression and anarchy and that this government is really bad and you can express yourself in any way that you want and feel.... even though it is offensive,” he says.
And so it goes for several minutes, with Lisa and the host trying and failing to crucify a band whose whole reason for existing is to troll polite society. “Why do you have to be so violent?” says Lisa in a last-ditch attempt to appeal to GWAR’s (non-existent) better nature.
“What’s more dangerous, woman?” booms Oderus. “The evening news, which is chock full of the death and the war and the hatred that the governments of this world have forced onto our people, shows like COPS, people injuring and killing each other, or something like GWAR that is totally making fun of all that.”
Of course, this was all as performative as a GWAR show itself. From Alice Cooper to Eminem, America loves its bogeymen - shock sells, as Jerry Springer, Oderus Urungus and Lisa and her son Shaun could vouch. The band’s appearance on the Jerry Springer Show was an entertaining attempt to cancel a band long before ‘cancel culture’ became a thing, but this was always going to end up GWAR 1, polite society 0.